The last and only Republican to hold the office of Attorney General in Mississippi was George E. Harris back in 1877. As Republicans began their surge to take over statewide offices in the early 1990s, Mike Moore and Jim Hood easily held on to the position for Democrats.
Odds are that’s about to change.
Even when Republicans took over all other statewide offices in 2008, Hood held on as Attorney General by appealing to many conservative voters. Longtime Democratic leader Bobby Moak said Hood did so by taking “the right stance on God and guns.”
Despite strong credentials, the Democratic nominee for Attorney General, Jennifer Riley Collins can’t match that appeal.
In particular, Hood has been a strong, consistent voice for pro-life issues. As Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Collins was not.
“The Bible states that God knows us in the womb (Jeremiah 1:4-5), and that’s why I’m firmly pro-life,” Hood told Mississippi Today. In contrast, in 2018 when the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Collins told the Associated Press that lawmakers’ real agenda was to ban abortions which would “seriously harm low-income women, women of color, and young women.”
Unless there is a big surprise in November, Mississippi’s next Attorney General will likely be one of these pro-life Republicans, Andy Taggart, Lynn Fitch, or Mark Baker.
Each would bring different strengths to one of the more complex offices in the state. The Attorney General serves as the state’s chief prosecutor, chief legal counsel representing all state agencies, and manager of over 100 lawyers, dozens of investigators, and scores of support staff, nearly 300 in all.
Taggart, a practicing attorney for 34 years, is the lawyers’ lawyer of the three. He holds the elite “AV” peer review rating from Martindale-Hubbell. State officials have called on him to represent the state in cases when Hood has refused to do so. He has handled important cases before the U.S. District Court, the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the Mississippi Court of Appeals. He has also served as a Madison County Supervisor, Gov. Kirk Fordice’s Chief of Staff, and president and CEO of the Mississippi Technology Alliance.
Fitch, also an attorney for 34 years, is the experienced agency manager of the three. One of only four women ever elected to statewide office, she has served as State Treasurer since 2012. In 2009 Gov. Haley Barbour named her executive director of the State Personnel Board. Both agencies employ about 40 full-time staff. Prior to 2009, Fitch served as deputy executive director at the Department of Employment Security, as counsel for the House Ways and Means and Local and Private Legislation Committees, and as a special assistant Attorney General.
Baker, a practicing attorney for 30 years, is the popular Rankin County candidate. (Note: the current governor, lieutenant governor, and state auditor live in high Republican turnout Rankin County.) Since 2004 he has represented much of Rankin County in the Mississippi House of Representatives where he serves as chairman of the House Judiciary En Banc and Judiciary A Committees. He has also served as board attorney for the municipalities of Brandon and Puckett, as city prosecutor for Brandon, and as municipal judge for Pelahatchie.
This should be a humdinger primary with a likely runoff. Who will survive to take on Collins?
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.
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