Business News for the Mississippi Delta

Jason White

New Speaker Rises to the Occasion

By Jack Criss  •  Photography by Greg Campbell 

To hold one of the most powerful political roles in the state of Mississippi, Jason White is an unassuming man.   

But beneath his outward friendliness and approachability—commented on several times by members of the state legislature from both parties in media interviews—the new Speaker of the House of Representatives possesses a quiet dignity, resoluteness and intelligence that no doubt made him a unanimous choice for the position, replacing Phillip Gunn.

The seventy-nine member GOP caucus met on a Wednesday morning in November of last year at a closed door meeting held at the Annandale Golf Club in Madison, according to various reports, and unanimously and without dissent threw its support behind White, a three-term lawmaker who lives in West, Mississippi to become its new leader. 

“I appreciate the trust my fellow Republicans have now placed in me as the nominee for Speaker,” White said in a statement at the time. “I am energized going into the 2024 legislative session, and I look forward to addressing the challenges and opportunities facing our state with conservative policies and principles.”

The 122-member House unanimously elected White on the opening day of the 2024 session in January, making the decision of the caucus formal and official. 

The fifty year-old White was first elected to the House in 2011 as a Democrat, but he  switched to the Republican Party the next year. He represents portions of Attala, Carroll, Holmes and Leake counties and previously led the House Rules Committee and the House Management Committee. 

Born and raised in Kosciusko—which is where he still has his law office—White and his wife currently live in West, Mississippi, about fifteen minutes away.

“(My wife) Jolynn had her heart set on living in West in an antebellum home she grew up in, so that’s where we live today,” says White. “It always throws everybody when I tell them I’m from West, Mississippi. They ask, ‘Where in West Mississippi?’ and I have to explain that there’s an actual town by that name!”

White grew up on a small farm, mainly raising cotton and soybeans with some cows and commercial hogs. His father, John, also had a successful timber business. 

“My dad had a little bit of all of it,” laughs White. “And not only was he a farmer, he was also an educator, serving as Director of Vocational Education at what was then Holmes Jr. College in Goodman. My mother, Melba, was a public school English teacher for 35 years in Kosciusko. I was the baby in the family, having two older sisters and an older brother: Deborah White Martin, Michelle White Nowell—an elementary principal in Kosciusko for thirty years now—and Mike White. Deborah and Mike both currently live in Madison ,” he says. 

“My family were hard workers and really weren’t very political,” says White, surprisingly “I grew up basically in an idyllic, Southern family. And I played sports, helped around the farm and did all of the things a country boy would do. I actually met my wife-to-be in the eighth grade at East Holmes Academy where we both went to school. It was located in West at the time but no longer exists,” he said. 

The couple, married in 1996, have three children: twenty-one year-old Sara Burden (White’s mother’s maiden name), a recent graduate of Mississippi State University who will start medical school at UMMC this summer; son John, eighteen, who graduated from Madison Ridgeland Academy early and is now enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi as a freshman where he plays football as a quarterback; and seventeen year-old daughter, Carlyn, who is currently a junior in high school. 

When asked if his background of being raised in both an agricultural and educational background has influenced his political philosophy, White is candidly humorous.

“I kid most of my Republican colleagues in the House, most of whom are from urban, Metro areas like Jackson or the Gulf Coast, that they don’t get ‘real’ Mississippi,” he chuckles. “I do think my upbringing does bring a unique perspective, certainly. And my wife’s dad, Joe McLellan, has been in the lime and fertilizer business for farmers in the Delta and across the state his entire life, so agriculture is second nature to us both. Plus, my law practice includes both millionaire clients as well as people trying to save their house from foreclosure. It’s accurate to say I’ve seen all sides and I do think it’s served me well in my political career.”

White went on to receive his undergraduate and law degrees from Mississippi College, obtaining his JD in 1998. His family had moved to Madison where White graduated high school from Madison Ridgeland Academy after his dad had relocated and retired from a new career serving as an advisor to Ivey Mechanical before going to work for the Mississippi Department of Education in Jackson, which prompted the family’s move. 

