Mississippi’s Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood chastised state Republicans for passing a controversial religious liberty law and for failing to expand Medicaid, while offering some suggestions of his own, like a state lottery and an Internet sales tax.
Hood addressed the Pike County Democratic Party at a “Blue Pine” banquet Saturday night at Southwest Mississippi Community College.
He criticized Republicans in the Legislature for some of their actions during this year’s legislative session.
“When people get these super-majorities and feel their might, they just don’t listen to reason,” Hood said.
A prime example was a religious liberty law that, among other things, allowed certain businesses to refuse to serve gay customers, such as baking cakes for a same-sex wedding.
Hood said the experienced attorneys on his staff could have told legislators such a law was doomed to fail in court.
“They don’t ask whether this is constitutional. They don’t care if it’s constitutional. They don’t care what the courts say,” Hood maintained.
“The point (of the law) was to lie to good people who go to church that preachers will have to marry gay people.”
When such laws are challenged in court, the state must pay to defend them, Hood said.
He faulted the Legisture for preventing Medicaid money from going to Planned Parenthood, even though there’s only one Planned Parenthood center in the state, in Hattiesburg, and it doesn’t provide abortions.
“Five states have been sued for the same kind of stupid bill,” he said.
On Thursday a federal judge blocked a Mississippi law that banned Medicaid money from going to a health care provider that offers abortions.
Hood also blasted Gov. Phil Bryant for refusing to allow Medicaid expansion in the state. Such an expansion would bring in $11 billion and create 11,000 jobs, Hood said, ridiculing the Republican belief that tax cuts create jobs.
Expanded Medicaid services would help pay for treatment for mentally ill people, whom Hood referred to as “the least of these.”
“All these people talking about religious liberty ought to be reading what Jesus taught us,” he said.
Hood blamed race for Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion, noting the law, though originally proposed by Republicans, took effect under President Obama.
Despite being a Southern Baptist — a denomination that frowns on gambling — Hood recommended a state lottery as a way to bring in revenue.
An estimated $161 million from a lottery would nearly fund a $165 million statewide kindergarten program, said Hood, noting that many Mississippians cross state lines to buy lottery tickets.
An Internet sales tax would bring in revenue and help protect bricks-and-mortar businesses.
“Our Main Street merchants are getting killed out there,” Hood said, giving an example of someone finding a jacket he likes in a store, then going home and ordering it tax-free online.
As for the race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, Hood said, “This presidential election has just been a hoot to me.”
But when Trump’s candidacy survived into August, “this got serious,” Hood said.
He predicted Clinton will do better in Mississippi than President Obama did, but he doesn’t expect her to carry the heavily Republican state. Yet he said her election will benefit Mississippi.
“She has a heart for our state,” Hood said.