Although Ray Mabus was the youngest governor in America at the time of his inauguration on January 12, 1988, he had accumulated an impressive record of public service and academic achievements.
Born October 11, 1948, in Choctaw County, Mississippi, Raymond Edwin Mabus had earned three degrees: a bachelor of arts from the University of Mississippi, summa cum laude; a master’s in political science from Johns Hopkins; and a law degree from Harvard, magna cum laude. He had been offered a Fulbright Scholarship, had held 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 United States Navy aboard a guided-missile cruiser, Mabus had also served as a law clerk in the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and as a legal counsel to a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee. As legal counsel to Governor William Winter, he was instrumental in the drafting and enactment of the Education Reform Act of 1982, a stricter law against driving under the influence of alcohol, and an open records law.
In 1983 Mabus was elected state auditor in his first campaign for public office. As state auditor, Mabus became a highly visible and sometime controversial public figure. He vigorously enforced the state’s financial documentation laws and held public officials to a strict accounting for the expenditure of state funds.
In 1988, while not yet forty years old, Ray Mabus was elected governor on the slogan, “Mississippi Will Never Be Last Again.” The campaign was long and vigorous. After emerging as the Democratic nominee, Mabus overcame strong opposition from Republican Jack Reed in the general election.
Soon after his inauguration, Governor Mabus presented a comprehensive and ambitious legislative package to the state legislature. Among Governor Mabus's most significant achievements were a teacher pay raise which temporarily brought Mississippi teachers up to the Southeastern average; a reorganization of the executive branch of government, although it was less comprehensive than he had proposed; and a law providing for the unit system of county government. His legislative proposals for educational reform, which he pushed in regular legislative sessions and in a special session, were enacted but not funded.
Because of the gubernatorial succession amendment ratified in 1987, Governor Mabus was eligible for a second term. However, his effort to become the first governor to serve two successive terms in over one hundred years was not successful. Governor Mabus won the Democratic nomination but lost to Republican Kirk Fordice in the 1991 general election.
Governor Mabus was appointed U. S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia by President Bill Clinton and served in that position from 1994 through 1996. He returned to Mississippi and was engaged in business in Jackson until his appointment in May 2009 as the 75th U. S. Secretary of the Navy by President Barack Obama.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register, (1988-1992), 111.
Brinson, Carroll. Our Time Has Come, Mississippi Embraces Its Future (Jackson, 1988).
Mullins, Jr., Andrew P. Building Consensus, A History of the Passage of the Mississippi Education Reform Act, 1982 (n.p., 1999).