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Gunasekara residency challenge rejected by GOP committee

Photo courtesy Mandy Gunasekara

Northern District Transportation Commissioner Republican candidate Mandy Gunasekara Thursday learned the state Republican Party Executive Committee was denying a challenge to her qualifications. 

Hernando attorney Matthew Barton, himself a Republican candidate for DeSoto County District Attorney, had sent a letter to the Executive Committee challenging Gunasekara’s residency to allow her to be on the ballot. 

Barton claimed Gunasekara had not lived in Mississippi long enough to achieve the five-year requirement for residency. Gunasekara worked in Washington, D.C. for several years, including time as chief of staff for the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Donald Trump.  While in Washington, she voted in a D.C. election in 2018, but it was just over five years beyond the Nov. 7, 2023 election date in Mississippi. She maintains that her residence has been Oxford since 2018. 

Late Thursday afternoon, Gunasekara released a statement saying the Executive Committee had ruled in her favor.  

“I appreciate their willingness to look at the facts and come to a fair decision,” Gunasekara said. “When briefing President Trump in the Oval Office, I always carried my Mississippi-grown principles and values into the room.  Unfortunately, the men and women who served the President have time and again been subjects of baseless attacks from those who oppose our work and wish to silence our message of freedom, hope, and American greatness.”

Three Republicans are candidates for the office being vacated by Democrat Brandon Presley as he challenges Gov. Tate Reeves’ reelection candidacy.  They are Tanner Newman, Chris Brown, and Gunasekara.  Brown is a state representative from Nettleton and Newman is an administrator in city government at Tupelo. Newman was a former staffer with Sen. Roger Wicker.  

The winner of the August Republican primary will win the seat because there are no candidates on the Democratic side.  

“As the only qualified conservative in the Northern District PSC race, I look forward to taking my message directly to the voters,” Gunasekara said.  

Barton, who is challenging current District Attorney Robert “Bob” Morris, can appeal the decision into the courts. He has also eyed Morris’ residency, as the current District Attorney had previously lived in Batesville before being appointed by Reeves in September of last year to fill out the remainder of the term left vacant with the death of former District Attorney John Champion.

Morris moved to Hernando shortly after the appointment. State law grandfathers Morris into this election but would need the five years residency if he chose to run for reelection in the next cycle four years from now, so he made the move to Hernando.   

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