Riley-Collins looks to maintain Democrats’ hold on attorney general’s office

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Mississippi ACLU director Jennifer Riley-Collins announces her run for attorney general at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Friday, February 15, 2019.

Meridian native Jennifer Riley-Collins will try to maintain for Mississippi Democrats the one statewide seat they currently hold.

Riley-Collins, the executive director of the Mississippi branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and decorated 20-year military veteran, has announced she is running as a Democrat for attorney general.

“As attorney general I will serve and protect the legal interests of Mississippians,” she said in response to questions from Mississippi Today. “l will work to protect vulnerable populations, combat the opioid epidemic, strengthen protections for victims of crime and fight for working people.”

Riley-Collins is vying to replace four-term Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who is running for governor and who in the past has thwarted efforts of the Republicans to capture the AG’s seat as they have the other seven statewide posts.

On the Republican side, Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon and Treasurer Lynn Fitch of Madison are running for the post.

As attorney general, Hood often has defended the state in lawsuits where Riley-Collins’ ACLU was on the opposing side. Some of the lawsuits involved laws passed by the Legislature to oppose gay marriage and to restrict abortions rights.

“One of the first things a lawyer learns are the Rules of Ethics,” Riley-Collins said when asked about defending the state,” One of the pillars is our duty to represent your client competently and zealously. When elected, the state of Mississippi will be my client. I will uphold the rule of law and present the state’s legal interest competently and zealously.”  

While a Democrat has held the post since the 19th century, Riley-Collins will be viewed as the underdog in the race. Both Fitch and Baker are expected to garner more campaign contributions than Riley-Collins.

“I am not afraid of a challenge,” she said.” I am confident that as I tell people about my experience and my plans for the office of attorney general, they will see that I am the best candidate, fundraising advantage or not.”

The attorney general’s post has been one of the most high profile public offices. Both Hood and his predecessor, Mike Moore, were very active in filing lawsuits on behalf of the state – many of those lawsuits garnering national attention such as against Google and against the tobacco companies.

Before then, Ed Pittman served one term as attorney general before running and losing a race for governor. He later served on the state Supreme Court.

Pittman’s predecessor was Bill Allain, who in the 1980s won a landmark lawsuit to prevent legislators from serving on executive agency boards. The Supreme Court ruled that it was a violation of the separation of powers clause of the state Constitution for legislators to serve on executive boards.