Running is nothing unusual for Ty Pinkins. A former military careerman, he is subject to jump out of bed any morning and knock off a four-mile run before going to work in his Vicksburg law office. But even there, his pace might kick up again as he delves into the constant stream of human rights, civil rights, and community organizing issues that compete for his attention more often than not. He might have to run across the state to pursue the case of a farmworker being cheated out of his wages, or a mother in Bolivar County being deprived of basic infant assistance that she has been denied under a very faulty state welfare system. Or he might find himself dashing off to Washington to offer testimony before a congressional committee about labor issues in the Mississippi Delta.
Fresh out of law school in 2021, Pinkins sued the state of Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves, and Michael Watson over the state’s gerrymandered Supreme Court districts.
“The districts for the Supreme Court were drawn in a way so that communities of color, especially in the Delta, have no say,” Pinkins said. “The Black votes in the Delta do not carry the same weight as the white votes across Mississippi.”
That case is still pending and is scheduled to go to trial next May.
A DIFFERENT RACE
Now, Pinkins, 49, is in a political race that poses another kind of challenge, but he is confident that it’s not something beyond his capacity to run and win by the time it ends on November 7.
When he got the opportunity to run for secretary of state of Mississippi in late August, Pinkins was already in the run for another major political office – the U. S. Senate.
He’s running now to become Mississippi secretary of state, an opportunity that came as a surprise to him, but once he realized that it was there for him, he hasn’t slowed down a bit. He’s changed jerseys, but he’s kept on kicking.
Pinkins and fellow Democrat Shuwaski Young had listened to the call of some of the older Democratic political leaders – Black and white – to challenge Republican incumbents for all state and federal offices, despite what seems to be overwhelming numbers of Pro-Trump and Tea Party white Republicans who dominate the state.
Young declared as a candidate for secretary of state in January 2023 and Pinkins declared for the 2024 U.S. Senate race at about the same time. Neither Young nor Republican incumbent Michael Watson faced opposition in the primaries, and the two would only clash in the November 7 general elections running under their party banners.
Young was a former staff member for the secretary of state and had also worked for the U.S. Homeland Security Agency and announced on August 23 that he was suffering from medical complications-–”a hypertensive crisis” – and was withdrawing from the general election.
STATE OFFICE CHALLENGE
By law, the political parties have control over the candidates running on their ticket, and Pinkins was allowed to fill he vacated secretary of state slot.
“We could not have found a better candidate than Ty Pinkins,” said Democratic Party Chair Cheikh Taylor, who is also the state representative for House District 38.
“He has a stellar background. He’s served our country as a military warrant officer. He pursued an undergraduate degree at Tougaloo and Georgetown University, earning a law degree from Georgetown. As an attorney he devotes much of his practice to community and human rights issues.
“He is a champion not only for Mississippi but for this nation as well. His initial pursuit was for U.S. Congress. And by no means, as the old adage was that if you are a serious candidate then maybe jumping into this race is something you might not consider. But that is just not who he is. He’s the guy who runs to the fire to save someone from the burning building. And at that particular time, he was doing the Democratic Party a favor by stepping up in the absence of Shuwaski Young.
“By no means is this a lame duck race, and by no means is this an unwinnable race. In fact, he is bringing a particular type of energy that will energize the African American vote. All of our children can look up at Ty Pinkins and say, ‘Hey, listen, this is the new standard.’ And I think we can all be pleased with the results.”
Former state representative and labor leader Jim Evans of Jackson says the state Republicans can be defeated if the people turn out in greater numbers than they have in recent years.
“I think Ty Pinkins understands the process quite well,” Evans said Monday. “He also understands that it’s hard work. What I saw was he is willing to do that hard work. We have to convince our people they have a stake in this thing and they can win.
“How we can motivate turnout, how we can motivate our people to understand that this is about them, and that they can navigate a better quality of life for themselves and their families. Ty really wants to be a conduit to make that happen.
“But we can’t do this if we’re voting at 25 and 30 percent. We’ve got to get our folks up to voting over 50 percent. If we can do that this time, we can win.”
Evans looks back over a half century of Republican encroachments into the top political offices in the state. He was a member of the legislature when Michael Watson was first elected to the state senate in 2007. Watson and the recently defeated lieutenant governor candidate, Chris McDaniel, represented the extreme right-wing Tea Party in the legislature. Watson also served as McDaniel’s attorney in 2014 during McDaniel’s widely denounced attempt to unseat Republican Senator Thad Cochran.
“They have no values, only negative values,” Evans said of the former Tea Party members. “The secretary of state’s office has been used more to harass voters and make it more difficult to vote rather than facilitate the ballot. The Tea Party is a party of insurrection and had nothing to do with democracy or progressivism. They’re about conservative ideology that keeps things as they are or turning back the clock. Jim Crowism is what Watson and the Tea Party stand for.”
