Photo courtesy Mandy Gunasekara
The question of whether a District Public Service Commissioner candidate has the residency qualifications to be on the August Republican primary ballot is now going to court.
Hernando attorney Matthew Barton, a GOP candidate for DeSoto County District Attorney, had challenged whether Mandy Gunasekara, a candidate for Northern District Public Service Commissioner, had lived in the district long enough to be eligible for the ballot.
Barton made a formal challenge to the state Republican Party Executive Committee, which ruled Feb. 16 against Barton and said Gunasekara’s name could be on the August ballot.
Thursday, Barton informed DeSoto County News exclusively that his attorneys were going to appeal the Executive Committee’s decision to the Hinds County Circuit Court.
In commenting about the appeal of Gunasekara’s residency ruling in her favor, Barton again called into question the residency situation of his own opponent, current District Attorney Bob Morris, for a future election.
“We are proceeding with the appeal because it wouldn’t be fair to the tax-paying residents of this district for me to ignore this,” Barton said. “We are the party of law and order; and, candidates like my opponent, Bob Morris, who file homestead miles away from the citizens they are asking to hire them, should follow that law.”
Barton says Morris won’t be able to run for re-election in the 2027 cycle because Morris was taking a homestead in Panola County when he was appointed. Morris is “grandfathered” in with this vote being the first for the new DeSoto County District Attorney’s position, to which he was appointed by Gov. Tate Reeves.
Gunasekara has not lived in Mississippi long enough to achieve the five-year requirement for residency, according to Barton. 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, Gunasekara 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.
“This has truly become comical,” Gunasekara said when asked about the appeal. “Mr. Barton apparently has decided that his only way to defeat Gov. Reeves’ appointee is to continue his frivolous challenge to my candidacy. I look forward to the judicial system’s swift rejection of Mr. Barton’s shenanigans.”
Morris also responded to Barton’s statement, defending his claim that his move from Batesville to Hernando came soon enough to make him eligible for a 2027 vote.
“Most homeowners know that homestead exemption renews automatically,” Morris said. “After I was appointed by Gov. Reeves to be the first Republican District Attorney in the history of DeSoto County, I rented property here and listed my house for sale. Within three weeks our home was sold and by Nov. 3, 2022, we no longer owned property in Panola County. As such, it is impossible for me to claim homestead as I am a DeSoto County resident. Pursuant to Mississippi law my residency has been established in DeSoto County and I am honored to continue to serve this county as District Attorney.”
Regarding the dispute between Gunasekara and Barton, Morris pointed out that President Donald Trump vetted Gunasekara and “she served with distinction as the Chief of Staff of the EPA during her tenure there.”
Barton’s attorneys were to file the appeal of the state Republican Executive Committee Friday to Hinds County Circuit Court.
Three Republicans are candidates for the Public Service Commissioner’s post. 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 Republican primary will win the seat because there are no Democratic candidates.