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3 run for GOP nomination for Mississippi attorney general

August 2, 2019
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Republican Rep. Mark Baker from Brandon, campaigns for his party's nomination for Attorney General at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Republican Rep. Mark Baker from Brandon, campaigns for his party's nomination for Attorney General at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi voters are choosing a new attorney general for the first time in 16 years.

Three lawyers are competing for the Republican nomination, and they are battling over who would make the biggest change in the office currently held by Democrat Jim Hood. He’s the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, and he’s seeking his party’s nomination for governor.

Mark Baker of Brandon is a fourth-term state representative. Lynn Fitch of Ridgeland is in her second term as state treasurer. Andy Taggart of Madison is a former Madison County supervisor and was chief of staff for Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice in the 1990s.

If nobody wins a majority in Tuesday’s GOP primary, a runoff will be Aug. 27.

The nominee will face Democrat Jennifer Riley Collins of Clinton in the Nov. 5 general election. Collins is a lawyer, military veteran and former director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, and she’s unopposed for her party’s nomination.

Campaign finance reports filed Tuesday show Fitch had raised the most money in the race.

During a speech Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Fitch said her background prepares her to be Mississippi’s top legal officer. She has worked as a staff attorney for the Mississippi House Ways and Means Committee, was a special assistant attorney general and spent two years as director of the state Personnel Board before she was elected treasurer.

“In 34 years, I’ve been very fortunate,” Fitch said. “I’ve run complex agencies. I’ve been house counsel to the Legislature and I have been in private practice, offering a great intersection of law, politics, finance and administration. When you hire me, you hire me to go to work Day One.”

Taggart and his wife, Karen, lost one of their sons to suicide when he was 21 and had been struggling with drugs. Taggart said some have tried to “trivialize” his candidacy by saying he’s just a grieving dad who’s running to make a point.

“Well, those folks don’t know me very well,” he said. “Karen and I have certainly done our share of grieving. And we are misty-eyed on plenty evenings because we miss our boy every day. But make no mistake, my friends: We are steely-eyed about the conviction that until the attorney general of the state of Mississippi gets serious about the fight against the scourge of drugs in our communities we are never going to turn the corner in the war on drugs.”

Baker said his experience as a legislator, prosecutor and judge have prepared him to be attorney general.

“I’m running to be your first conservative attorney general because business simply needs a partner with the Trump administration,” Baker said.

Although Mississippi does not have a border with Mexico, Baker said he would support the president’s push for a border wall because he believes it would curb the flow of illegal drugs.

“I’m going to be your first conservative attorney general because I am 100% law enforcement in 16 years in the Legislature,” Baker said.

During her speech Thursday at the fair, Collins talked about her 32-year Army career. She retired as a colonel in 2017.

“I am a defender of freedom and the Constitution,” Collins said. “As Mississippi’s next attorney general, I will lead from the front just as I led this nation’s finest, its soldiers, in times of peace and war. During my military career. I was called upon to successfully balance the security of our homeland with the respect for privacy and constitutional rights of this land’s citizens. These are rights I swore to defend.

“I know from experience, it does not have to be either-or,” she said. “We do not have to have a negative narrative of us versus them, you versus me.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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