JACKSON – Politics did not seem to be a concern for Attorney General Jim Hood when he announced late last month he was moving his family home to Chickasaw County and would make a relatively small office on the Houston square his base of operation as the state’s top attorney.
Hood acknowledged that his political enemies might try to make hay out of the fact that he would be working primarily out of an office in Houston in a building owned by his father.
He said that he was moving because he missed the small-town atmosphere of his hometown and because it was best for his family. He said the Attorney General’s office would not suffer. He would still be in Jackson on a regular basis and with modern communications there is no reason he could not run the Jackson office from Northeast Mississippi.
Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat said his father was giving him and the state the office rent-free.
Still, within hours of Hood’s announcement becoming public, political operatives were sending out information about state law 7-5-17. That particular code section states, “The attorney general shall be assigned an office at the capitol and shall keep the same open Monday through Friday for not less than eight hours each day. He and his assistants shall be there for business during said hours with the exception of such time when the attorney general or his assistants may be required to conduct the state’s business at other locations.”
If the state law did become an issue, Hood could say that the Legislature was violating it first because he was not provided an office in the state Capitol. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a capitol “is a building where the state legislative body meets.”
The second definition, according to Merriam-Webster is “a group of buildings in which the functions of state government are carried out.”
True enough, the Attorney General’s main offices are located in the Sillers Building across the street from the state Capitol in what is known as the Capitol complex.
But two years before 7-5-17 was passed, the Legislature approved other language referring to the attorney general’s space in the state Capitol building or state office building. So in the later law where the legislators referred specifically to assigning the attorney general office space at the Capitol, it is reasonable to assume they were talking about the building with the gold-plated eagle on top of the dome.
In reality, the only enforcement provision in that law is the possibility of a negative public reaction for not adhering to it. The question is will Mississippi residents – more precisely voters – care if Hood is doing his job, at least part of the time, from the square in his hometown of Houston instead of in Jackson?
Jim Hood is not only the sole statewide elected Democrat, but also the only north Mississippian serving in a statewide capacity. Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Treasurer Lynn Fitch all were residents of the Jackson area – longtime residents – before they were elected to office.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney is from nearby Vicksburg, which is an easy commute while Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith is from Brookhaven, also within commuting distance. Auditor Stacey Pickering is from Jones County – not as easy a commute, but definitely much closer than Houston.
It could be argued that Hood’s decision to move back to Chickasaw County will help him with voters in Northeast Mississippi – a region that is crucial for a Democrat to do well to succeed on a statewide level.
Thus far Hood has proven amazingly resilient as a politician. He has won three statewide elections by comfortable margins despite facing well-financed Republicans in a time when Republicans have unprecedented momentum in this state.
In 2007, he won by a larger percentage than any candidate facing major party opposition. In 2011, Chaney won by about 1 percent more than did Hood, but Chaney’s Democratic opposition had practically no funds while Hood’s opponent, former Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson, was well financed.
Of course, there will be considerable speculation about what Hood’s decision to move back to Houston means for his political future. Hood reportedly told his staff that he is running for re-election. But in an interview, he said he plans to run for re-election but did not rule out the possibility of seeking another office.
Would Hood campaign on moving the Governor’s Mansion to Houston?
BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.