The question of, “Is she on the ballot, or not?” will apparently be settled in the Mississippi Supreme Court.
A special appointed judge this week ruled that Mandy Gunasekara could not have her name on the August Republican primary election ballot for Northern District Public Service Commissioner (PSC).
Gunasekara, who was a Senior Advisor and then U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chief of Staff in Washington, D.C. in the Trump Administration, had her residency qualifications challenged by Hernando attorney Matthew Barton.
But, Barton is not a candidate for the PSC post. He is a Republican candidate for DeSoto County District Attorney and is challenging current District Attorney Robert Morris III in the same August primary vote.
Barton may be setting up for a future challenge if he and Morris face each other in four years. Barton contends Morris, who lived in Batesville before being named to replace the late John Champion by Gov. Tate Reeves, and then relocated to Hernando, will not have lived in DeSoto County long enough to be eligible for a 2027 re-election try. Morris, as an appointee filling out Champion’s term, is “grandfathered” in for this election cycle.
Candidates must have resided in Mississippi five years ahead of the general election date. Morris has claimed his move to Hernando came soon enough to fit the legal requirements, but Barton has disputed the claim.
Gunasekara has said that even though she worked in Washington, her residence was in Oxford long enough to be eligible for this year’s election cycle. Her two other opponents on the Republican PSC Commissioner ballot have not followed Barton’s challenge of Gunasekara’s residency.
As the Magnolia Tribune reported, special appointed Judge Lamar Pickard said Gunasekara’s residency did not meet the requirements under state law to be placed on the Republican primary ballot.
Barton made the initial challenge to the state Republican Executive Committee, who ruled in favor of Gunasekara and dismissed Barton’s petition. He then filed an appeal, which brought about the hearing with Judge Pickard.
In responding to the judge’s ruling, Barton said, “The Republican platform clearly states: ‘The integrity of our election process should be vigilantly protected.’ That’s what this lawsuit was about – protecting election integrity. As Republicans, we believe in the rule of law. Today, the rule of law won.”
Gunasekara said she would appeal Judge Pickard’s decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
“This fight is not over, it’s merely on to round three,” Gunasekara said. “Mississippi voters deserve an experienced candidate that will deliver on building a brighter future in our great state guided by conservative values, and I intend to deliver on this promise.”
Gunasekara’s attorney Spence Ritchie added, “The Judge’s ruling is a departure from well-established precedent that was followed by the Mississippi Republican Party when it determined Mandy was qualified for this race. We look forward to the Mississippi Supreme Court correcting this decision.”