“I went to MC on a baseball scholarship and got my bachelor’s degree in accounting, bucking the family tradition of going to Mississippi State,” says White. “And then I ended up studying law in downtown Jackson, just a stone’s throw from the capitol. But the truth is, and I tell people this, I had never set foot in the state capitol until I got elected to the House. I guess I missed the high school tours, even though I drove by it for three years going to law school!” he laughs. 

White currently retains his position as the City Attorney for the City of Kosciusko as well as the attorney of record for the city’s utility boards and providers, even as the current speaker. “I’m trying to juggle it,” he says. “There’s no precedent for it but I’ll say that, so far, so good.”

White is also a former Municipal Court Judge and Youth Court Judge in Kosciusko, as well as having served on the Board of Aldermen for the city of West. 

“I went back home after getting my law degree,” says White.” My wife was a nurse practitioner at UMMC and was able to run clinics in West, Durant and Lexington, which worked out very well for us. She also began running other clinics. She’s retired from that now after twenty-five years of service,” he says.

What prompted White to even enter politics? 

“People will love this,” he laughs. “My first foray into the political realm was serving on the Board of Alderman in West. A spot came open for a spot and I ran unopposed. Well, I didn’t factor in the fact that my mother-in-law was the mayor. Tricky politics right off the bat! In fact, at my first Aldermen’s meeting, my wife’s uncle had requested to be on the agenda. He had a neighbor whose dogs were barking all night and keeping him awake. He actually recorded the dogs on an old-time cassette recorder and played it for us!  It was interesting, to say the least,” says White.

In August of 2011, White was elected to the House for the first time, representing District 48 and succeeding former Representative, Mary Ann Stevens. He was re-elected in 2016 and subsequently named Rules Chairman and elected Republican Floor Leader by the Republican Caucus. In 2020, White was elected by his House colleagues as Speaker Pro-tempore as well as Republican Caucus Chairman. 

But why did he change party affiliation?

“I had a conservative voting record but I came from a very Democratic district,” answers White. “But so many of those Democrats were actually Yellow Dogs and voted conservatively. That’s when I made the decision to make the change. It became apparent for me to do so.”

During his time in the Legislature, White was involved in several pieces of substantial, key legislation, including the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act and the Mississippi Tax Freedom Act, the largest tax cut in state history. During that same time, he also oversaw the implementation of many historic accountability measures and investments in both education and workforce development. 

In addition, White is a past recipient of numerous legislative awards, including Law Enforcement Legislator of the Year, Mississippi RISE Award and others. White also currently serves as the president of the Attala County Bar Association as well as its President of the West Historical and Preservation Society. 

“I’m most proud, however, of our changing the state flag, and I was honored to present that legislation on the floor,” says White. “And, also, trying to change the access to health care, which affects each and every one of us, specifically concerning Medicaid. My wife’s background in medicine has truly influenced my thinking. The tax cut we passed was also tremendous, and something that I worked long and hard on and for passing.

“I’m disappointed that health care reform didn’t get across the finish line this session, but I do think that there’s a consensus that there’s work to be done in that space and that we’ll see some changes sooner rather than later,” adds White.

When not working, White said that—while he’s never played a round of golf in his life—he loves to hunt for relaxation. “My passion is duck hunting,” he says. “My son and I often head to the Delta at 4 a.m., just north of Marks, to duck hunt. Probably about thirty days out of the year, and I treasure them.” 

Democratic Representative, Robert Sanders from Cleveland, says he’s known Jason White for almost twenty years.

“Jason has always reached out across the aisle to find solutions,” says Sanders. “And during the first session as Speaker, he has been open and approachable to me and will sit down and talk. I think he has been diligent in being inclusive in the political process. I’m proud to call him a friend.”

Mississippi’s political future looks secure with such an inclusive and well-respected leader as Jason White.