Becoming only the second female mayor of the small town in Holmes County and the state of Mississippi's only black female Republican mayor, she has had to rely on both her faith and convictions to experience victory in two mayoral elections. A native of Chicago, IL, Brown has made Mississippi her home and Tchula a place that she has worked diligently to improve by upgrading water systems, building affordable housing and even improving the city park.
Now heading into the mid-term elections, Mayor Yvonne Brown is relying on her faith and convictions again in her bid to become the next Congressman of District 2 in Mississippi, attempting to unseat the incumbent, Bennie Thompson. She discusses in frank terms the misconceptions of black Republicans, the financial challenges of her campaign and why the record she is running on is enough for the people of the district to distinguish her from her opponent.
Though she admits the fight is not an easy one, it is clear by her optimism that this is yet another opportunity to showcase what faith in action can achieve.
Q: When did your interest in politics begin?
A: I have always loved to read current events, listen to talk radio and discuss issues that impact my life. I also realize that my faith has had a direct impact on involvement in politics and how I treat people. As a Christian I understand that Government was ordained by God to give guidance to mankind to govern their daily events. What I in do in government and politics are merely an extension of the ministry given to me and that is to serve people and God. When city hall fell in the due to neglect and a small storm the need to serve, to do something, the need to "fix it" kicked in. So I accepted the invitation from the citizens to use my time, talent and skills to make a difference in my community.
Q:Was it something that your family and friends encouraged?
A: My father ran the district campaign for Jessie Jackson's presidential race in Toledo Ohio. He also ran for state representative in 1985. My father and I are very close and we always talked about politics, business, education and the impact that racism has had on our people. My Dad has led by example of service by immersing his life into the lives of others to make a difference in Ohio and Mississippi. So I guess the apple has not fallen far from the tree.
Q: What about your political views: how would you say they were shaped?
A: I have been blessed to witness my Grandfather, Rev. J.D. Rayford of the round yard be politically active in Clarksdale he "used" us to integrate the swimming pool. I was also blessed to witness my father, Bennie Rayford immerse his life into the lives of others when he ran the head start program, the after school programs, drug intervention programs and mental health programs in Toledo.
Q: As mayor of Tchula, what has been your main focus with the citizens?
A: As mayor I set an agenda to rebuild the city based on the charge that God gave Nehemiah in chapter 2:17 -18. I shared with the community it was my desire to upgrade the water and sewer lines, rebuild city hall, provide recreation and build affordable housing. I am please to say that I was able to secure over $200,000 from federally appropriated funds to restore the city park, build a boat ramp and fishing pier, and install heavy duty play ground equipment, secured $ 200,000 from DOJ (Department of Justice) federal appropriations for public safety which has provide new vehicles and communications equipment. In addition to that we received $1million federal and state funds to build a municipal complex that is named after Rep. Robert G. Clark, $20,000 from Mississippi Department of Health to install fluoride in the city water system, $3 million federal appropriations to upgrade the waste water and drinking water system, $20,000 from Mississippi Development Authority to install solar technology in the municipal complex and secured $150,000 from Mississippi Development Authority to purchase land to provide affordable housing. Provide opportunity for citizens to work on special projects with funds from the Department of Environmental Quality. Working with Department of Transportation the city has a 5310 grant and has partnered with Mallory health clinic to provide transportation for citizens to go to work and other activities. This has impacted the entire county.
Q: Many people automatically assume that a black woman would be a democrat. I'm curious as to how people react to you once they discover you are a conservative Republican?
A: Once people finish teasing me about being "on the wrong" side they come to realize that I have a heart of compassion and that my love is genuine for all people. Once people realize that my identification with the Republican Party is based on biblical and historical facts as it relates to black folk they tend to relax and we can have some conversation. Once they realize that I am for strong families, personal responsibility, lower taxes, quality education, reforming social security, and support affirmative action programs and believe in justice and equality for all they see me the person rather then the party.
Q: Another issue that comes to mind when people think of Republicans is that they have deep pockets to finance lavish campaigns, yet, from articles and blogs I have read about you and your current run for office, money from the Republican party has been slow in coming. How would you explain that, and what effect does this have on your political bids?
A: The lack of financial support is a direct decision by "those that decide" that this district was not considered a targeted race. Also, I think a distinction needs to be made between grass roots and the "The party" that makes strategy and policy decisions. The RNC is focusing on at least other races in the country in particular they are focusing on Michael Steele, Ken Blackwell and Glen Swann. There are maybe two other black women running on the republican ticket for house seats. And in my conversation with other candidates it is difficult for black female Republican candidates to raise money from the traditional sources nationwide. This seat can be won and the people deserve better representation. However, the lack of funds has not dampened my desire or determination to run for this office. The message that we can do better is too important to back down.
Q: Currently you are running for Congress against Bennie Thompson. He has been a staple in office for so long, why do you feel as though it is time for a change and that you are the person to bring about that change?
A: As mayor I had the opportunity to be involved in many Para-government activities and organizations. Doing so has allowed me to hear the concerns of elected officials and citizens and observed the needs of the district. I believe that I can use my time and talents to provide leadership that is positive, progressive, productive and inclusive for better representation to the district. It is time to focus on what can be done to make Mississippi better rather than what is negative and not possible to achieve.
Q: The internet has done much to change the political environment. Have you seen your own support increasing online and how do you feel as though your campaign is using the internet to get your agenda across to voters.
A: It's amazing the amount of mileage my website has gotten. I think it allows people the opportunity to digest information at their leisure and then to communicate with people in their circle of influence their conclusion about me as a person and a viable candidate without a lot of interference.
Q: What do you think people misunderstand the most about you?
