If Democrats have a chance to take back the governor’s mansion in Mississippi, Jim Hood believes this is the year and he is the one who can do it.
Republicans have held the office for 23 of the past 27 years and their man this election year is Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who had to run hard to secure the party’s gubernatorial nomination after a difficult primary challenge in which he couldn’t avoid a runoff, didn’t win his home county or his own precinct.
Hood, a former district attorney from Chickasaw County who has served as attorney general for 16 years, spoke to supporters in McComb during a reception Thursday at attorney Ronnie Whittington’s office.
While Reeves’ campaign paints Hood as a far-left liberal cut from the same cloth as freshman firebrand U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Hood said his record reflects that he’s a moderate if nothing else.
He has defended Mississippi’s restrictive abortion laws in court, not to mention other measures authored by the Republican-controlled Legislature during his tenure.
“The craziness in Washington is driving us to the middle,” he said in an interview. “The crazies on both wings have pushed us to the middle.”
Reeves has been running with millions in his warchest, far more than any other candidate who has sought the office this year, but he struggled to find universal support among his base during a primary run against center-right Republican Bill Waller, a former Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice.
Hood believes he’ll pick up some votes from Waller’s centrist supporters.
“Polls show they’re coming over our way,” he said. “It’s a lot of moderates coming over. Sixty percent of the people want somebody who is non-partisan.”
As for Reeves’ insistence that Hood might as well be a liberal coming straight outta Berkeley with a Darwin sticker on the back of a hybrid vehicle, Hood said there’s no substance to his opponent’s message.
“He just throws around these labels but he doesn’t have any issues to run on,” he said. “He’s going to talk about labels and all of that stuff, and I don’t know of a liberal that ever came out of Houlka, Mississippi, where I grew up, population 300.”
Hood, meanwhile, said he has issues to run on, pointing to roads, education and health care, all of which he claims have suffered under Reeves’ watch as Mississippi’s second-highest-ranking elected official.
Hood said the state needs more funding for highways and Republicans have blocked most funding measures. As the election nears, his campaign has been hesitant to support a gas tax, which Reeves vehemently opposes.
The biggest issues concerning roads during the campaign has largely been centered around Hood’s investigation into Reeves’ alleged pressuring of Mississippi Department of Transportation officials to build a frontage road connecting his Rankin County subdivision to a shopping center. Reeves has denied the claims.
Hood said Reeves’ steadfast opposition to expanding Medicaid has resulted in limited access to health care for Mississippi’s working poor and allowed the state to miss out on billions in federal funding.
“That’s a billion dollars a year we’ve been turning down from the federal government. Tate Reeves has cost us $5 billion in the past five years by refusing to do that,” he said.
As for education, Hood’s main goals are to offer pre-K in all public schools, raise teacher pay and offer free community college tuition.
“I want to see us do K4 education statewide, paying our teachers to the Southeastern average, funding our schools,” he said.
Hood said Itawamba Community College, which covers five northeastern counties near his hometown, offers free tuition to students, and that’s an idea that could be expanded statewide.
“I want to see us doing like we do in my five counties, providing community college tuition-free if you can’t get a grant or scholarship otherwise,” he said. “That’s only $6 million statewide.”
Hood said Mississippi’s economy has lagged under Republican leadership.
“Since ’09, Tennessee has grown 22 percent. We’ve grown 2. Arkansas, 14, Alabama 11,” he said.
Hood said the other problem facing Mississippi is the people who run it and, if elected, one of his priorities will be to “clean up that Legislature.”
Hood said lawmakers should be subject to the Open Records Act.
“Subjecting them to the Open Records Act will help us prevent a lot of the mischief we’ve been seeing because what they’ve done is they’ve given all our money away,” he said. “That’s why we don’t have money for roads and bridges and education. They gave away primarily to out-of-state corporations in exchange for campaign contributions.
“I’ve been fighting illegal corruption for 29 years as a prosecutor. What I call what they’ve been doing is legal corruption. They write the laws and they allow us to enter into these contracts with their buddies and they turn around and give them campaign contributions.”
Hood said Reeves is particularly guilty of that.
“That’s the way he’s raised $10 million, by selling us out,” he said.
Hood may have some challenges running in ruby-red Mississippi with a D behind his name, but he’s more concerned about getting voters to support candidates based on their records, not their party affiliation.
“They know my record, they’ve seen me 16 years and that’s why I see a lot of moderate Republicans crossing over,” he said.