Gov. Phil Bryant on Friday appointed Shad White as state auditor — a surprise to most state political observers — to replace Stacey Pickering, who is leaving around July 15.
Bryant, who announced White’s appointment standing in the same spot in the Governor’s Mansion as when former Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed Bryant auditor in 1996, said he sought to appoint someone who wants to serve long-term as state auditor, not someone who wants to use the office as a political stepping stone to higher offices.
He said he also wanted someone with “independence” who does not have numerous political relationships with the government officials and institutions he’ll be auditing.
White, a former policy director for Bryant when Bryant served was lieutenant governor and Bryant’s campaign manager in 2015, appears to fit that bill.
White, 32, of Rankin County, has never held elected office. He’s been serving since late last year as director of the conservative Mississippi Justice Institute, which legally represents citizens and businesses in constitutional rights cases.
He is a Harvard Law School grad and former Truman Scholar at the University of Mississippi, where he received a bachelor’s degree in economics. He studied as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford in England and has forensic accounting certification from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
Most politicos’ short lists of Bryant’s likely picks included ambitious legislators and other elected veterans likely interested in moving up in statewide and federal offices.
White will finish Pickering’s unexpired term through January 2020, and is expected to run for election to a four-year term next year. Pickering is leaving office to become director of the Mississippi State Veterans Affairs Board.
“Shad’s credentials and ability are without question,” Bryant said. “He has proven himself a champion of limited government that serves the taxpayers. He is the perfect fit for this important office.”
Bryant said White “is a millennial who came back to Mississippi from Oxford, England … who could be practicing law in New York for an exorbitant salary,” but has chosen public service for the $90,000-a-year auditor’s salary.
Bryant said he’s confident White can win election to the post and said he will help him do so.
White is a native of Sandersville, from a blue-collar family, a release from Bryant’s office said. His father was an oilfield worker and music minister who today serves as mayor of the 731-population Sandersville. White’s mother was a teacher.
White on Friday said he learned valuable lessons watching his father come home tired from the oilfield, then head to city hall for meetings as an alderman, then later mayor.
White in 2011 served as the lieutenant governor’s policy director for Bryant and has since practiced law in the private sector and served as a special prosecutor in Rankin County, where he prosecuted felony burglary charges involving the family of an elected official.
At the Mississippi Justice Institute, White has led cases against public officials who violated Mississippi’s ethics and open-government laws.
White vowed to be a watchdog for taxpayers.
“When I take office I can promise you this: That I am going to work myself to the bone to make sure Mississippi is as free from corruption as we can possibly get,” White said. “I promise you I will always tell you the truth, even if it’s not fun. Even if it makes some people uncomfortable. Even if it makes some people who are politically powerful uncomfortable. I don’t care. I am always going to do that.
“I promise you I am going to be fair,” he said. “I know that most people who are in local and state government are doing this for the right reasons, like my dad. I know there is a very small minority of people out there who are not doing it for the right reasons. For those folks who break the law, if you take taxpayer dollars we are going to hold you accountable.
“I’m supposed to safeguard your money,” White said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that none of it is stolen and none of it gets embezzled and none of it is wasted. I promise you that.”