TUPELO • Ahead of a general election that’s now about one month away, Democratic candidate for governor Jim Hood is offering a populist, pragmatic array of policies that foreground middle-class earners and rural residents.
Hood is a Northeast Mississippi native who was an elected district attorney in the region before he won the post of state attorney general, a job he’s held nearly 16 years now.
In an interview with the Daily Journal’s editorial board on Tuesday, Hood said state voters face “one of those cornerstone elections” and pitched his candidacy as a reversal of course from what he described as the failed record of current leaders.
“That’s what the election is about, it’s about the issues and the economy,” Hood said.
Infrastructure, education, healthcare, elimination of the grocery tax and ethics reform in the legislature top his list of priorities, according to Hood.
In the next legislative session, Hood believes he can win support for a road bill that will move beyond a patchwork funding system currently in place while putting people to work.
“That’s 8,000 working people swinging hammers, and that’s how you grow the economy,” Hood said.
With education policy in view, Hood wants to expand pre-kindergarten access funded by the state.
“That’s huge. Economic development experts are saying the best money a state can spend, the best bang for your buck, is early childhood education,” Hood said. “If we could just do that one thing in Mississippi, it would have such a huge long term impact on our state.”
Free tuition at community colleges across the state and teacher pay raises are also on Hood’s education agenda.
On healthcare, Hood continues to support expansion of the state’s Medicaid program using federal funds to cover much of the cost.
Speaking with the editorial board, Hood indicated a willingness to consider proposals that would cover the state’s share of expansion costs, including a so-called “bed tax” on hospitals.
“It’s much better if it doesn’t come out of the general fund,” Hood said.
This brings Hood closer to policies Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Waller proposed during his failed primary campaign, though Hood would not commit to any specific plan for funding Medicaid expansion.
In the gubernatorial race, Hood faces Republican opponent Tate Reeves, the incumbent lieutenant governor completing his second term.
Reeves has criticized Hood’s agenda as too expensive for the state.
For most of his tenure as attorney general, Hood has been the only Democrat elected to statewide office. He now hopes his history of bipartisan appeal will make him the first Democratic governor in the state in about 16 years.
Even as Reeves has sought to link Hood with national Democratic figures, Hood casts himself as a moderate, pragmatic figure capable of working with the legislature to move past “petty partisan politics.”
Citing his rural upbringing in Chickasaw County, Hood rejected the idea that he’s beyond the political pale in a red state like Mississippi.
“I don’t know if liberal ever came out of Houlka, Mississippi,” Hood said. “That’s where I grew up.”