Top 35 and under politicians and politicos in Mississippi

October 16, 2017

They’re 35 and under and are among the state’s new generation of political leaders and operatives. The Clarion Ledger identified rising young politicians and millennials in Mississippi. 

They’re 35 and under and are among the state’s new generation of political leaders and operatives. We looked around the state in our quest to identify rising young politicians and millennials behind the scenes playing a major role in politics and influencing issues affecting Mississippians.

“I think there is a trend to younger, fresher faces as voters are tired of the status quo …  The country is going through a transition as people are seeking a national revitalization,” says Tougaloo College political science professor Steve Rozman.

Through observations and perspectives from political observers, The Clarion-Ledger identifies some fresh faces among the state’s top 35 and under political leaders.

The list doesn’t rank individuals. It only highlights who they are.

Jeramey Anderson

Who: Jeramey Anderson, 25, state representative from Escatawpa. The Democrat was elected when he was 22.

X-Factor: Anderson, consistent as a legislator, is willing to work with other lawmakers whether Democrats or Republicans. Earlier this year, Anderson and then-Rep. Toby Barker announced the creation of the Mississippi Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of state legislators under age 40 working toward breaking partisan gridlock to re-establish political cooperation and create meaningful progress through government institutions.

Also, Anderson has pushed for full funding of the K-12 Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula until a new formula is proven to be a better option through thorough research and constituent recommendations.

“Rep. Jeramey Anderson brings not only youthfulness to the Mississippi Legislature but he brings new ideas and a new outlook on policy and procedures,” said Legislative Black Caucus chairwoman Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes. “I have found Rep. Anderson to also invite and introduce our more seasoned legislators to the world of social media. He has shown the advantages of using social media to galvanize momentum on policies and laws forthcoming as well as to inform our constituents on the day-to-day activities on the House floor.”

Chokwe Antar Lumumba

Who: Chokwe Antar Lumumba, 34, mayor of Jackson.

X-Factor: Lumumba, the son of late mayor Chokwe Lumumba, astounded political observers by winning the Democratic primary without a runoff over several candidates, including then-incumbent Mayor Tony Yarber, state Sen. John Horhn and Hinds County Supervisor Robert Graham. Lumumba has captured voters’ allegiance with his outside-the-box thinking. His administration includes those with financial expertise to try to turn around the city’s ailing financial situation. And he has hired Robert Miller as public works director. Miller had been the deputy director of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and has a stellar national reputation.

Toby Barker

Who: Toby Barker, 35, mayor of Hattiesburg and former state representative.

X-Factor: Barker was elected to the Legislature as a Republican, but he was known in the House as someone who wasn’t afraid to flex his independence from his party’s views. Earlier this year, Rep. Jeramey Anderson and Barker announced the creation of the Mississippi Future Caucus. In the Legislature, he promoted bills aimed at reducing the state’s obesity rate and to expand dyslexia scholarships to students in the seventh to 12th grade. He was among a group of bipartisan lawmakers who bucked efforts to move the Department of Mental Health under the Governor’s Office. “What happens when the governor is not of your political party?” he asked.

Lataisha Jackson

Who: Lataisha Jackson, 34, state representative, D-Como. 

X-Factor: Jackson, who won a special election in 2013,  is an advocate for early childhood education. The University of Mississippi Law School student doesn’t give a lot of speeches on the House floor, but when she does speak, she is powerful and eloquent. During a 2015 debate about the “third-grade reading gate,” a measure passed in 2013 that would prevent third-graders who can’t reading proficiently from passing to fourth grade, it was Jackson who led the charge to amend the bill to delay implementation for a year.

House Bill 745, which would have allowed some students with disabilities to be passed, was amended by Jackson to exempt all students from the reading gate for a year. Jackson said the Legislature hadn’t provided the necessary funding or reading coaches to make the program work. 

Seven Republicans crossed over to help Jackson pass the amendment.

Williams-Barnes calls Jackson a born leader: “She may not have the years, but the wisdom is there as if she’s been around these halls for some time. She moves with a serious work ethic as she remains passionate as well as compassionate about providing education and economics to those she represents.”

Mario King

Who: Moss Point Mayor Mario King; age 30 when elected this year.

X-Factor: He is the youngest mayor in Moss Point’s history. He defeated the incumbent and captured 61 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates. King, who is working on his doctorate in human capital development, continues to push for more economic development in Jackson County and to bring together mayors in the county to discuss issues. He’s begun cost-cutting measures at City Hall, According to the Sun Herald, he’s rounded up expensive smartphones, including one or two at the homes of a former employee, and issued flip phones to department heads who needs them.

Shea Dobson

Who: Ocean Springs Mayor Shea Dobson, 31.

X-Factor: Dobson, a Republican, did what some thought impossible when, in his first bid for office, defeated three-term Democratic incumbent Mayor Connie Moran in the June 6 general election. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a major in political science. The conservative Dobson’s social media expertise during his campaignhelped him oust Moran, the only three-term mayor of Ocean Springs.

Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, a Dobson supporter, said the new mayor is very open and transparent and listens to people. “He is a good leader and he is intelligent,” Watson said.

Robert Foster

Who: Robert Foster, 34, representative from Hernando.

X-Factor: The DeSoto County Republican is serving his first term in the House. A farmer and small businessman, Foster was the author of a successful bill last session to limit the increase in property taxes on agricultural land. Political observers initially didn’t think the bill would pass. Foster came to House and Senate committees to discuss the bill, and that apparently got it over the hump. He has also been an advocate for preserving the state’s current flag.

Roun McNeal

Who: Roun McNeal, 33, representative from Leakesville.

X-Factor: The Republican and attorney was elected to the House in 2015 after an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2011. McNeal received his law degree from the University of Mississippi and served as student body president. McNeal has received high marks from the American Conservative Union and The Business and Industry Political Education Committee, and he consistently votes the conservative line on everything from alternative forms of execution to vaccination exemption expansion.


Grant Callen

Who: Grant Callen, 34, founder of Empower Mississippi.

X-Factor: Callen shook up the state Legislature when his group supported challengers who unseated four Republican House incumbents in DeSoto County. Those incumbents had often opposed school choice measures that Empower backs. Since Empower’s strong role in the 2015 elections, Callen has been a conservative voice that legislative leaders pay close attention to.

Rebekah Staples

Who: Rebekah Staples, 31, policy adviser to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

X-Factor: Staples is one of the main individuals who helps lawmakers craft the state’s annual budget. She was also a policy adviser to former Gov. Haley Barbour during his eight years in office. Staples specifically is in on shaping the budget and legislative budget leaders go through her budget figures. A top lieutenant to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, she works under contract. In 2012 she left her full-time Senate job to become a governmental relations adviser for the law firm Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada, which according to its website, is “one of the top government affairs and lobbying firms in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.”

Rachel Canter

Who: Rachel Canter, 34, executive director of Mississippi First.

X-Factor: Canter appears to have the ear of lawmakers when it comes to education in the state. She was the person lawmakers consulted on charter schools and early education legislation. She’s argued in favor of equity in education funding and of raising the cap of what some districts have to pay locally to provide more funding for struggling districts.

Kathryn Rehner

Who: Kathryn Rehner, 27, project director for Mississippi Health Access Collaborative through the University of Southern Mississippi.

X-Factor: Rehner made her first run for political office this year, coming in second in a four-candidate field to replace Toby Barker in the House. She was defeated by Republican Missy McGee in the runoff election. But she could be a future force in Mississippi politics.

Elliott George Flaggs

Who: Elliott George Flaggs, 31, attorney.

X-Factor: A lobbyist and former special assistant attorney general, he is the son of Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, a former longtime lawmaker before coming mayor of Vicksburg. He is a lobbyist with Cornerstone Government Affairs, which has offices in Jackson, Washington; Houston and Austin, Texas; Atlanta, Chicago; Annapolis, Maryland; Des Moines, Iowa; and Richmond, Virginia. 

Editor & Publisher: Clarion-Ledger editor named one of country’s top journalists under 35

Evan Alvarez

Who: Evan Alvarez, 24, political science student at Millsaps College.

X-Factor: Alvarez, former chairman of the Mississippi Federation of College Republicans,  switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party in 2014 over the flap in the race between U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger state Sen.Chris McDaniel.

In his resignation letter, Alvarez said tea party activists have too much of a voice in the party, “and the Republican Party platform has shifted too far to the right.” Alvarez’s resignation came after the Mississippi Federation of College Republicans board decided not to remove a member, who faced impeachment charges because he issued two robocalls on behalf of McDaniel in the Republican Party primary and primary runoff for U.S. Senate. In the robocalls, the member affiliated himself with MFCR, which violates the organization’s policy of remaining neutral in primaries.

Alvarez came under scrutiny of McDaniel supporters and some members of MFCR who criticized him and others for openly supporting Cochran. Alvarez defended individual members’ support of either candidate so long as they were not doing so in an official capacity with MFCR.

Today, Alvarez is a political science student at Millsaps College. He has thrown his support behind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, saying his father came to the United States as an immigrant from Cuba in 1959.

DACA, a program enacted under former President Barack Obama, does not grant citizenship. Instead, it allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to live and work here without fear of deportation.

President Trump’s administration has announced plans to rescind DACA.

Alvarez said he is hoping to use his political experience in an effort to advocate for better access to mental health. After he graduates in May, Alvarez’s goal is to obtain a master’s in public health or take prerequisites in order to attend medical school.

Contact Jimmie E. Gates at 601-961-7212 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Top 35 and under politicians and politicos in Mississippi

CLOSE They’re 35 and under and are among the state’s new generation of political leaders and operatives. We looked around the state in our quest to identify rising young politicians and millennials behind the scenes playing a major role in politics and influencing issues affecting Mississippians.

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