The Republican nominee for Jackson mayor, Jason Wells, 34, has returned to the polls once again in hope of successfully finding what he desires in life, a political office. Wells has participated in previous elections: once running for city council against Tony Yarber, a few times for constable and now against Democratic nominee Chokwe Antar Lumumba in the June 6 general election.
Wells' views are largely opposite of his Democratic opponent. As a part of his protocol to lower the crime rate in Jackson, he said that he plans to renovate old downtown buildings to build more prisons for serious-offense criminals and undocumented immigrants, who he says are taking jobs away from Jackson residents.
Living in a country home in Clinton, Wells was raised by his father, Charles Wells, and mother, Alma Funchess. Wells told the JFP that his father was one of the first black constables for Hinds County and his mother was a deputy clerk for the Mississippi Supreme Court. Wells followed in his family's career path of law enforcement. He worked for attorney Precious Martin Sr for eight or nine years as chief investigator, he said. He is currently a Jackson Police Department security officer and has worked with the City for six years.
In his May 11 interview at the Jackson Free Press, Wells was unaware that he needed to submit campaign-finance reports and admitted that it is challenging to raise money from supporters in a predominantly Democratic city. He was oblivious to the status of the One Lake project, and to President Donald Trump's proposed budget cuts to federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development that could be detrimental to Mississippians.
Otherwise, Wells is persistent and confident that he is the change the people of Jackson need and want. He escaped the primary run-off against Republican candidate, Walter Stone, with a total of 174 votes and 53.54-percent of the minuscule vote.
Wells says that, as mayor, he plans to improve Jackson by lowering the crime rate, providing more jobs, revamping the police department, and building more attractions downtown for tourists.
Tell me about yourself.
I'm 34. I was born and raised in Clinton. I came to Jackson in '99, 2000. Finished up at Forest Hill. I took up my criminal-justice degree, bachelor's of science, online with Kaplan University. I worked for the late Precious Martin for about eight or nine years before he died.
What'd you do for Precious?
His chief investigator. I started working with the City of Jackson in 2012. I been working with them ever since. I do security with them.
What kind of security?
JPD Security. We be at Union Station, we be at the Hood Building, we be at City Hall, (and) the police department across the street.
What would you say are the city's biggest challenges right now?
I'll say the biggest challenge is lowering our crime rate, revamping the city zoo, revamping the police department, and bringing jobs into the city of Jackson.
How can we do those things?
Well, first we have to try to get a control on crime. By doing that we get a tougher and nonchalant police chief.
We start putting more officers on the ground where they do a lot of more community policing. That way we can put more officers on horsebacks, we can put officers on bicycles, we can also put officers on foot patrol. Even in neighborhoods we can do the same thing.
When you say community policing, what exactly do you mean? It often means different things.
Community policing is basically the police officers making you feel comfortable. You knowing the police officer that control the beat. That way if anything happen you won't be hesitating to tell that officer what went on.
What about the officers who don't want to be out walking around?
Well, it's not gone really be their choice because that's the only way we're going to get a control on crime.
Why are you running for mayor?
I'll say I'm running for mayor because I'm a staunch Republican. That mean I'm dedicated and loyal to the job. That mean I'm not doing it for a paycheck; I'm willing to give up $60,000 of my salary to put back to the infrastructure here in the city of Jackson. I have seen Jackson deteriorate since I've been here in 2000. That mean jobs have left, the streets done crumbled, and the water system is shocked, and that's something we need to have better focus on. And by getting a focus on it, we can look at different cities that had the same problems, (and) that came out of them problems.
I also want to revamp our city parks and open up some type of community center that's no cost to the citizens. That way our youth could go in and learn different trades. They could do basketball and other events. They have some type of activity to do after school and during the summer.
What other kind of activities?
You can do a dance team. I want them to shadow me for like two weeks. They can shadow the police chief. They can shadow the fire chief. They can shadow city councilmen. You know you got a lot of people that want to get into politics, but they're afraid to get into it because they don't have nothing to look forward to as a future.
With infrastructure, what would be your biggest priorities?
By the streets, we look at different asphalt, and we see how long it last us. We see how much it cost 'cause we might want to spend a little bit more money to last us 75 more years. When it comes to water and sewage, I've been looking at different cities that had the same problems and how they redid their pipes. I don't want to pronounce it wrong but it's ... where you inline the pipes and keep it from exploding no matter how much pressure gets on that pipe, no matter how old it is. They say you got to do it each year. So, (if) we go in and do it each year, it'll save us in the long run.
In a previous interview, you mentioned that you used to be a Democrat. Why exactly did you switch to being a Republican?
They say this city is basically Democrats. They say you have to be a Democrat to win office, and that's what I did. I always been a Republican because I believe in smaller government (and) less taxes. I believe in helping you when you need to be helped (and) not giving you a hand-out.
You've run for different positions so far but have been unsuccessful. What keeps you motivated to run?
