Brandon Jones says the Mississippi Democratic Trust, a new political action committee he helped start in 2011 and now heads as executive director, grew from "humble recognition" of his party's shortcomings, many of which helped Republicans achieve a near-sweep in the last statewide election.
"There's no question that Republicans cleaned our clocks in November, and they didn't do it by running as Republicans light. They ran more engaged and compelling campaigns and were willing to push harder, perhaps, than we were," said Jones, 34, who represented Pascagoula in the Mississippi House until Republican upstart Charles Busby defeated him by a slim 35-vote margin in the last election.
As a result of Democrats breezing to a majority in the House for more than a century, the party failed to adapt to the 21st-century way of politicking, Jones said. Now, he sees Democrats struggling to regain a foothold in state politics in the face of a bigger, better-funded Republican machine.
That's where he hopes the Mississippi Democratic Trust can come in by being a much-needed fundraising, communications and policy development arm of the party.
Members of the trust include Rep. Earle Banks of Jackson, Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, Sen. Kelvin Butler of McComb, and Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley.
Recently, Jones explained to the Jackson Free Press what's wrong with the Democratic Party and how his organization is trying to fix it.
From what I know of it, the Mississippi Democratic Trust's aim is to support Democratic candidates. What does that mean?
I don't think I'm saying anything that's all that profound when I say we as Democrats have done a poor job at laying out our vision, and we've done a poor job keeping pace with Republicans when it comes to messaging and fundraising.
Why aren't Democrats doing these things already?
When you are able to win elections without running modern campaigns, the muscles you use to communicate and fund raise atrophy. Over the course of time, Democrats, despite not running modern campaigns, have been able to have some electoral success.
Did Democrats get comfortable?
I think that would be a fair thing to say. I don't know how else you describe where we are right now. Now, that's the grim point of view. I have full confidence that this will not be nearly as long a journey as some people might expect. I was concerned going into this legislative session how we might articulate what Democrats stand for and how we articulate that we are looking out for Mississippians in a way that the Republican Party is not. Then the legislative session started, and that is becoming more and more clear every day: You have a party in power that is obsessed with chasing down wedge issue after wedge issue in an effort to settle political scores and to go after political enemies with little regard for the real issues that are on peoples minds across the state.
But didn't the people put Republicans in power?
They ran more engaged and compelling campaigns and were willing to push harder, perhaps, than we were. But they didn't tell the people of Mississippi, "Elect us and as of March 1, we will have signed one bill, which is a tax increase on the citizens of Hancock County." They didn't say, "Elect us, and we'll roll out yet another abortion bill, yet another in a long line of gun bills, yet another in a long line of immigration bills and yet another in a long line of bills aimed at Jim Hood."
Actually, the centerpiece of (Gov.) Phil Bryant's campaign was jobs. I would challenge anyone in the state to show me what he's done to create jobs. Now, did they win their election? Sure. But this is not what we were promised. I think Mississippians have common values, and I don't think those common values are that we sit back and shoot spitballs at each other at our Capitol for four months each year.
Why is it so hard for Democrats to raise money in Mississippi when it has so many core Democratic constituencies?
My feeling is effort. How many Democrats are out there dialing these constituents to ask for money, to let them know that campaigns cost money and we need their support in other ways, like reaching out to their friends? These are things that are second nature to Republicans.
Again, I think Democrats in Mississippi have been slow to waking up to what you need to do to run modern campaigns. I don't even think we can be fairly appraised right now, because you can't really gauge what you're working with until you get a full-throated effort from the other side. And up to this point, Democrats have not given that full-throated effort.
What are some examples of modern techniques?
Speed. I think we've been quicker on the draw (in communicating with the news media) than Republicans for the first time in eight years. Most members of the press corps are probably noticing that, because it so striking for Democrats to be fast at anything. The other way is basic communication (between) Democrats in the House and Senate. Now, don't get me wrong, it happens in pockets, but in terms of ... trying to develop a cohesive strategy, we're not as good as we ought to be.
What's being done about the shortage of young Democratic talent in the state?
The challenge of young Democrats is so much greater, because they're dealing with an opposition that's so much better financed and so much better organized. But I think that's one of our most important roles – to develop that young talent and encourage them to get involved.
By the end of the session, what tangible thing would you like the MDT to have achieved?
We have to get our house in order on the inside before we worry about what the paint looks like on the outside.
So it's a rebuilding year?
For us as a group, something we'd like to see, we'd like to be looked at as the go-to entity for folks who are interested in looking to advance their party. We've just started, and we've got some work to do in that respect.