Republican Attorney General candidate Steve Simpson's attempts to spar with his opponent, Democratic incumbent Jim Hood, went mostly uncontested during a debate at a John C. Stennis Institute of Government luncheon in Jackson yesterday.
"We don't need to get into a mud fight," Hood told reporters after the debate. "People don't want to see their attorney general and top law enforcement officer in that kind of discussion. I fight when I get into the courtroom."
Simpson began his 15-minute speech by calling out his opponent for not agreeing to debate him again before the Nov. 8 primary. He also criticized Hood's refusal to join 26 other states in a federal suit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act, and criticized Hood's position on the "Personhood" amendment and Castle Doctrine. Simpson also spent his time talking about his qualifications for attorney general. He served as assistant district attorney for the Second Circuit Court of Mississippi, which consists of Hancock, Harrison and Stone counties, as well as circuit court judge. In 2008, Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Simpson to serve as Department of Public Safety commissioner. He stepped down from that position in February 2011 to run for attorney general.
While he served as assistant district attorney, Simpson said he prosecuted 30 jury trials in a two-year period. Those cases included six capital murder cases and 12 murder cases.
Simpson continued his criticism against Hood during questions from the media.
"Why won't you stand before the citizens of this state and tell them where you stand on the issues that are important to them and answer questions on your feet like we are doing today?" Simpson said. "You are going to be their lawyer for the next four years. Would you hire a lawyer without a chance to interview him?"
Hood used his 15 minutes to talk about the accomplishments his office has made during his two terms in office as well as personal experiences that shaped his career. Hood's father was a prosecutor and instilled in him a sense of justice, he said.
"I've always fought for those who can't fight for themselves, and that's what attorney generals do," Hood said.
Hood said his office's accomplishments have included implementing a cyber-crime unit and cracking down on Internet crimes such as child pornography and cyber-stalking. His office has also made domestic-violence prevention a priority through its domestic-violence unit.
"About four years ago, Mississippi was the fifth worst state in the nation of incidents with domestic homicide, so we established a domestic violence unit. ... We began getting immediately getting legislation passed on strangulation and making it much easier for a victim of domestic violence to get a protective order."
The state now ranks 22nd in the nation for domestic homicide, Hood said.
Throughout the past eight years, Hood has recovered $500 million to the state from lawsuits, such as a $38.2 million award in a Medicaid-drug pricing lawsuit with pharmaceutical company Sandoz this month.
Hood defended his refusal to have more debates with Simpson.
"The media is the best way to get the message out for what the issues are," he said. "I am doing two jobs right now. I am trying to run an office, and I have some wonderful people who are helping me do that. But at the same time, I am running a campaign, and it makes it difficult to balance both when you have a job that's full time."
Simpson said he would have joined 26 states in challenging the constitutionality of what he called the "Obama health-care plan."
"Not only did Hood refuse to take up the health-care challenge; he also attempted to prevent Barbour from obtaining private counsel to challenge the act," Simpson said. "... Thank goodness Gov. Barbour did not follow that, did retain counsel, and today Mississippi has counsel in that fight.
In an April 2010 letter to Barbour, Hood advised the governor that because only the U.S. Supreme Court can decide the issues in the multi-state suit, "there is no hurry to join the suit," and that it would be cheaper for Mississippi to wait. "In law and in life, the old maxim 'haste makes waste' still applies." Hood told Barbour that if he still felt "compelled to take action," he should do so on behalf of the governor's office. Barbour then hired attorney Michael B. Wallace of Wise, Carter, Child and Caraway law firm in Jackson to represent the governor in the lawsuit at no cost to the state.
Yesterday, Hood called Barbour's lawsuit "political" and said other states should bear the burden of that cost.
"There are tons of lawyers that are going to scrub this case from one end to another. It's going to the U.S. Supreme Court, and I hated to see Mississippi waste money on lawyers when our views would be heard. I allowed Barbour to go ahead and hire attorneys," he said.
When asked about ballot initiatives, both candidates said they supported the "Personhood" amendment that would redefine when life begins in the state's constitution. Simpson said he supports voter ID but would not say if he would vote in favor of a ballot initiative to limit the use of eminent domain to benefit the private sector. Hood said he would defend the state against any challenges if an initiative requiring voters to show identification at the polls passes, but would not say if he personally would vote in favor of it. Hood said early voting would be a better solution to cut down voter fraud.