Hood vs. Hurst: Mississippi Democrats' last stand in statewide arena

Hood AP

Jim Hood is a Democrat running in a deep red state. In fact, he's the only Democrat in statewide office in a state in which the Republicans control the executive branch and both houses of the Legislature.

He's up against Mike Hurst, a younger, energetic former federal prosecutor, who's fairly well-funded and backed by the Republican leadership.

You'd think Hood would be in trouble. Hood, though, says he appeals to Republicans and Democrats alike.

"People want to say it's all a red state, but people vote for who they like," he said. "The people know I call balls and strikes, I don't get into a lot of partisan stuff and I don't file political lawsuits. They want their kids protected and they know we've done that."

In a campaign season with few competitive races, this race has certainly been feisty. But Hood has survived formidable and nasty campaigns before.

For instance, Hurst said Hood has been absent as public corruption runs rampant. Hurst points to his experience as an assistant U.S. attorney in the state and a study that found Mississippi the most corrupt state in the nation.

Hurst said when he prosecuted federal public corruption cases in the state's Southern District, he didn't feel he could get cooperation from Hood's office.

"That has to be a major change in that office," Hurst said.

Hood said he has cooperated with the federal prosecutors and they have tools his office doesn't have, such as wiretaps.

When Hurst announced he was running, the day he quit the U.S. Attorney's Office, public corruption was squarely on his radar. Now he said he also would be more willing than Hood to take on President Barack Obama and what Hurst describes as Obama's overreach.

Working with DAs

But Hood said he sees the AG's role differently.

"The DAs are front-line prosecutors," he said. "DAs are effective in many ways. What we've done is to try to fill in the gaps. We've done a lot of work with technology crimes, everything from cyberbullying to data breach. DAs and local law enforcement don't have the technology.

"We're training them."

Hood said he's made the state safer for children by putting people who download child pornography behind bars.

"The top downloader, when we started in 2009, was downloading at the rate of about 350 images in the previous 30 days. Now, the top downloader is anywhere from 50 to 60. So we've driven that down because it's a five-year minimum mandatory sentence.

"We issue a press release when we arrest them and we issue a press release when they're sentenced and the judge has always sentenced them to over five years.

"I bet we prevented a lot."

He says his office also does thousands of alcohol and tobacco checks each year to prevent underage people from drinking and smoking.

"We were able to work in areas and make a difference protecting kids on the Internet and preventing crime with a program like Badges to Baseball. It's a program where you get cops to go coach a baseball team. Kids get to know that cops are not their enemy. Those prevention programs, it's fun to watch those."

His office, he said, also protects the elderly, women, widows and children.

"About six years ago we heard about this statistic that Mississippi was fifth worst in the nation in domestic homicide," Hood said. A member of his staff got a grant to start a domestic-violence program, trained officers and judges to deal with the cases and changed laws dealing with domestic violence.

"We're 34th in the nation now," he said.

Admirable but

Hurst said all those programs are admirable.

"I don't think anyone would argue with going after child predators, or after those who abuse the elderly," Hurst said. "He talks about the Bible a lot, about how we were instructed to take care of orphans and widows and I couldn't agree with him more. My concern for that office is there is so much more that can be done.

"Those are great things, noble things. There is so much more that office can do.

"Cooperating more with federal law enforcement. Cooperating more with federal prosecutors. Being more responsive to local law enforcement, sheriff's departments, police departments."

Hurst reiterated there should be more pushback against the White House.

"All the stuff that has come out recently against Planned Parenthood," he said. "The encouraging thing I've seen is a number of AGs around the country have called for investigations in their state. Our campaign has called on Mississippi to do the same but our opponent has just been completely silent.

"When things like that happen, I think, you have a duty as attorney general to go after it. At least look at it. Those are the weakest among us, the unborn children. You have to stand up for them."