Attorney General Jim Hood met with students from the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Credit: Briana Florez, UM Capitol Press Corps

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood made it clear his views do not line up with Republicans in the Legislature, just across the way from his office, especially when it comes to education funding.

Hood said Republicans are giving money away in tax cuts that should be used to fund public education.

“They say they want to run government like a business. They keep saying that, but they don’t operate like a business over there,” Hood said. “If you’re trying to have economic development, increase your tax base, so you can help education and impoverished areas. They’re not doing a very good job of that.”

Hood’s comments came as he met with Mississippi Press Corps students from Ole Miss Wednesday afternoon to discuss state issues such as education, brain drain, the opioid epidemic, and marijuana prosecution and legalization.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, told Mississippi Press Corps students Tuesday, that the State has spent more on education in the last two years, than ever. When asked for his response to the speaker’s statement, the attorney general said those statistics are not entirely accurate.

Hood said the state hasn’t funded education enough to keep up with the rate of inflation, and that politicians will fool you with statistics.

“That’s a good answer, until you dig down. I don’t know exactly what the inflation rate has been since the last teacher pay raise and so forth, but they haven’t kept up with what other states are doing,” Hood said. “So we’re just sitting kind of dead in the water, when other states are funding.”

Republicans have been known to support charter schools. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Gunn both told the students that charter schools push low performing schools to compete.

Hood said while he doesn’t necessarily believe charter schools are the most viable alternative to proper education funding, he is willing to listen to the argument. However, he called the argument a “gimmick” Republicans use, to divert attention away from the fact education is not being properly funded.

“My argument is pay those teachers enough that you attract teachers who are capable, or better than what we’re able to do now,” Hood said. “I think if we properly funded education, we wouldn’t need those vouchers.”

Reeves and Gunn have denied there is a brain drain issue in Mississippi. While they admit more and more students are leaving the state after college, they argue a lot of students never planned on staying to begin with, especially if they come to college from out of state.

According to Hood, there is a brain drain issue in Mississippi, and it’s because students have to move to a higher paying location, where they can pay student debt, buy a house, car, and raise a family. He believes an incentive that would make students stay, is to offer free community college statewide, like Tennessee does.

The opioid epidemic is another state issue Hood takes very seriously. He said it is different than any other epidemic before, such as the crack epidemic in the 90’s, or the meth epidemic in the early 2000’s, because it can start in a much simpler way.

“It can start with some kid who breaks his leg, or plays football in high school, and they get opioids, and they get addicted. Or it could be a middle aged person, or elderly person that falls, so it affects all ages and socioeconomic levels.”

Hood said prevention, treatment rehabilitation, and suing opioid manufacturers, are three things he has done to combat the crisis. Prevention is the cheapest solution to the epidemic, according to Hood.

The attorney general also said many who abuse opioids have an underlying mental health issue. He said he has urged legislators to pass legislation that will help treat those with addiction. In addition, Hood said manufactures have violated the Consumer Protection Act by lying about how addictive they are.

“It haunts me how many kids I’ve sent to the pen for dope because we didn’t know what else to do with them, and they had a mental issue,” Hood said. “I have sued manufacturers and held them accountable because they lied and you can’t lie. That’s a violation of our Consumer Protection Act, bait and switch.”

Hood did not state directly if he himself supports the legalization of marijuana, however he said it is an issue he is convinced that the millennial generation will legalize, eventually. The speed of the legalization of marijuana in Mississippi will be directly impacted by the opioid epidemic, as studies have shown marijuana helps opioid users wean themselves off addictive drugs, according to Hood.

Hood said in the past he has prosecuted people for marijuana, and put them in jail, but that process does not work. He believes the legalization of marijuana is in Mississippi’s future.

“I suspect us old folks are going to have to suck it up, and when you young folks take over, or become our legislators, it will pass,” Hood said. “I think that ship has left the port, and at some point, us old folks will figure that out.”

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