I ran for constable a couple of times, and then I ran for city councilman up against Tony Yarber. And what motivated me was to know what I wanted out of life. I've always wanted to hold a political office. Something I can help other people with. More in the lines of mayor, senator (and) congressman. More in lines of that way 'cause I always dreamed of running for president one day.
Do you have a campaign office?
No. I have a volunteer team so we basically haven't set up a campaign office yet.
And have you submitted your financial reports already?
No, not yet.
How much money have you raised and spent?
I've been actually doing it out of my paycheck. ... Maybe close to $1,000 on signs and push cards.
You know you're supposed to have filed a report already.
OK. Alright. I got it at home. The paperwork is at home.
Are you trying to raise money?
Yes. I've called different attorneys that I've worked for, but of course them saying they're Democrats, they don't want to contribute to a Republican.
Do you believe you can win?
I think the people are ready for a change. That's what I really believe. They really ready for a change, and they want somebody who gone be there for them and not just say they gone be there for them. They want dedication.
What kind of change exactly?
People are tired of not being able to go outside their houses and not get mugged or not being killed. They're tired of their houses being broken into. They're tired of driving over the streets of Jackson (and) tearing up their cars because do you know the money that we pay for your car being tore up, that's money we can put back into fixing the streets of Jackson. And then we only pay you maybe one-third of what it cost you so we really don't give you as much as you think you gone get. Like if your car cost you $500 to fix, we might give you $90 or $100 on that.
Other than small government, what are your other Republican views?
Other Republican views are more like that we have better education. I'm looking at trying to bring charter schools into the city of Jackson because I want it to be known that if your child is failing, I want them to be able to come get tutored on Saturday and Sunday at no cost to them. That means even if I don't get charter schools here, you can bring them to City Hall and we (can) tutor them. We believe in giving the power back to the people, where the people deserve the power. That way y'all can make the decision, not the government telling you what to do and what not to do.
What needs to happen to improve public education in Jackson?
We need to look at hiring more experienced teachers. I went to Forest Hill (High School), not this year but when I was running for constable, and I spoke with some of the teachers up there.
The science teacher told me (that) the math teacher wrote her lesson plan. You know, to me that's very unacceptable because how would she write a lesson plan for a subject she don't even teach. So this is something we need to look into. We need to get a better superintendent that's able to do the job and that want to help the kids.
How do you hire more experienced teachers, if you're in favor of smaller government?
Correct. When it comes to education we highly favor (funding) education.
In 2016, you said that you liked Donald Trump. Have your views changed since he's been elected?
You know what. I don't want to speak on that one. (Laughs.)
Business minded, he good. Political minded, he's not all that good. That's why we got Mike Pence.
But you like Mike Pence?
Yes, I love Mike Pence. Mike Pence is very political minded. He knows what it takes to get things done. With President Trump ... it's more of I like how he wants to run the United States as a business. Cause basically that's what we need ... for the City to be run as a business.
Would you contract out more or privatize more services than there are now?
Depends on what we're looking at. As far as repairing the streets, yes.
Would you try to shrink the size of city government from the size that it is now?
I believe that we need to. I truly believe we need to.
Are you aware of the federal budget cuts that Trump was proposing?
No, I heard something about it, but I'm not aware of it.
Basically, he proposed large federal budget cuts. And one of those cuts is $6.2 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD administers the community development block grant, or CDBG, program. The cuts would affect poor, minority communities. What are your views on that?
To be honest, just my opinion, it's something that we shouldn't mess with. I mean, I wouldn't mess with it.
That it shouldn't be cut?
Right. That's just my opinion.
Trump is threatening to cut federal funds from cities like Jackson that won't use local police to round up undocumented immigrants. What do you think of that?
Well, I think that the immigrants that we have in Jackson, they (are) taking away from jobs (from) the citizens of Jackson. If they're illegal, I don't think that they should be over (here) because they are committing crimes, and then they run back to Mexico and think they got away.
We're all committing crimes, you know—meaning people of all backgrounds commit crime.
Well yeah, we're committing crimes, too, but I'm just saying. We all should be held responsible for the crime we commit because I want my city, if I win, I want my city to be like our surrounding cities like Madison, Pearl, Byram (and) Clinton where we bring in more jobs and have less crime because we're tougher on crime. People right now think that they can commit a crime and run to Jackson, and that's something I want to put a stop to.
How would you put a stop to it?
I'm going to build a jail. We got a lot of buildings down here that we can revamp into a city jail to house our own criminals. We got the Coca-Cola plant on Highway 80, we can revamp into it. We have other buildings, too, that I haven't looked at, but we got them. I know the Coca-Cola plant will be a nice one.
Your idea is to lock more people up to prevent crime?
The ones that's committing the crime. Also, I look at offering a mayoral pardon. With that is, you might owe me traffic tickets, and I'm looking for somebody who just robbed a store. You know who they are. You come to me, and we go behind closed doors, you give me that person, and I give you a mayoral pardon. That mean I wipe your slate clean from the City of Jackson.
