By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — The Associated Press has obtained public documents that raise questions about whether Democrat Bill Luckett has lived in Mississippi long enough to run for governor.
Doubts about his residency have been the latest example of several years of infighting in the state Democratic Party. Luckett, who is an attorney and business owner from Clarksdale, and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree are considered the front-runners for the party’s nomination.
The Mississippi Constitution says a gubernatorial candidate must live in the state for the five years leading into the day he’s elected.
AP obtained records Friday from the election commission in Shelby County, Tenn., show Luckett voted Nov. 7, 2006, in Memphis, where he had a home at the time.
Mississippi’s general election this year is Nov. 8. That’s five years and one day after Luckett last voted in Tennessee. Luckett’s most recent registration to vote in Mississippi was in March 2008.
Luckett told AP on Friday that he has lived in Mississippi for “over 61 years straight” and has owned multiple homes, including several in Tennessee.
“I meet all the requirements to run for governor,” Luckett said by phone, reading from a prepared statement.
The Luckett campaign also provided Coahoma County chancery court records showing that he bought land in 1994 in the small town of Lyon, which is near Clarksdale. Luckett has long practiced law in Mississippi and Tennessee, and he and actor Morgan Freeman co-own an upscale restaurant and a blues club in Clarksdale.
The Mississippi Democratic Party executive committee meets at the state Capitol at 11 a.m. Saturday to determine whether its candidates meet qualifications to run for governor and other statewide offices. The qualifying deadline was March 1. Party primaries are Aug. 2.
E-mails questioning Luckett’s residency were circulated among Democrats this week.
The AP independently verified Friday that Luckett registered to vote in Shelby County, Tenn., on Aug. 2, 1996. The Shelby County Election Commission records show that Luckett, who turns 63 next Thursday, listed a street address in Memphis, Tenn., and a post office box address in Clarksdale, Miss.
The current mail-in voter registration application for Shelby County, available on the commission’s website, shows that a voter must sign a statement declaring he’s a resident of Tennessee.
The AP on Friday also used a public records request to obtain documents from the Mississippi secretary of state’s office showing that Luckett most recently registered to vote in Clarksdale on March 13, 2008. The documents show Luckett has voted in Clarksdale in five elections since then.
The Shelby County records show Luckett was removed from the voter rolls there on April 9, 2008, because he had moved out of the county.
Luckett’s prepared statement said that whoever started circulating information about his voting record “is taking a cheap shot.”
“I have had a Mississippi driver’s license since I was 15 years old,” Luckett said. “I have bought all my vehicle tags for all my vehicles here in Mississippi since my very first one when I was a teenager. I am a Mississippian through and through, and Mississippians will choose our leader. I’m not playing a political hack game.”
Residency disputes have arisen several times in Mississippi elections. In 1996, the state Supreme Court ruled that for elections, a candidate’s residency is where he has a fixed home to which “he has the intention of returning.”
Luckett would not answer questions about where he files homestead exemption, which is one of the things courts consider in deciding residency disputes about candidates.
Three other candidates signed up to run in the Democratic primary for governor: DuPree, Coffeeville resident Guy Dale Shaw and Meridian resident William Bond Compton.
DuPree campaign spokesman Sam Hall said Friday he had seen the documents this week about Luckett’s voting registration history.
“As of right now, that’s something for the executive committee to consider,” said Hall, a former executive director of the state Democratic Party.
“Mayor DuPree has said all along he’s going to focus on the issues, he’s going to continue to talk about what he can do for Mississippi and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon,” Hall said.
The Republicans running for governor are James Broadwater of Byram, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant of Flowood, businessman Dave Dennis of Pass Christian, Pearl River County supervisor Hudson Holliday of Poplarville and businessman Ron Williams of Moss Point.
The Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg is also running for governor, as is independent William D. Oatis, whose city was not available on the secretary of state’s website.