JACKSON, Miss. - With election day a little more than a month away, Mississippi's candidates for Attorney General began really taking aim at each other Monday.
Incumbent Democrat Jim Hood accused Republican challenger Al Hopkins of padding his resume during a luncheon and on his campaign website, and his campaign manager called Hopkins "all hat, no cattle."
Meanwhile, Hopkins alleged impropriety with state contracts given by Hood to campaign-contributing trial lawyers.
"There is a pattern of behavior that creates an unhealthy perception of your attorney general's office in the State of Mississippi," Hopkins said, according to a report by The Associated Press. "We don't know if he's selling state contracts for campaign contributions or just suffers bad judgment."
Hood is routinely criticized for past contracts. As a result of a 2005 settlement with MCI, Hood contributor Joey Langston's firm received $14 million, though he paid $7 million of that to a Louisiana firm.
Also, the three trial lawyers hired by Hood to help represent the state in a lawsuit against five insurance companies who allegedly shortchanged policyholders after Hurricane Katrina were all contributors to his campaign in 2003.
Danny Cupit offered $1,000 to Hood, a Democrat, in July of that year, and William Liston of Liston/Lancaster ponied up $10,000.
Crymes G. Pittman, meanwhile, was the largest contributor. Between March 12, 2003-June 28, 2004, Pittman made five donations totaling $25,000. His fellow partners in his law firm (Robert Germany, Joseph Roberts Jr. and C. Victor Welsh III) combined for six donations equaling $33,500.
Hood has said state contracts are given on a "first-come-first-serve basis."
"It's kind of like intellectual property. They're bringing you an idea," Hood said. "And we give it to whomever it is, and if they've got the ability to handle it and the wherewithal to handle it and the money to back it, they've got the case."
Hopkins' advertisements boasting the 66-year-olds experience as chief judge of the state's Military Court of Appeals provided Hood's ammunition. Hood says the court has not met once since 1996, when Hopkins took over, and Hopkins does not earn a salary for the position.
"This begs the question: What experience and qualifications does Mr. Hopkins really have to qualify him as attorney general of Mississippi?" Hood campaign manager Jonathan Compretta asked. "We believe the voters have a right to know.
"There's an old saying that applies to make-believe cowboys who dress and talk the part, pretending to be what they aren't. Alben Hopkins is 'all hat, no cattle.'"
The Military Court of Appeals has not met to hear a case since 1990, the report noted.
"I'm not padding my resume. That's a true statement," Hopkins said, according to the report. "I am the chief judge of the Military Court of Appeals.
"I guess you could say the people in the military in the State of Mississippi are first-class individuals, every one of them. And they don't get into trouble."