“These white Mississippi Republicans are trapped in a grave of stupidity and covered with a blanket of ignorance and hatred,” Evans said. “The real situation is they’ve been lied to and hoodwinked and bamboozled for so long and they don’t want to admit that they’ve been had. That’s the problem with the Republican Party in Mississippi. They’ve been had. And they’ve been played, but they don’t want to admit that they’ve been played.”
Pinkins views Watson as a right-wing career politician with no true interest in increasing the voting rolls in Mississippi.
“I support educating voters about the ballot box acts. I think every secretary of state should do that,” Pinkins said. “But Michael Watson is a career politician and has never actually had to work in a community where the right to vote is the most valuable currency that our citizens have. Over the past few years that he’s been in office, Watson has failed to restore the ballot initiative. That is major item. He’s failed to introduce online voter registration to the legislature so they can try to pass it. He has also failed to modernize Mississippi’s outdated, inefficient and restricted voter registration and election process. I don’t think he should get to run unopposed with that type of record.”
Pinkins said that Watson’s current promotion of voter education is not sincere and is designed to grab attention in the media while he pays little or no attention to the deeper problems of electoral politics in the state.
“He is willing to support legislation like HB1020, where Jacksonians are going to become, or potentially become, the first and only group of Mississippians subject to unelected judges,” he said. “And he’s supported SB2358, which stripped disabled people and elderly community members from the right to determine who helps them vote. He’s in support of the felony disfranchisement laws which have been on the Mississippi books for decades, laws that we know were instituted for explicitly racist reasons. So, for those reasons, if you can’t represent all Mississippians and create systems that make the voting process easier for all Mississippians, then you don’t get to run unopposed. You’re going to have to earn this, and our goal is to make sure that he gets the opportunity to go home after November 7.”
“Think about how much more powerful a voter education program would be if you were delivering that type of information to voters to tell them that we’ve done something new in Mississippi. Now you can register online. Or you can register the same day (as the voting precincts open). Or if you get to the voting polls and a poll worker tells you there’s a discrepancy with regard to your address or with regard to you being named a junior or a senior, you could fix that on the spot because of same day voter registration. And you can go in and still pass your ballot.
“Imagine if Watson had been working over the last several years to implement some of those policies and using that to educate voters, instead of going around telling voters what day they can vote on in the primaries or what day they can vote on in the general election, and more egregiously, that your time to register to vote is going to cut off on a specific date 30 days before the general election.
“I think it’s hypocritical and I think it shines a light on the incompetency he has displayed in that office over the last several years.”
Pinkins never shies away from a problem or an issue that impacts the lives and health of his neighbors or his community.
When the unusual problem of white South Africans being recruited by white farmers in the Delta to displace Black workers whose families helped to make the Delta the agriculture wonder that it is, he swept into action, voluntarily taking up the case of a number of Black workers and their families and giving a voice to them before Congress when nobody else in Mississippi showed any signs of caring.
Mississippi farmers in the Delta bring in white South African farmers under what is called the H2A Program that has all the stamps of legality and legitimacy but turns out to be unfair when Black households in the Delta suffer from widespread unemployment and less than livable wages when they are working on the farms.
“I think it’s a shame in Mississippi that we have Mississippi workers that are being paid less than foreign workers for the same work,” Pinkins said in July 2022 after giving testimony before Congress on the farm situation. “Mississippi workers are literally having to train the foreign workers.
“What happens when local workers ask for a raise?” he asks. “Everyone wants to be paid fairly for an honest day’s work. Well, when local workers ask to be paid equal to their South African counterparts, one of three things happen: they are either ignored, flat out told ‘no’, or threatened with being fired.”
Democratic Chair Taylor denounced the consistent ploys of corrupt Republican operatives who seek to either divide or depress the Black Democratic votes by paying corrupt Black Democrats to run as Independents or as a third-party candidate to guarantee a white Republican victory by splitting up the Black votes.
“You go to bed with an Independent, you wake up with a Republican,” Evans said.
There are at least 20 members of the current legislature, both Black and white, who were elected as Democrats and for no convincing reason other than the suspicion of Republican bribes or special payoffs, have relabeled themselves as either Independents or Republicans.
“There is no three-party system in the state of Mississippi,” Taylor said. “There’re only two parties. Even when the Republicans recruit our African Americans, their promises fall flat.
We’ve had several candidates in the House of Representatives races who were promised a number of things to run as Independents. Those things did not materialize. In the end, the Republicans will win the contest because of the split Black vote.
“We have to be mature voters in this day and age,” Taylor added. “We’ve had a long and torrid history with race and racism in our state. And it isn’t going anywhere. Now, we can turn a blind eye and plant our feet and move forward, and that’s what I plan to do as chair of the Democratic Party. But by no means does that mean that I will ignore or downplay the destructive tactics and the strategies that have worked far too often in our communities. We are under attack.”