JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Four DeSoto County House Republican incumbents targeted by a pro-school choice group because of opposition to charter schools are among at least nine incumbents who lost party primaries Tuesday.
State Reps. Wanda Jennings and Pat Nelson of Southaven, along with Forrest Hamilton of Olive Branch and Gene Alday of Walls, were defeated by challengers Tuesday.
Schoolteacher Ashley Henley beat Nelson in House District 40, while Steve Hopkins beat Jennings in House District 7. FedEx pilot and gun rights blogger Dana Criswell defeated Hamilton in House District 6, while youth minister Dan Eubanks beat Alday. Eubanks and Henley will face Democrats Nov. 7 in the heavily Republican county, while Hopkins and Criswell face no further opposition.
Other incumbents who lost include Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, Sen. Steve Hale, D-Senatobia, Sen. Phillip Gandy, R-Waynesboro, Rep. Reecy Dickson, D-Macon and Rep. Brad Oberhousen, D-Terry. Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, was also trailing early Wednesday.
The DeSoto County challengers were financially supported by Empower Mississippi, motivated by what the group saw as incumbents' failures to sufficiently support charter schools and education vouchers. The four incumbents who lost, combined with Tuesday's election of Empower Mississippi supporter Joel Bomgar to a House seat in Madison County, could clear the way for broader legislation supporting charter schools and state aid to parents who want to send their children to private schools. Some other candidate with challengers who were financially aided by Empower, including Rep. Ray Rogers, R-Pearl and Rep. Tom Weathersby, R-Florence, survived.
Nelson and Hamilton blame negative mailers sent to voters for their losses. Hamilton counted 15 in his race, while Nelson counted 11.
"All it said was vote against Pat Nelson," the one-term incumbent said.
Empower spent $255,000 before the primaries, with the four DeSoto County challengers getting more than $111,000.
The challengers said their wins are a rejection of establishment politics in the Memphis suburbs of DeSoto County. They had criticized the incumbents for being too close to outgoing County School Superintendent Milton Kuykendall.
"There has been a conservative movement in DeSoto County where people are tired of establishment politics," Criswell said. He said incumbents hadn't done enough to fight the Common Core academic standards that Mississippi has adopted.
Henley, a schoolteacher who spoke to The Associated Press as she was returning home from a back-to-school night, said she felt voters supported her because they could relate to her.
"I'm just like everybody else," Henley said. "I have to work."
Hale lost to fellow Sen. Bill Stone, who moved to Holly Springs after Republicans redrew his former district to make it less favorable. Hale sued to have Stone declared ineligible, but the state Supreme Court ruled he met requirements.
Gandy lost to State Rep Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, who moved up to challenge Gandy in a rural southeast Mississippi district.
One of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves' closest allies, Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo was upset by Guntown Alderman Chad McMahan. Dickson, who had held her seat since 1993, was eliminated as two challengers in her redrawn district went to a runoff.
Jones was trailing former senator Barbara Blackmon narrowly after all the votes were counted. It wasn't clear if there were enough provisional votes to make a difference.
Rep. Karl Gibbs, D-West Point, was forced into a runoff. Some other incumbents appear to have survived close calls in their primaries, including Rep. Gary Staples, R-Laurel, Rep. Deborah Butler Dixon, D-Jackson and Rep. David Myers, D-McComb.