Hood says Barbour wrong on Senate special election date

Published 6:01 pm Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Attorney General Jim Hood told the Mississippi Supreme Court in written documents Tuesday that Gov. Haley Barbour misinterpreted state law and erred in setting a Nov. 4 special election date to fill the unexpired term of former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott.

At issue before the Supreme Court is the timing of the special election.

Barbour’s attorneys filed their brief Friday in the lawsuit. Barbour asked for a hearing before the court; Hood did not.

The Supreme Court has not ruled on Barbour’s request. It could settle the dispute without hearing oral arguments.

Hood, a Democrat, contends that Barbour, a Republican, should have set the special election much sooner than this year’s general election. Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter ruled in favor of Hood last week.

Lott resigned Dec. 18 with five years left in his current six-year term.

On Dec. 31, Barbour chose U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., to hold the seat until the special election. Wicker has been joined on the special election ballot by former U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows and former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, both Democrats. Candidates will run in special election without party labels.

Mississippi law says 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.”

Briefs filed by Hood and Barbour argued over the use of the term “year” in state law.

Hood argued Tuesday that the vacancy created by Lott’s retirement occurred after the 2007 general election but did not occur in a year in which there was to be a general or congressional election.

Hood said Barbour should have set the election within 90 days from Dec. 20, when the governor issued a proclamation announcing the vacancy. That would be in March.

Hood said if the Legislature had wanted a special election for the U.S. Senate to be held with a general election, it would have said so in the law.

Barbour’s lawyers contended that the term “year” used in law is not a calendar year, but 365 days.

“Thus, the resignation happened within a year’s time in which there will be a regularly scheduled congressional election.

“The November rule applies to every 12-month period following the creation of a vacancy in the U.S. Senate unless there is no general state or congressional election during those 12 months. In that case the 90-day exception applies,” according to the governor’s brief.

Wicker, meanwhile, has been traveling the state the past two weeks to introduce himself to people outside the northeast Mississippi congressional district he had represented since January 1995. His first day of Senate work in Washington was on Tuesday.