Legislative candidates sues to block foe in Miss. Delta election

Published 10:15 pm Saturday, October 28, 2006

Jim Arnold, one of six candidates seeking to fill the vacancy in Senate District 14, has filed lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court to get an opponent disqualified from the Nov. 7 election.

The lawsuit follows the Mississippi Election Commission’s earlier rejection of a challenge to the candidacy of Hiram Eastland III by the Mississippi Republican Party.

No hearing date has been set on the lawsuit.

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The lawsuit names the Election Commission and Eastland as defendants. The Election Commission is composed of Gov. Haley Barbour, Attorney General Jim Hood and Secretary of State Eric Clark.

The Election Commission rejected the GOP’s claim that Eastland has not been a resident in Senate District 14 for two years prior to the Nov. 7 special election.

Clark voted to disqualify the Greenwood attorney, while Deputy Attorney General Onetta Whitley, standing in for Hood, voted to keep him on the ballot.

Rather than break the tie, Barbour abstained, citing his and his wife’s longtime personal friendship with Eastland’s parents.

“Regardless of the reason that the governor had, you can’t shirk your responsibility to follow the law when you are the chief executive officer of the state,” said Arnold, a Kosciusko attorney.

Eastland said he would not let the lawsuit distract him as the campaign heads toward the final stretch.

“I’m in this race, and I’m in this race to stay,” he said. “This is nothing more than a pitiful publicity stunt by Mr. Arnold. The Mississippi Election Commission has already ruled that I am qualified to run and be elected as this area’s legislator in the Mississippi State Senate.”

Arnold argues that Eastland lives outside the district and had filed in 2005 for homestead exemption on a house Eastland owned in Jackson. Homestead exemption has long been recognized by the courts as a means to establish residency.

Eastland has said that he never moved his legal residence from Greenwood while attending law school and later working in Jackson. He said he maintained his voter registration in Greenwood and voted in elections here. Eastland said he canceled his homestead exemption in Hinds County after he returned to Greenwood with his family in May.

Senate District 14 includes all of Carroll County and parts of Leflore, Attala, Montgomery, Grenada and Tallahatchie counties.

The election was made necessary with the death of Sen. Bunky Huggins, a Greenwood Republican who died of cancer earlier this year.

Other candidates on the ballot are Lydia Graves Chassaniol of Winona, Jeffrey Ryan Hobgood of Holcomb, Karl Oliver of Winona and Johnny Walker of Carrollton.