Hood confirms bid for governor likely

State Attorney General Jim Hood talks with Clay County Justice Court Judge Chris McBrayer and County Prosecutor Michelle Easterling about mental health issues after his talk Thursday to the West Point Rotary.
Staff Writer

Moderate Democrats and Republicans are tired of the current dysfunctional state of Mississippi government and want a change, Attorney General Jim Hood said Thursday, confirming he plans to formally announce his run for governor in about three months.

"I'm doing everything I can to get ready to run," Hood said when asked about his gubernatorial bid after giving a speech to the West Point Rotary Club that sounded much like a warm up to a bid for governor.

"The extremes for both parties are running everything. The people in the middle, moderates like me, are tired of it. We've got to work together to get something done. It's an opportunity for change ... A man from a town of 300 people to go out and make a difference," Hood continued, referring to growing up in Houlka in Chickasaw County.

The lingering hesitation is "it puts your family through everything," he noted, speaking of the three more months he and his wife and family will study the potential campaign.
In his talk to the Rotary Club, Hood, the only Democrat to be elected to statewide office, touched on a number of what he called "missed opportunities" in recent years in the Legislature. He said a lack of leadership was the cause, and on a couple of occasions, mentioned Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves, by name as one of the problems.

Reeves, who was elected to statewide office in 2004 as was Hood, is a presumed Republican candidate for governor next year.

"Tate said he wasn't going to raise anyone's taxes, but he has. Look at tuitions as just one example," Hood stated, noting the price at Ole Miss has gone from $4,000 to $8,300, not to mention "higher local taxes."

And he says those missed opportunities and lack of leadership in the Legislature have put the state "10 years behind" other states in the Southeast because it hasn't invested in its people and dumped more of the tax burden on local governments.

"We are paying one way or the other. It's hitting the cities and the counties. We've just run on the idea that you can cut taxes for out-of-state corporations and it's coming home to roost now," he said, referring to $410 million in corporate tax cuts approved two years ago, "78 percent of which" went to out of state companies.

The internal bickering continues so much that it continues to block any consensus on solving such big problems as funding infrastructure in the state.

"They are in such a feud down there, I don't think they will get a consensus to have a special session. When you have a group like the Mississippi Economic Council, the most influential local business group in the state, that comes in and says something has to be done and here are options the public supports and they still don't do anything, it shows something is wrong," Hood said when asked whether he thought Gov. Phil Bryant will call a special session to address roads and bridges.

"We've gotten to the point where we are giving our money away because of politics. People are more worried about getting re-elected," he said at another point. "Everyone wants tax cuts, but they are just amplifying our problem."

As an example, he said the state Department of Mental Health has had to phase out 624 positions in the last two years. That means significant cuts in mental health services across the state. That comes at a time when the public is beginning to understand the mental health crisis that is brewing.

And it is ending up in county jails and city and county courtrooms.

"We are seeing it in terms of jail costs, safety issues. We are paying for it at home," Clay County Prosecutor Michelle Easterling told Hood.

While neighboring states have averaged at least 8 percent growth since the end of the Great Recession and some have averaged as high as 19 percent, Mississippi's growth has been just 1 percent, Hood said.

Part of that is because of the missed opportunities.

Those include failing to solve the infrastructure issue when the Legislature had enough votes to approve a fuel tax increase and other revenue sources, failure to approve the lottery, failing to expand Medicaid and tap into billions in federal dollars, missteps on Internet sales and several other issues.

"Roads are our lifeblood. They are part of the reason for the successes the Golden Triangle has had. But Highway 82, Highway 45, they are getting worse everyday. All we needed was someone to step up and provide legislators with a little cover and the votes were there," he stated.

As for the lottery, he said he is a Southern Baptist but "you have to be realistic" when looking at the issue, which could raise as much as an estimated $160 million if scratch cards and other lottery forms are included.

"That's money that could go to education, could fund pre-k programs across the statewide. Programs that would pay dividends for years to come," Hood said.