Will state see first GOP AG since 1878?

Published 7:52 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The 2019 Mississippi Republican primary for attorney general will pit three veteran GOP politicians against each other for the right to become Mississippi’s first GOP attorney general since George Emrick Harris in 1878.

The Republican winner will face Democrat candidate U.S. Army Col. Jennifer Riley Collins (Ret.), a decorated military intelligence officer and civil rights attorney. Collins is the only African American candidate in the race. She is a highly credible candidate.

The three Republican candidates come to the GOP primary from varied personal and political paths. Incumbent State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, a Holly Springs native who has held the treasurer’s post since 2011, has won two contested statewide GOP primaries and two contested statewide general elections. None of her opponents can say that.

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Prior to serving as treasurer, Fitch logged stints as executive director of the Mississippi State Personnel Board, as deputy executive director of external affairs and support services at the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, and as a special assistant attorney general with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

She also served stints with the Mississippi Department of Economic Development and as a staff counsel for the Mississippi House of Representatives.

State Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon, the first Republican to announce his intentions to seek the AG’s office in the 2019 primary, entered the fray in May 2018 — well ahead of either Fitch or Taggart. Baker entered the race before four-term incumbent Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood announced his intention to seek re-election or run for governor, as he now is.

Baker has represented Rankin County in the Mississippi House since 2004, rising to the rank of Republican Leader and serves as chairman of the House Judiciary En Banc and Judiciary A Committees and is a member of the House Ways and Means, Banking and Finance, Transportation and Investigate State Offices Committees.

Baker has also served as a board attorney for Brandon and Puckett, prosecutor for Brandon, and municipal judge for Pelahatchie — all Rankin County municipalities — in addition to 30 years of private legal practice in Brandon.

The final GOP candidate to announce his 2019 candidacy for the GOP nomination for the attorney general’s post is Madison attorney Andy Taggart. Taggart is a former chief of staff to former Gov. Kirk Fordice – the state’s first GOP governor since Reconstruction — and is a former executive director and political director for the Mississippi Republican Party. He also served a term on the Madison County Board of Supervisors.

Taggart and Jere Nash, whose activities in the state’s Democratic Party rival Taggart’s GOP allegiance, collaborated on two highly successful books, Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976 – 2008, and the lighter Mississippi Fried Politics: Tall Tales From the Back Rooms in 2008. Both books were well-received and drew praise from both sides of the political aisle.

Nash remains a “yellow dog” Democrat while Taggart is still an unabashed Republican. The books represent a fair, even-handed and factual accounts of Mississippi’s transition from a state dominated from the county courthouses to the statehouse by a monolithic Democratic Party to a one with a vibrant two-party system in which the GOP has gained dominance in the last decade.

But for a Mississippi Republican gray eminence, Taggart has at times blazed his own trails in publicly advocating for his party to lead the way in changing the state flag and in unapologetic support for the 2016 presidential candidacy of John Kasich over Donald Trump.

The GOP primary for attorney general should see one of the more hotly contested races on the 2019 down ticket ballot. In Baker, Fitch and Taggart, GOP voters will see three qualified, motivated and politically passionate candidates who aren’t acquainted with losing campaigns. Something, as they say, has to give.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.