Mississippi’s first millennial to hold a statewide office is likely the first from his generation to assume such a post in the Deep South.
The milestone reached by Shad White, who was sworn in on July 17 as Mississippi’s new state auditor, might be seen as a paradox in a state where policymakers and the business community have been fretting over the exodus of the state’s college graduates.
Despite his academic pedigree — White studied as a Rhode Scholar at the University of Oxford in England and later earned a degree from Harvard Law School — the native of Sandersville (population 731) shied away from the bright-lights-big-city path and returned home, a decision that White hopes will spur others to stay.
“You can start your own business, you can run for office,” he said. “There’s so much that can be done. The impact you can have is so much bigger here than it can be in other places, in big cities where you can easily be lost among the crowd.”
According to a report commissioned by the state College Board, 40 percent of graduates from the state’s public universities are no longer working in Mississippi five years after graduating.
The juxtaposition was not lost on Gov. Phil Bryant who is known for urging young Mississippians to “grow where you’re planted.” At a news conference announcing his appointment of White, Bryant praised the 32-year-old for returning to the state after finishing his postgraduate studies.
Bryant said: “He 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.
White, who ran Bryant’s 2015 re-election campaign and served as Bryant’s policy director, replaces Stacey Pickering who stepped down from the role to become executive director of the state Veterans Affairs Board.
White, who will finish Pickering’s unexpired term through January 2020, said he will run for election to a four-year term next year.
Previous statewide races show Mississippi voters have not shied away from electing young candidates. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was 29 when he was elected as state treasurer.
The Pew Research Center defines a millennial as anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22 to 37 in 2018).