Although Ray Mabus was the youngest governor in America at the time of his inauguration on 12 January 1988, he had already accumulated an impressive record of public service and academic achievements. Mabus had earned three degrees: a bachelor of arts from the University of Mississippi, a master’s from Johns Hopkins in political science, and a law degree from Harvard. He had received two distinguished academic awards—a Fulbright Scholarship and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship—and had traveled widely throughout Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and Latin America.
In addition to a two-year tour of duty in the US Navy aboard a guided-missile cruiser, Mabus had also served as a law clerk for the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, as a congressional aid, and as legal counsel to a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee. As legal counsel to Gov. William Winter, Mabus was instrumental in the drafting and passage of the Education Reform Act of 1982, a stricter law against driving under the influence of alcohol, and an open-records law.
Raymond Edwin Mabus was born in Starkville, Mississippi, on 11 October 1948 and grew up in Ackerman. His father, Raymond Mabus, was a hardware store owner turned timber businessman, while his mother, Lucille Curtis Mabus, was a former basketball coach. Mabus attended public school in Ackerman before enrolling at the University of Mississippi.
In 1983 he undertook his first campaign for public office, winning election as state auditor and becoming a highly visible and at times controversial public figure. A Democrat, he vigorously enforced the state’s financial documentation laws and held public officials to a strict accounting for the expenditure of state funds. Mabus’s investigations of the finances of county officials led to Operation Pretense, an FBI investigation that resulted in the indictment of fifty-seven county officials. In 1988, just before he turned forty, Mabus ran for governor, using the campaign slogan “Mississippi Will Never Be Last Again” and defeating Republican Jack Reed in the general election.
Soon after his inauguration, Mabus presented a comprehensive and ambitious legislative package to the state legislature. Among his most significant achievements were a teacher pay raise that temporarily brought Mississippi teachers up to the southeastern average, a reorganization of the executive branch (although it was less comprehensive than he had proposed), and a law providing for the unit system of county government. His proposals for educational reform, which he pushed in regular legislative sessions and in a special session, were not enacted, in part because he did not want to raise taxes to fund new programs.
The 1987 gubernatorial succession amendment made Mabus eligible for a second term, and he sought to become the first Mississippi governor to serve two successive terms in more than one hundred years. However, he lost to Republican Kirk Fordice in the 1991 general election, clearly illustrating the decline of Mississippi Democrats’ traditional political dominance.
Pres. Bill Clinton appointed Mabus as US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a position he held from 1994 to 1996. He also served the executive branch as secretary of the navy under Pres. Barack Obama (2009–17).
- Carroll Brinson, Our Time Has Come: Mississippi Embraces Its Future (1988)
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1988–92)
- Andrew P. Mullins Jr., Building Consensus: A History of the Passage of the Mississippi Education Reform Act (1982)
- Jere Nash and Andy Taggart, Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976–2006 (2006)