Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons is a rising star in the Mississippi Democratic Party. He made waves last week with his response to Governor Tate Reeves’ State of the State Address. Reeves touted advances in education and promised to keep critical race theory out of schools, a focus that Simmons says is misguided.
“We’ve got real issues to address – criminal justice reform, adequate funding for public schools, college access, or health care access. These are real issues facing every Mississippian,” he said. “Not issues that are on Fox News or issues that don’t even exist.”
Simmons first took office in 2015 after a historic landslide victory, making him the first Black male mayor of Greenville. Simmons won re-election to his second term as mayor in 2019, running unopposed. Before Simmons was elected as mayor, he began his career in municipal government as the youngest city councilman in history in 2007. During his tenure as mayor, Greenville has seen more than $350 million in new local, state, federal, and private investments. He says the faux uproar in Governor Reeves’ address is nothing more than ultra conservative talking points.
“This wave has no value in American democracy. It has no value in creating a perfect union. It has no value in bettering Mississippi,” he said. “This has no point but to further divide us and trample on rights. It truly has no place in America.”
Simmons says one issue in the Delta he’s tackled head on is formerly incarcerated men and women returning back to their small towns without many opportunities. Greenville has created a re-entry and training program. Simmons says they started by hiring twenty returning citizens and pinpointing local opportunities in the workforce.
“It’s simple. If they can come to work on time, if they can pass a drug test, they are working in the city of Greenville,” he said. “We hired our first returning citizen in March 2018. And that brother is now a manager at our airport.”
Simmons says it’s not just about giving them a job, it’s about providing a holistic approach to reform. Participants get insurance and assistance in becoming part of PERS – Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi. Simmons says he can’t wait on the state to help the Delta. He wants to stimulate change now.
“We would love for monies to come from the state to help our re-entry program and not just give lip service to it. That’s why I put it in my speech,” he said.
Simmons says in order for Democrats to gain ground against the Republican super-majority they have to stay true to the bedrock issues that affect all voters. Two of those, he says, are healthcare and infrastructure.
“Everyone travels on roads, bridges, and thoroughfares to get home. And what I hear all the time is that we need to stay on top of infrastructure,” he said. “Infrastructure has a direct effect on economic development.”
Simmons says his speech put a huge spotlight on the Delta and southwest Mississippi, prompting calls from other mayors in the area. He says there can be no “winners and losers” when it comes to Mississippi and admonished lawmakers who have used negative statistics about the Delta to get funds that never actually reach the people.
“Don’t use the Delta health statistics to get money, but the money doesn’t get to the Delta. Don’t use our poverty rates but in your policies you overlook the Delta,” he said.
With the proposed redistricting of Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District, current congressman, Representative Bennie Thompson, would now have to represent portions of southwest Mississippi. Democratic lawmakers have argued that the additional counties will make the district too expansive to cover. Simmons says he believes Thompson won’t have an issue with that.
“Thompson won’t have an issue with that. Frankly, it’s not an issue with the federal response to the Delta and southwest MS; it’s the state response to the Delta,” he said. “We need a plan that includes all of Mississippi. There are Republicans in that district too. All we’re saying is treat everyone the same. And not until then will we be Mississippi strong.”