By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
PHILADELPHIA – The three Republicans and one Democrat vying to replace outgoing Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Lester Spell all touted their experience for the job Wednesday at the Neshoba County Fair.
But Spell, a former Democrat who turned Republican before his 2007 re-election, made the most news in his final remarks at the fair.
Spell endorsed state Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brook-haven, another former Democrat, who switched to run for the vacant post. She is in her second term as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
He said she “was the most qualified and most capable to do the job.”
In her own remarks at the Founders Square Pavilion, Smith said “I am in the mix. … We make our living full time in agriculture.”
Among other things, her family owns a livestock auction house.
Max Phillips of Taylorsville, who won the Republican nomination for the post in 2003, said the state is not taking advantage of its agricultural assets.
He said if voters wanted more of the same they should vote for someone else, but if they wanted a positive and energetic change then he was their candidate.
He said his experiences as a farmer, ag teacher and banker specializing in agriculture-related loans make him uniquely qualified for the post.
State Rep. Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman, a former county agent with a doctorate from Mississippi State University, said his education sets him apart from the other candidates.
He asked why the state spends so much on education “if we are not going to respect education and research?”
Democrat Joel Gill, the former mayor of Pickens, will face the winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary in November. He said his experiences in municipal government and the fact his family owns a cattle procurement company make him the most qualified for the post.
Former Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson accused incumbent Attorney General Jim Hood of overlooking corruption committed by north Mississippi attorneys – including Richard Scruggs and Joey Langston – because they were his political supporters.
Scruggs, Langston and others are serving federal sentences related to judicial bribery convictions. Hood opted not to bring charges against them after they were convicted in federal court.
“If anybody tries to influence or corrupt the Mississippi political process, I will prosecute the person. I don’t care who it is,” said the Republican Simpson, a former circuit judge and former assistant district attorney, who is Hood’s only opposition.
The Democrat Hood, who spoke after Simpson, referring to the fact his parents – Chickasaw County residents – were in the crowd, said, “My mother taught me if you don’t have anything good to say about somebody, don’t say anything.”
He then went on to talk about his office’s efforts in the area of fighting cyber crimes, protecting the elderly and reducing the instances of spousal abuse in the state. He said Mississippi has dropped from being the fifth worst to the 22nd worst in terms of domestic abuse murders. He said his office has worked on prevention and to educate law enforcement on how to deal with domestic abuse.
Hood, a former district attorney in Northeast Mississippi, said he enjoys being attorney general “to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves.”
The speakings continue today with the gubernatorial candidates scheduled to appear.