A: I think what people who don't know me misunderstand about me the most is that just because I identify with the republican party that I can't relate to the social ills that plague our communities or that I'm being used by the "party".
Q: As you have traveled throughout the state with your agenda, what has surprised you the most about the response?
A: The response of the people has been awesome! I have gone into many places throughout the district and stated who I am, who I running against and people will exclaim before I even share my reason for running "You Got my Vote!"
Q: In all fairness, I should say that Congressman Bennie Thompson was asked for a similar interview and we have not heard from his campaign as of the time of this discussion. In a statement posted on his official website in June 2006, the following was said: "Thompson's defeat of state Rep. Chuck Espy has solidified his position of power in state politics. Barring some unforeseen political calamity, Thompson has achieved a 'congressman-for-life' status if he so chooses to continue seeking re-election. Thompson has not won his seat outright. He still faces Republican opposition in November from Tchula Mayor Yvonne Brown. Brown is an outstanding woman and also a political rising star in the state. But based on Tuesday's turnout and results against a better-known Democrat in a strong Democratic district, it is highly unlikely she will be able to seriously challenge the incumbent congressman." With that being said, what do you want voters to know about yourself that separates you the most from his past and present platforms?
A: There are many issues that are facing our district and our state. There needs to be some healthy debate on health care reform which affects the bottom line for every business. There needs to be reform in the permitting process by which companies are allowed to build refineries. Currently it takes 5 – 10 years and a 500 page application before approval is given. In my opinion the oil crisis is based on supply and demand and monopolies. Tax reform must be taken more serious if we use the FairTax proposal we could strip the hidden federal income taxes and the cost of compliance. It would make goods more competitive overseas and more affordable here at home. We would no longer have to tax the poor and we could generate new sources of income and help create jobs.
There one thing that is special about me and that is the person (Jesus) that resides in me. In Him I live and move and have my very being. And because of that I love and trust people to a fault, but at the same time I am reminded that I have not been tested to the point of shedding my blood as God did so I have learned to forgive myself and forgive a lot of things people have done to me or said about me. For the past six years I have lived a life of sacrifice serving the city of Tchula, trusting God for my daily needs and the vision for the city. As I look back I can see that it is Him and only Him and by faith in Him...He has blessed me indeed and He has enlarged my territory, He has kept me from harm and kept me from harming others. He has provided a loving family, food, shelter, clothing and transportation and education on $7200.00 a year. It is because of my faith and strong conviction that I can run for congress with no deep financial support. You see I understand that what God has for me is for me and the Holy Spirit can move on the hearts of the people for me. Yes, it takes money to run a campaign but at this juncture I would rather have the hearts of the people and their confidence in me to serve them as their representative in the 2nd congressional district than millions in the bank to run a campaign. I will continue to work hard with what I have been given. That makes me unique because I am trusting in Him for today and the future as I have for the past 25 years. All things work for the good of them who are called according to His purpose... and I have been called for such a time as this.
Q: Aside from running a political campaign, you have been active in the preparation for the MS' Best Awards that will be in Jackson, MS on Saturday, October 28, 2006. The awards will focus attention on those who are making moves in the worlds of the arts, politics, business, music and literature. You are not only a presenter but nominated for "Best Mayor of a City". Why do you feel it is important that we recognize the good that people are doing over the state, especially through events such as this?
A: Far too often we focus on the negative and that which is sensational. There is much that is good about Mississippi and Mississippi's Best Awards will highlight the people and places that make us rock... There is so much diversity and sweet flavor in our state that we need to tell the stories and tell them loud and often.
Q: As people head to the polls in early November, what would you like for them to think about as they are casting their ballots?
A: When I'm engaging people on the trail I tell them "I am your candidate, the 2nd congressional seat does not belong to any individual, it belongs to "we the people" who elect us to serve and give account of their business. I am asking you "the people" to send me to represent you and the state of Mississippi with integrity. I am asking you "the people" to give me the opportunity to work for you and to make decisions based on what is right and just. I pledge to always honor you and your trust in me. As your representative I bring to the table leadership that is positive, progressive, productive and inclusive.
I have this quick update on this interview which was passed on to me by Mayor Brown's campaign manager, Gail Ambeau:
There will be a fundraiser/concert for Mayor Brown's campaign on Saturday, September 30, 2006 at the Vicksburg Convention Center. Doors open at 5p.m. and the performances begins promptly at 6p.m. For details, contact Gail at 601.826.4034 or via email at [email]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email]
- c a webb
i think the clarion ledger points yesterda added to something that we touched on in this interview: Mayor Brown's problem with funding her campaign. Money is an important factor if there is going to be a real chance here. As Mayor Brown mentioned in the Clarion Ledger interview, however, the thing that she is mainly running on is her record and integrity.
- c a webb
I think it sucks that both parties have decided that neither Mayor Brown nor Representative Fleming are "worthy" enough candidates to receive their full finacial support. (Not just party $$ but the private funds that are usually thrown behind THE party candidate.) It basically is coming down to conceding to the opposing party's candidate. I guess they're saving their money to support a different candidate in the elections in 4 years?
urbangypsy, thanks for the comment. and doesn't the cover of the new JFP look great! she is great in pictures and in person. definitely a woman that is deeply rooted in her faith.
- c a webb
An excerpt of this interview will appear in the Clarion Ledger on Thursday, September 28, 2006 in my column ONE ON ONE.
- c a webb
I don't have anything negative to say about the mayor. However, I read today in the clarion ledger that Cheif Ford was released due to budget problems. Not the fault of the mayor as far as I know. But I figure the Chief of Police is an important job. Does anyone know how the town is to manage crime without a chief? What's the plan if anyone knows. I promise I have no hidden agenda at all.
- Ray Carter