Luke longest serving Supervisor in Mississippi
Most anyone who works in politics will tell you: voters can be fickle, changing their minds about political candidates quickly, especially when a hot button issue surfaces for the first time.
But Kemper County’s Mike Luke has managed to stay in office for 45 years, serving as Kemper County’s District 4 Supervisor. According to records kept by the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, Luke’s lengthy stint in office has earned him the title of longest tenured supervisor in the state of Mississippi’s history.
Although watchers of politics might be surprised by Luke’s repeated string of successful re-elections, Luke said the reason that he has managed to stay in office for so long is simple: he listens to voters and works hard to stay in touch with them and their concerns.
“I know a lot of people use social media and I’m not against that, but things can be misunderstood that way,” said Luke, who will be 70 in May. “My thought is that I have my phone, so I pick it up and call people. I listen to what they have to say. Sometimes, I also find that I have to tell them where I am coming from, too – what I am balancing and the position I am in. I think that doing that has really helped me all these years. People want to hear from you and they want to know they can call you if they need something.”
Luke said he did not grow up dreaming of being a politician or a public servant – especially for such a lengthy period of time. But he found himself running for office at the age of 25, after his father, Danzee Luke, passed away in a dump truck accident.
At the time of his death, Danzee Luke was supervisor of District 4 – a position he had held for 18 years.
Mike Luke initially returned home to help his family handle their 400-acre farm. He was soon appointed interim supervisor and an election was held to fill his father’s unexpired term. He won that election. Then, in 1980, he ran for and won his first four-year term as supervisor.
He has had at least one opponent in every election since, but has always come out on top.
Luke said he has seen a lot of positive changes in Kemper County since he came into office – back when President Carter was still in the White House and a basic McDonald’s hamburger cost about 37 cents.
Around the time he entered office, one mill of taxes brought in about $7,000. Today, Luke said, a mill would bring in about $55,000.
Luke said he prides himself on working to help get a higher percentage of roads paved in Kemper County, including in his District 4. He also said the county has been working hard to repair and strengthen all of the county’s bridges – something he sees as an essential part of the county’s infrastructure.
“I’ve heard from people who really appreciate the maintenance on bridges, as well as the roads that have been blacktopped,” he said. “People really do appreciate that and I am always happy to hear from them about it.”
Luke said he doesn’t find himself dealing with angry voters very often. He thinks his willingness to talk to people before their frustration level becomes too high helps. He said his willingness to listen and propose potential solutions also has likely helped people to remain calm around him.
“Honestly, I have dealt with angry people more when I was coaching,” he said, laughing. “That’s where things can easily get out of hand – in sports.”
He said he does believe that voters would become angry with him quickly if he voted to raise taxes, however.
“I hear from people loud and clear that they don’t want us raising their taxes and I respect that,” he said. “There are times that we might get frustrated that we can’t do certain things because we don’t have the money, but I still think we have to work hard not to raise taxes. People just feel very strongly about that and I certainly understand.”
Luke was raised in the Preston community. He played basketball at East Mississippi Community College and then transferred to Mississippi State University, where he earned his degree in history in 1974.
After college graduation, he started coaching and teaching at Carthage High School in Leake County. He coached girls’ basketball and track for three years. Next, he accepted a job as head boys’ basketball coach at Neshoba Centra High School. He was in that post for less than two months before his father passed away and he resigned.
He left coaching for several years but returned to coaching at Kemper County Academy, where he was able to coach his daughters’ basketball team. In 1992, he became boys’ coach. He also coached the school’s girls’ softball team.
“Coaching my girls in basketball was one of the highlights of my life,” he said, referring to his daughters Emily and Amy.
Later, he coached at Noxubee County. In 2000, he returned to Neshoba Central, where he became the softball coach. He became head boys’ basketball coach at Kemper County High School in 2004, where he remained for about four years, earning a record of 92-17.
He also coached softball at Choctaw Central, wrapping up his coaching career in 2008.
These days, when he isn’t talking to his constituents or riding the roads of Kemper County to assess what roadwork might be needed, he can often be found on his farm. He enjoys hunting and is considering getting more serious about fishing.
He attends Coy Methodist Church and also enjoys spending time with his five grandchildren, who range in age from five to 22.
“They have a lot of different activities and it’s fun to just be a part of all that,” he said.
Luke makes it a point to walk outside regularly – an activity that gives him both some cardio and some sunshine most days.
“There is something important about just getting out of bed and getting moving,” he said. “You need to get out of bed and you need to get out there to see what’s going on – to be a part of something. That’s important.”