Hours before the deadline on March 1 to qualify to run for political office, Andy Taggart sat in his truck in the parking lot of the state Republican Party headquarters for about one hour discussing with his wife of 36 years, Karen, whether he should enter the campaign for attorney general.
Taggart, age 61, said he “was comfortable” in his life, practicing law out of his Ridgeland office, duck hunting, riding his motorcycle and traveling with his wife, especially to Houston to see their new granddaughter.
By the same token, since 2003 he had thought about running for the office of attorney general and now the tragic death of their son, Brad, who took his own life in 2012 during the midst of a battle with drugs, only fueled his desire to enter the campaign.
“The bottom line is we suffered a front line casualty in the drug wars in the loss of our son. For the last seven years now we have been trying to find effective ways to redeem that in a way that helps save other young people and equips other families for the battles they face,” said Taggart, a Madison resident. “And I have not been able to shake the conviction that service in the attorney general’s office is a key way to be able to do that.“
In recent years, the Taggarts have spoken to church groups, civic groups, drug court graduations and just about anyone who would listen about the dangers of drugs and about their son.
Now Taggart is running for the open seat of attorney general against Republicans state Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Rep. Mark Baker of Rankin County. On the Democratic side, Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union state chapter, is vying to replace incumbent Jim Hood.
Hood, the only statewide elected Democrat, is running for governor.
Sitting at a table in a common area of Banner Hall, a Jackson shopping/restaurant area, Taggart said he wants to make battling drugs, punishing the “predators” and providing help to the “victim,” a priority. He said Hood had focused on battling cyber crimes, which Taggart said he did not “begrudge him for,” just that he would have a different focus.
He added, though, that does not mean his office, if elected, would not pursue cyber crimes.
Taggart previously served as a supervisor in Madison County and ran unsuccessfully in 1988 for the old 4th U.S. Congressional District.
While never holding statewide, or even districtwide elected office, he has been a fixture of Republican politics for decades.
He served as Gov. Kirk Fordice’s chief of staff. And he ran Fordice’s 1995 statewide re-election campaign. Fordice, of course, was the first Republican governor of Mississippi since Reconstruction and the first governor of the state to serve consecutive terms. At one point, the state’s Constitution limited governors to one term.
In 1980, a young Taggart worked in the state on the campaign of Ronald Reagan.
And, of course, in recent times he has been co author and political commentator with his friend and political opposite – long-time Democratic campaign consultant Jere Nash – talking about both state and national politics.
Taggart enters the campaign as perhaps more vocal on the issue of changing the embattled state flag than any other Republican running this year for statewide office.
“I really think we need an attorney general who is as passionate about Mississippi’s future as an awful lot of people are about our past,” he said. “And one component of that which I think would help us in retaining young people in our state and recruiting their peers to come across state lines and stay here is to give our current state flag a dignified retirement.”
The current flag contains the Confederate battle emblem as a significant portion of its design.
Taggart said he would not support ending the practice of using outside attorneys under certain circumstances to help the AG’s office in civil lawsuits, such as against large corporations. But he said the private attorneys who get those cases should be chosen by some type of bid process to prevent what he said is a perception of “pay to play.”
In addition, Taggart said he believes the attorney general should be a “practicing attorney” who can actually try cases representing the state in court. He said he has much more experience in that area than the other candidates vying for the post this year.
He cited representing Fordice during his tenure as governor in court as well as other instances, such as representing then-state auditor Phil Bryant.