"I think you have the wrong number," Jackson attorney Shanda Yates said, laughing into the receiver when Democratic House Minority Leader David Baria called in February, asking if she would be interested in running for a Republican-held Mississippi House seat. It sounded like a heavy lift; the House District 64 incumbent, House Republican Floor Leader Bill Denny, first won the seat in 1987—when Yates was only 6 years old.
With two weeks to go before the qualifying deadline for the party primaries, a number of fellow attorneys and Democratic leaders continued courting her, including Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Moak.
Party leaders had taken notice of Yates, who is 38, early in the 2019 legislative session, after she met with Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn and wrote emails to representatives and senators, urging them not to pass the "Landowner Protection Act."
That tort-reform law, she warned in those emails, would "remove all liability of a property owner in virtually every context in which a crime is committed on its property" and free businesses of the "duty" to "act reasonably" to "protect its customers, patrons, and tenants from violent criminal activity that it knows is occurring on its property."
Despite her efforts and impassioned arguments from Democrats like Baria against the bill, the GOP-dominated Legislature passed it, and Gov. Phil Bryant signed it into law, drawing applause from business leaders. But Yates' proactive efforts left an impression.
"You're a good attorney. We need more level-headed attorneys in the Legislature," she recalled Baria, who is also an attorney, saying when he first called.
Baria will step down from his position at the Legislature when the new term begins in January, after deciding against running for re-election to his Bay St. Louis-area House seat early this year.
'I Had to Do It'
Yates had never thought about running for office and