Mississippi legislators should not be above open records law, Hood says while announcing his agenda

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Lt. Gov. Jim Hood, who is running for governor, speaks to supporters before addressing an audience at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson Thursday, February 28, 2019. 

Attorney General Jim Hood said Thursday he would work to require legislators to adhere to the state’s open records laws if elected governor this November.

For years, the Legislature has been exempt from the state law that makes official correspondence of elected officials and governmental entities available to the public.

Hood, the four-term attorney general and only statewide elected Democrat, said requiring legislators to be subject to the open records law would help eliminate the legislative leadership’s “backroom deals” that he said are holding the state back economically.

Hood, a Chickasaw County native, announced in his hometown of Houston in November he was running for governor.

On Thursday, the day before the deadline to qualify for election, he held an event at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum to sign a pledge of what his priorities would be if elected. He was introduced at the event by the Rev. Charles Penson of Tupelo, who said, he was glad to see a crowd that looked like Mississippi, black and white, male and female, old and young.

“We need to open up state government,” Hood said to the crowd of about 200. “We need to take a broom and clean it out. For too long the legislative leaders have run the state like a casino for special interests – collecting chips and handing out favors.”

Hood referenced multiple tax cuts passed for corporations – the bulk of, he said, went to large out-of-state businesses.

Hood touted his own tax cut plan Thursday. Part of the pledge he signed was to eliminate the 7 percent sales tax on food. Mississippi has the highest state-imposed sale tax on groceries in the nation. Some parts of Alabama have a higher sales tax on food when a local option, which is permitted in that state, is added.

After the event, Hood, in responding to media inquiries, could not say what the cost of removing the sales tax on food would be to the state. He said as the campaigned progressed more details of his proposals would be released.

He also touted expanding early childhood education, increasing teacher pay and expanding Medicaid, as is allowed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, to provide health care primarily to the working poor. He said the infusion of federal money provided under the expansion would help keep open rural hospitals, many of which are in danger of closing.

Hood and Reeves are considered the favorites to advance to the November general elections, though, both face challenges in the party primaries. Hood faces Hinds County district attorney Robert Shuler Smith and Velesha P. Williams in the Democratic primary. In the GOP primary, Reeves faces former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. and freshman state Rep. Robert Foster.

On Thursday Hood was focused on Reeves.

“By way of our lieutenant governor, Mississippi has given out hundreds of millions of your tax dollars to big out-of-state corporations that should have gone to fixing our roads, improving our schools or giving tax relief to our own Mississippi businesses and working families,” he said.

Reeves campaign spokesman Parker Briden responded via e-mail, “The Democratic Party is more radical today than it ever has been and Jim Hood wants to put it in charge of Mississippi. Their platform would cost us jobs, cost you money, do harm to our culture, and undermine our values.”