Hood files lawsuit over Senate seat election

Published 5:34 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2008

JACKSON (AP) — The dispute over an election to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Republican Trent Lott is now headed to court.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood on Wednesday filed a complaint in Hinds County Circuit Court against the Nov. 4 election date set by Gov. Haley Barbour. The two have been at odds over when the election should be held.

“We also filed a motion for preliminary injunction in hopes of expediting the matter. We have asked the court for a hearing next week,” Hood said in statement on Wednesday.

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Barbour, a Republican, said he has followed what he called a poorly written state law that required the special election to be held at the same time as this year’s general election.

Hood, a Democrat, said the law requires a special election much sooner than the date Barbour set.

Mississippi law states that after receiving official notice of a Senate vacancy, the governor has 10 days to announce an election to fill the seat. That election must be held within 90 days of the announcement, unless the vacancy occurs during a year when “there shall be held a general state or congressional election.”

Hood, in his complaint, said Barbour’s decision to delay the election by eight months “denies voters their constitutional and statutory right to vote” and their right to a popularly elected senator rather than an appointed one.

Hood also said that Barbour’s decision usurps the Legislature’s constitutional right to set the time for special elections.

“Hood has a right to his opinion,” said Pete Smith, spokesman for the governor.

Barbour has said he expects the Mississippi Supreme Court will have to settle the election date issue.

On Monday, Barbour appointed U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., as senator. Wicker said he will be a candidate for the special election to serve out the remainder of Lott’s term, which expires in 2012.

Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a prominent Democrat, has said he is considering a run for the seat.

Lott officially resigned Dec. 18 with five years left in his current six-year term. He served 16 years in the U.S. House before moving to the Senate in 1988.

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Dowdy said he supports Hood’s attempt to enforce the law as written.

“A fourth grader can read that law and understand that an election must be called within 90 days,” said Dowdy, who represented the state’s 4th District in Congress from 1981-1989.

Dowdy also said Wicker’s appointment will result in more of the “status quo” in Washington.

“Voters should be given the opportunity to decide as soon as possible if they want to endorse Wicker’s status quo record or endorse new leadership that will deliver the change Mississippi is demanding,” Dowdy said.