In their first and perhaps last joint appearance of the 2011 election, Mississippi's top lawyer faced off with Mississippi's former top cop Monday at the Stennis-Capitol Press Luncheon at the University Club in Jackson. Attorney General Jim Hood (D) and his challenger, former Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson (R) compete in November to serve as Attorney General.

Simpson called on Hood once again to join him in a series of four, one-hour debates in Mississippi's four congressional districts. Hood declined and said he was always open for any questions from the media which he described as "the best way to get the message out." Hood claimed he was too busy with his two jobs to debate: one job as Attorney General and one job campaigning for Attorney General. Candidate debates are typically part of a campaign.

Whether he was discussing debates in general, or attacks leveled that day by Simpson, Hood said he was going to follow advice he attributed to John McCain, "You don't wanna get in a fight with a pig because you get muddy and the pig likes it."

Simpson asked, "Would you hire a lawyer without the opportunity to interview them? Neither should Mississippi."

Simpson criticized Hood's failure to oppose President Barack Obama's healthcare plan and said if elected he would join 26 other states in opposing it in the courts. He read from a letter Hood sent to Gov. Haley Barbour in April 2010 where Hood wrote, "After hours of research, consultation with constitutional law scholars, and a review of actions of other states' Attorneys General on the healthcare reform legislation, we have found not authority to support a suit." Simpson said several federal district courts and courts of appeal disagree with Hood's hours of research.

Hood responded, "I hated to see Mississippi waste money on lawyers." He said constitutional scholars from Ole Miss and Mississippi College scoffed at the idea of opposing the healthcare legislation. Hood acknowledged now the United States Supreme Court would make the decision, but, "I'm going to let other states bear the burden of those costs."

When asked whether Mississippi joining the suit would have changed anything, Simpson said it would have shown Mississippi opposed the policy, demonstrated it was bad for Mississippi and would have expressed opposition to an unfunded federal mandate. Simpson said Obama's healthcare plan is unconstitutional, would necessitate tax increases and would kill small businesses. "You stand up for your client - the citizens of Mississippi - and [Attorney General Hood] did not do that," Simpson said.

Hood said he was going to spend his time protecting Mississippians, "not some political, partisan issue."

Simpson leveled a few other attacks against Hood. He said Hood refuses to say where he stands on the voter-ID initiative. He charged that while Hood said he supports the Personhood Initiative, he attempted to sabotage it by changing the submission date, a legal maneuver that ultimately failed. And Simpson quoted from an interview of Hood with Dan Rather in which Hood expressed opposition to Mississippi's "Castle Doctrine" law which Hood called a "testosterone induced law" the broke his rule of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Hood said he supports the Personhood Initiative. On the eminent domain issue Hood said he can see both sides. On one hand he wouldn't want the government taking away his own farm land, on the other he wouldn't want a Nissan type facility held up by one person's one acre of land. He said he hopes the courts will establish a procedure to cover both of those concerns. On voter-ID Hood said, "If it helps prosecute [voter fraud], I'm for it." But he said, "I support early voting. It would be the best for law enforcement." When asked how he would vote on these initiatives, Hood said he retains his First Amendment right on how he votes but, "If I support them, I'm going to vote for them."

Simpson restated his strong support of both the Personhood Initiative and the voter-ID measure. But he said he had not made up his mind on the eminent domain initiative.

Both candidates reviewed their own records: Simpson as a former prosecutor, circuit judge and his time as Public Safety Commissioner; Hood as Attorney General fighting cybercrimes and protecting intellectual property. Hood said of his lawsuits against corporations, "We want to believe people will do right, but they won't because it involves money."

Campaign finance reports for both campaigns through September will be filed October 10. The July 26 reports showed Hood with nearly $600,000 and Simpson with just under $200,000 cash-on-hand.

The next luncheon sponsored by Mississippi State's John C. Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol Press Corps on Oct. 24 will feature candidates for the open seat of State Treasurer: Republican Lynn Fitch and Democrat Connie Moran.



Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or follow him @CapstonePerry on Twitter.