Mississippi auditor to resign, run state veterans agency

Published 1:27 pm Monday, June 25, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi state Auditor Stacey Pickering is resigning his statewide elected post to become head of the state’s Veterans Affairs Board.
Pickering, 49, says he accepted the new post Monday and will make the transition around July 15.

The Laurel Republican replaces former director Randy Reeves, who was appointed by President Donald Trump as undersecretary for memorial affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2017.

Gov. Phil Bryant will appoint a replacement who will hold the post until after state elections in 2019. Spokesman Knox Graham said Bryant “is grateful for Mr. Pickering’s exceptional service to Mississippi as state auditor and knows that will continue at the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board.”

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A major in the 186th Air Operations Group of the Air National Guard, Pickering has repeatedly been deployed in his role as a chaplain. Pickering says he was approached about the veterans’ post about six weeks ago. Pickering says the new job helps align his National Guard role and his regular job.

“This opportunity really marries well — taking care of our veterans — with what I do in the guard, taking care of our airmen,” Pickering told The Associated Press.

The outgoing auditor said he had informed Bryant and expects the governor to be ready to name a permanent replacement about the time he departs. It will be the third statewide elected post that Bryant will get to appoint this year. He named then-Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to replace Thad Cochran in the U.S. Senate, and then named state Rep. Andy Gipson to replace Hyde-Smith.

Elected state auditor in 2007, this was Pickering’s third term in the post. Before that, he served a term in the state Senate. When asked if this was a permanent exit from electoral politics, Pickering said “You never know.” He said he was proud of the $28 million the auditor’s office had recovered under his leadership, as well as the 120 people convicted of crimes. Pickering said he also felt he had been effective in influencing policy on education, Medicaid and government transparency issues.

Pickering just completed a term as the head of the National State Auditors Association, hosting the group’s convention in Biloxi earlier this month. He’s a member of a prominent Jones County political family. Cousin Chip Pickering served in Congress while uncle Charles Pickering ran for attorney general and the U.S. Senate and served as a federal judge.

Pickering’s office frequently worked with federal officials on corruption investigations, including an inquiry that revealed former Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps accepted more than $1.4 million in bribes from private contractors before pleading guilty in 2015. Pickering, though, faced questions about whether he was spending campaign money on private expenses. Lawmakers later restricted such spending.