Attorney general candidates voice priorities

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Jim Hood says his priority will be continuing to combat cyber crimes, such as child pornography and identity theft, if re-elected this November. His opponent, Steve Simpson, said one of his first actions will be to join the lawsuit against the national health care law.
The Republican Simpson of Long Beach, a former Commissioner of Public Safety, is running an aggressive campaign against Hood, a Chickasaw County native who is seeking his third term as attorney general.
“On my first day in office, I will do something Jim Hood has refused to do – join the fight against Obamacare,” Simpson said. “We need to make sure that Mississippi has a lawyer who will base his decisions on the interests of Mississippi voters – not the wishes of President Obama.”
Hood opted in 2009 not to enter into the lawsuit.
In opting not to join, Hood wrote to Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, “Lawsuits are being filed almost daily challenging this legislation. Legions of lawyers will litigate all of the possible claims for years. Millions of dollars will be spent on these law firms. Your voice and position will be well-represented by other state politicians and individuals.”
Barbour, on behalf of Mississippi, joined about 25 other states in the legal challenge to the health care law. That challenge is expected to be heard next year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
When asked if Hood joining the lawsuit would have sped up the process, Simpson reiterated his opposition to the heath care reform legislation and said it is “simply not right” that Hood had “sat on the sidelines.”
While the lawsuit against the health care lawsuit is winding its way through the court system without Hood, he said his office is playing a key role in Mississippi – and the nation – in battling Internet crime.
“We have had an impact,” Hood said. “I am proud of our cyber crime unit. The National Attorneys General Association has done a study of our unit, and did a manual on how they set up a unit.
“We are actually an example for the nation.”
The cyber crime unit was set up in large part by federal grants under previous Attorney General Mike Moore. It works aggressively on Internet crime issues. Since getting software making it easier to track people who download child pornography, Hood said there has been a dramatic drop statewide in the number of downloads, as his office has led the effort in the state that has resulted in arrests and convictions of people on the charge of downloading child pornography.
“We are making a difference,” he said. “No federal agency is policing the Internet. It has fallen to us.”
Simpson was appointed commissioner of public safety in May 2008 by Barbour. Before then, he served as a circuit judge and as an assistant district attorney.
Hood was the district attorney for the 3rd Circuit Court District when he opted to run for AG to replace Moore, who did not seek re-election in 2003.
Hood is now the sole statewide Democratic elected official – making him a prime target for what seems to be a still-strengthening state Republican Party. No doubt, Republicans are eying not only holding on to the other seven statewide offices, but also knocking off Hood and the House Democratic majority.
But Hood has proven to be a strong politician. In 2007, when the Republicans were winning seven of eight statewide posts, Hood was the top vote-getter of all the statewide politicians.
He defeated another Gulf Coast attorney – retired Maj. Gen. Al Hopkins – who is the chief judge for the Military Court of Appeals for Mississippi.
Four years later, Simpson is leveling many of the same charges against Hood that Hopkins did. Like Hopkins, Simpson is critical of Hood for accepting campaign donations from attorneys he has contracted with to pursue lawsuits on behalf of the state.
“While my main focus will be fighting for Mississippi in court, Jim Hood’s main focus has been lining the pockets of his top campaign donors at the expense of the Mississippi taxpayer,” Simpson said.
Hood said that is not true.
“These are legitimate cases. All this is being generated by the companies we go after,” he said. “They are trying to protect themselves. My concern is to protect the taxpayer from being ripped off.”
During his tenure, Hood said the lawsuits have brought $500 million to the state and “not cost the taxpayer a dime” because the private attorneys are paid on a contingency basis if they win.
Simpson also has faced several controversies, including the recent revelation that he took a job after stepping down as commissioner of Public Safety with a company – L-1 Identity Solutions – that had been awarded multi-million dollar contracts with Public Safety. Simpson said most of those contracts were awarded by previous commissions.
Simpson said he has been careful to never do work on behalf of L-I Identity Solutions in Mississippi “to avoid any appearance of impropriety. …The real conflict of interest that needs to be addressed is Jim Hood’s practice of unilaterally handing lucrative legal contracts to his top political supporters.”
Hood said, “People know I have always run on my record, But I do think people need to look at my opponent’s records and compare it to mine. See what he did as Public Safety commissioner and judge, and while he worked as plaintiff’s lawyer – things already pointed out in the press about my opponent.”
The two candidates are slated to appear together Monday at the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute/captiol press corps luncheon in Jackson.