What would be the limit of offenses that you would wipe clean?
Should people be held in jail if they can't afford to pay their fines?
I think you ought to pay or stay. If you can't pay your fines I think you ought to pay or stay. ... I'm going to put you out here. I got a lot of paper that needs to be picked up. I got a lot of houses and businesses that need to be boarded up, and I got a lot of grass that needs to be cut.
Would you lock up youth when they commit a crime or have an offense on their record?
Depends on what kind of crime it is because the parent should be held accountable, too.
What about alternatives for youth instead of going straight to jail?
If they want to do the different community programs that's something that we can look into. If they want to learn a job trade. Like, say they want to get into contracting. Then I'll look into that and bring that option for them to get out here and do, it's a skill and I'd rather offer them a skill than throwing them away.
What would you do about the re-entry problem? When people come out of jails, they're at a higher risk of committing more crime.
Well, it depends on what I locked them up for. Alright, depends on where I'm going to place them at. But I will look at getting them a job with the City. If they got anything like maybe rape or attempted murder, then I'll have to look at the department I want to put you in and then you have to show me, really show me, that you changed. Because a lot of the people learn skills, you know, in jail, and then they still get out and do the same thing. No matter if you do try to help them or not.
How would they really show you that they've changed?
They'll have to be dedicated. If I give them like 60 days to come to work, they'll have to be dedicated. Never call in, always show up on time. They'll have to be the first one there and the last one to leave.
People like that kill people, though.
Yeah. They do. But I'll have to take that chance.
What do you feel needs to happen to improve economic development here in Jackson?
Like I say, we just have to bring more jobs here to the city. To bring it up economically. You know, even the downtown area. We really got to clean downtown up in order to bring it back.
I talk to a lot of the homeless. A lot of them actually want to do things with their life. They just can't find work right now. So, they ask me all the time, if I win office, would I give them something to do. Even if it's like picking up paper, or letting them clean up Smith Park, or cut grass. I told them "Yes." That right there bring more attraction to the city of Jackson.
Even like, I want to bring an aquarium outside the City Hall.
Yes. That'll bring back, that'll bring a lot of attention to the city. A lot of tourists would come to this city of Jackson just to see that. A lot of jobs will come here just because of what goes on with downtown Jackson. Even with different festivities. I want to have like a Halloween day. We can set downtown up with spooky lights. Something like businesses give out candy for the kids. So, it's all about different ideas you come up with to bring back the downtown area.
What kind of ideas have you come up with to provide more jobs for the homeless or their other concerns?
First, I'll have to look at our budget. If our budget allows it, I could even impetrate a certain department just to cater to them, to give them something to do. And trust me, it'll be whatever it is downtown. Like say, for instance, you come and you open up a business downtown, and you need help revamping it. Then, a lot of them got skills, I'll put them out there to help you revamp that, and the City will pay them. There will be no expenses to you.
Who are your top supporters?
I've been with Gov. Phil Bryant.*
You're saying he supports you?
Yes. We're on pictures together.
... He told me never give up on what I want to do in life. We got a really good relationship. We met at the Republican office when Donald Trump won.
Ever since then, I've been calling him for like different ideas. When I'm meeting with different people, he tell me what to do and what not to do.
... I got a cell number for (Bryant). Matter of fact, when we had my election, my watch party, he was unable to come that night because he was out of the state.
Were you encouraged to run by the Republican party?
Has Bryant helped get your campaign funded in any way?
Not yet. I actually got a meeting with them tomorrow. With the Republican Party.*
You plan on getting funding from the Republicans?
Tell me what you think about the One Lake project?
I haven't looked into it. I haven't even just studied it.
What would you like to add?
I plan on moving downtown if I win.
Where are you going to live downtown?
The Plaza. Cause I believe that the mayor of Jackson should live in ... Downtown Jackson. Just like the governor do.
Talk about your management style.
Management style. Basically, I'm going to be a nonchalant type of management. I just recently opened up my own business, Jason Wells Investigation.
Do you have employees or have you ever managed people?
OK. How long ago did you open your business?
Almost two years ago.
What kind of stuff do you investigate in your business?
We do cheating spouse. We do subpoenas. We do expungements.
Where is it located?
Right now, I do it out of my house. I got an office inside my house.
*Note: The Mississippi Republican Party has not yet confirmed or denied a relationship between Wells and the GOP or Gov. Phil Bryant, or whether the party is providing him campaign funds.
See factcheck links in this story posted at jacksonfreepress.com/election2017. Donna Ladd assisted with this interview.
Email city reporting intern William Kelly III at [email protected] with comments and story tips about the city.
Jason Wells, 34
Education: Forest Hill High School; Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice, Kaplan University (online)
Political Experience: None
Job: Chief Investigator, Precious Martin Sr. & Associates, PLLC, eight or nine years; Jackson Police Department Security, 2012-Present
Family: Unmarried; Daughter Alexandria Wells, 7 months; Son Jayvain Wells, 4; Son Jason Wells Jr., 8.