AG hopefuls differ on initiatives, health care challenge

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Both Mississippi attorney general candidates struggled somewhat to answer questions concerning three citizen-sponsored initiatives that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
While they both said they would defend the initiatives in court if they gain voter approval, incumbent Democrat Jim Hood and Republican challenger Steve Simpson weren’t definitive in their stance on all of them.
Their comments came during an at-times contentious joint appearance at the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/Capitol press corps luncheon Monday. It’s the only scheduled joint appearance by the candidates in the campaign.
The three initiatives on the ballot include defining personhood as beginning at fertilization, requiring presentation of a photo ID when voting and prohibiting government from the use of eminent domain to take private property for the use of another private entity.
Simpson, a Gulf Coast attorney who previously served as circuit judge and prosecuting attorney before being named public safety commissioner in 2006 by Gov. Haley Barbour, said he supports the personhood and voter ID initiatives.
He said he is not sure how he will vote on the eminent domain initiative.
“I don’t know where I fall on that issue – like most Mississippians,” Simpson said.
Hood has said he supports the personhood initiative, and said Monday as a land owner he would oppose his property being taken for the use of another private entity, though he said the courts might need to carve out exceptions for large economic development projects.
Hood said he would support a voter ID proposal if it made it easier for his office to prosecute instances of voter fraud, but he said the cases of voter fraud he has heard about and prosecuted involved absentee ballots and vote buying, not identity fraud at the polls.
HEALTH CARE LAW
Simpson continued to criticize Hood for not joining 25 other states in a lawsuit against the federal Affordable Health Care Act. Simpson said he would join the lawsuit when elected attorney general.
He said the AG’s joining “would have sent a signal” that Mississippi, like a majority of the nation, believes the individual insurance mandate in the law is unconstitutional. Simpson said Hood had a responsibility to join the lawsuit because that’s what a majority of Mississippians wanted.
Hood said he saw no need to join the lawsuit because so many attorneys and states were already involved, but said he signed off on allowing Barbour to hire a private attorney and join the lawsuit.
“We would not be spending money on private lawyers right now if Gov. Barbour had not wanted to make a political statement,” Hood said.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com