Desoto County NewsMeet the Candidates

Newman campaigns for Public Service Commissioner

Photo: Republican candidate for Northern District Public Service Commissioner Tanner Newman. (Bob Bakken/

The Republican primary race for Northern District Public Service Commissioner (PSC) takes on more than the usual interest this year. It’s the first time, in three election cycles, that a new commissioner will be elected and a Republican is assured of winning the seat. 

In recent years, Democrat Brandon Presley has represented north Mississippi on the commission. But Presley this year chose not to run for reelection and instead challenge incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves’ reelection bid for governor.  

No Democrats came forward to try to keep the position “blue,” you might say, so the two men on the Republican ballot are assured that should they get past the primary they will win the job.  

The spot on the ballot has garnered more than the usual interest for another reason when candidate Mandy Gunasekara’s residency qualifications were challenged. It ultimately led to a Mississippi Supreme Court decision that Gunasekara could not be on the ballot, a decision Gunasekara has said she is considering a further challenge.  

Meanwhile, the two candidates who are on the ballot would prefer to talk more about their qualifications and less about the legal challenges of a candidate who, at this time, won’t be included on the ballot.  

One of those two candidates, Tanner Newman of Tupelo, recently sat down with DeSoto County News and spoke about his campaign.  

Newman, the City of Tupelo’s Director of Development Services, stepped back and took an unpaid leave of absence in early May to focus completely on campaigning for the PSC post. Newman is facing state Rep. Chris Brown (R-Nettleton) in the primary.  

“I would not have made that decision if I did not intend to get out and work to earn the support of all north Mississippians,” Newman said. “I am not a career politician, I have never run for public office, but I have spent my career in public service to north Mississippi.”

Before coming to the City of Tupelo in 2021, Newman worked in Sen. Roger Wicker’s Tupelo office as a constituent liaison.

I spent four years working to solve the problems facing North Mississippi’s veterans, active duty service members, and educators,” Newman said. “It was during that time that I first began realizing a lot of these issues that North Mississippi still has, such as the lack of access to running water in a lot of our rural counties. We have many counties in North Mississippi that still do not have access to running water and are not located in a specific district, so they’re still on well water.”

Rural water access is just one of several items Newman wants to work on if elected as Public Service Commissioner. Broadband access is another and addressing municipally-owned electric utilities that also serve areas of the municipality outside the city/town limits.    

Newman explains that while the PSC does not regulate the rates inside a town or city, it can do so if the utility provides electricity to customers outside of town.  

“The Public Service Commission regulates the utility rates for the cooperatives,” explained Newman. “They do not regulate the rates for municipally-owned electric companies unless the consumer lives outside the boundaries of the city, but they are serviced by the municipally-owned electric company.”

That goes into the role Newman sees himself as a commissioner; that of being an advocate for all of north Mississippi’s consumers. 

“I think the broadband expansion that we solved with the Legislature the last couple of years, the PSC should take great pride in that decision,” Newman said. “They may not be the body that voted to allow the expansion, but they certainly advocated for it.  The Public Service Commission is a watchdog for the consumer, an advocate for the consumer, and should be there to work to solve problems.”

While wearing the Republican label on the ballot, Newman believes it is important that he be considered a candidate who can work with both sides of the political aisle.  

“I believe North Mississippi has a long history of putting aside partisan politics and working together to find common sense solutions that keep Mississippi moving forward,” Newman said. “I’ll work with the Legislature, with our federal delegation and the other commissioners to find the funding for these projects to finally solve the access to running water, rural broadband’s continued expansion and our municipally-owned electric companies in a lot of our struggling small towns.”

Newman doesn’t see himself as a career politician, but when Presley announced his run for governor, Newman started being contacted by people asking him to consider running for the PSC.  

“I was approached by some business leaders in northeast Mississippi and Tupelo and our legislative delegation of Lee County and I was asked to consider seeking this office,” Newman said. “It was not my idea but after a week of phone calls and meetings with community leaders I realized that it was the right decision and decided to offer myself to the people of North Mississippi as Public Service Commissioner.”

When asked what would set him apart from the other candidate, Newman said he wants to be a candidate who always wants to answer the question, “how do we get to yes?”

“If there is a matter that may be complicated and may not be an easy solution, I don’t back down and I don’t just say no,” Newman said. “We roll up our sleeves and we work together to find some common ground. I am here to work with all of north Mississippi, across party lines to move north Mississippi forward.”

Newman did say a lengthy power blackout after a December ice storm in Holly Springs is “unacceptable,” adding the ability of the PSC to intervene in a situation like that should be revisited. 

“While the Public Service Commission may not regulate municipally-owned electric companies, I believe it’s time that we revisit that and study whether it is in the best interest of the consumer to continue operating that way,” Newman said. “I’ll commit to working with the Legislature to study that issue and determine a realistic solution.”

While the court case about Gunasekara’s eligibility brought increased media attention to the PSC, Newman and Brown both tried to steer clear and have the issue played out in the courts. 

“This will be the first time in 12 years that people in north Mississippi have elected a new Public Service Commissioner,” Newman said. “ I do believe that the coverage of the court case has brought light to this race in general and I think it has increased the general population’s awareness of the race and has brought interest in this race.”

The primary election is Aug. 8 and while the general election is Nov. 7, the primary election winner will actually have won the general election race because of no Democratic challenger.  

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