/Despite dramatic electoral and financial setbacks, Hester Jackson-McCray makes legislative history

Despite dramatic electoral and financial setbacks, Hester Jackson-McCray makes legislative history

A man appeared at the door with bad news. She had missed too many payments and her car was being reposested. Jackson-McCray, a Horn Lake resident, is raising six of her eight grandchildren in her Horn Lake home. She knows the struggles that many face, and 2019 has been particularly difficult. After a 30-year career as a nurse, Jackson-McCray had to quit full-time work due to complications following a knee operation. She started a small catering company to help her get by while she waited for her disability application approval. Her regular income began to decrease and her bills started to mount. Jackson-McCray explained to Mississippi Today that she had to make a decision about whether to get a car or a roof over her head. “At that time, even with the campaign, knocking doors and meeting people, having a roof above my head was more important than having a car,” Jackson-McCray said. But Jackson-McCray, a Democrat rode with family and friends to continue her campaign for the House seat in DeSoto County’s heart. This is one of the most populous and organized Republican counties in Mississippi. Many political forecasters considered it difficult for a Democrat, due to its geographic location and demographics. This perception of difficulty was clearly evident four years ago when Jackson-McCray lost the election for the House seat to Republican state Rep. Ashley Henley. Henley received 68 percent of the vote to Jackson-McCray’s 32 percent in 2015. Henley was defeated by Jackson-McCray this year, despite financial and physical setbacks. Jackson-McCray stated that “I believe there are many people in this state who’ve been struggling to make ends meets for a long period of time.” “I hope it will be good to have someone similar to me at the Capitol to fight on their behalf,” Jackson-McCray said. Mississippi Democrats are not optimistic after a difficult 2019 election cycle. She will also be remembered for her win: Jackson-McCray will become the first African American legislator representing DeSoto County. She said, “I think about what this win signifies.” “Having grandchildren and children looking back at history and saying, “That’s my grandma.” It’s great to see her hard work pay off. Henley filed last week a formal election petition seeking to reverse the election results. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives will hold hearings in January and determine if the results should remain. Jackson-McCray was raised in Chicago, but she has been a resident of DeSoto County since 2001. She has previously run for local office three times, twice as Horn Lake mayor and once as Horn Lake alderwoman. She won the Nov. 5 general elections with very limited financial support. She raised approximately $7,000 which included a $1500 donation from Mississippi Public Education PAC. Henley, her opponent raised $21,000 including large donations from Empower Mississippi. This is one of the most powerful interest groups in the state that supports conservative education policies and works with allies throughout the state. Since 2012, House District 40 has been a target for Democratic political operatives. It is located just south of Memphis. The black voting age population (BVAP), was only 30 percent at the time of the drawing. Low BVAP districts in Mississippi almost always mean easy wins for Republicans. However, the district’s voters have always voted for Democrats in statewide elections. In 2019, the district voted for Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood for the governor’s seat. In 2018, the Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Mike Espy won the general election and won even more in the runoff. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. The Mississippi Democratic Trust staff got involved with Jackson-McCray’s campaign. The political committee created and managed a website, as well as social media accounts, to help Jackson-McCray target potential Democratic voters during the general election. People have this idea about Hester. People wonder if she’s just a recurring candidate who might not be able to win. They dismiss her without even considering her chances,” Merritt Baria said, the deputy director of Mississippi Democratic Trust. To be truthful, I thought the same thing. When I met her, there was no doubt about whether she would win and whether we should invest. Jackson-McCray stated that she had knocked on 6 000 doors by Election Day. She was already hard at work. She claimed that she targeted potential Democratic voters who had recently moved to the area — DeSoto County, a suburb of Memphis is by nature transient — but were not yet registered during the primary. She said that she made contact with these voters during the general election to verify they had submitted the required paperwork to vote in November. She stated that her first priority in the Legislature will be to sponsor and write legislation that will improve public school teachers’ pay. She stated that her platform was to save schools and fully fund schools. We need to ensure that teachers are adequately supported, so that they don’t have to work two or three jobs to make ends met. They won’t be able to pay back their school loans. They don’t deserve it. They are a better teacher than that.”