OPINION: Partial-veto lawsuit pits Hood in new round against Barbour

JACKSON – Ding. Ding. Ding.
It’s round 10 or something between Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
These two have opposed each other more than former heavyweight champs Ali and Frazier did back in the day.
The latest battle is a lawsuit the attorney general filed along with House Speaker Billy McCoy and House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer D-Monrose, claiming the governor’s partial veto of language in a funding bill providing money for overtime pay for state troopers is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit is pending in Hinds County Chancery Court. If the lawsuit is not settled by the time the 2010 session rolls around in January, there is a good chance there will be an effort to override the governor’s veto. But the Legislature is prevented from taking up the veto before January. No doubt, the troopers would like that overtime pay before then.
But at any rate, that is far from the first time the AG has gone up against the governor in court. Most likely, it will not be the last.
One of the first and still highest high profile legal battles was in Barbour’s and Hood’s first year in their respective posts. The governor in 2004 convinced the Legislature to remove about 60,000 people who basically fit into the category of the working poor from the Medicaid rolls.
It didn’t take a vast majority of the Legislature long to regret the decision. Members – both Democrats and Republicans – begged the governor to call a special session to allow them to reverse their actions. He refused.
It caused an uproar complete with Medicaid recipients being led on a march by House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, to Barbour’s office. Barbour never met with the marchers.
But he kept on postponing the removal of the people from the Medicaid rolls. And the removal was ultimately blocked by a federal judge after a group of health care advocates, joined by Hood, filed a lawsuit claiming the governor’s Division of Medicaid had not followed proper procedure in removing the people from Medicaid.
Another lawsuit – equally high profile – turned out better for the governor.
Barbour, as well as others, including Treasurer Tate Reeves, filed a lawsuit to block the annual $20 million payment being made to the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi from money the state received as a result of its successful lawsuit against the tobacco companies.
In the early 2000s, then-Attorney General Mike Moore went to the court to persuade a judge to divert $20 million from the roughly $100 million the state received each year from the tobacco companies to the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi for smoking cessation programs. Moore never got legislative approval of the plan, but, according to various sources, did get a tacit nod from members of the legislative leadership before going to court.
At any rate, Barbour claimed that only the full Legislature had the right to appropriate state funds and that Moore and the judge had overstepped their authority. Hood opposed Barbour on the issue. The Supreme Court sided with the governor.
Two Hood vs Barbour legal tilts resulted from Trent Lott’s surprise decision in late 2007 to step down early from the United States Senate. Barbour appointed Tupelo Congressman Roger Wicker to the seat until the special election.
Barbour set the special election for November 2008. But Hood and others said the law was clear that the special election had to be held in 90 days.
The Supreme Court disagreed with Hood.
But it agreed with Hood when he filed suit, saying the special election should be near the top of the November election ballot – not at the bottom as Barbour wanted it to be.
In hindsight, the fight over the date of the special election was probably the more significant of the two. An early date for the special election – as Hood wanted – would most likely have favored the Democratic candidate – former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove – who had much more state name recognition than did Wicker, who was an unknown outside of his congressional district, which is based in Northeast Mississippi. Postponing the election until November gave Wicker time to build up his name recognition.
Barbour and Hood have been in court on opposite sides in other instances, such as the governor’s failed attempt to make Medicaid cuts last year.
Not much attention is paid to the numerous times that Barbour and Hood agree, such as on election issues they decide as members of the state Elections Commission, or the many times when Hood’s office represents Barbour or Barbour appointees in legal matters.
But those instances do not get the attention that their high-profile disagreements garner.
That is the nature of the political beast.
Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or at bharrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison