Newton's campaign takes questionable turn
By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
Sept. 21, 2003
With seven weeks to go before the November elections, Republican attorney general candidate Scott Newton turned his attention last week to civil justice reform and lawsuit abuse.
But Newton, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor waging his first statewide campaign, seriously miscalculated his move on at least two major fronts.
First, the attorney general is Mississippi's chief legal officer and defends state agencies or laws when challenged in court. He and his office have nothing to do with civil justice reform or lawsuit abuse.
Second, Newton issued a news release last week touting his support for civil justice reform. But the release quoted out of context an opinion column that appeared in the March 30 edition of The Meridian Star.
Newton's release incorrectly implies that comments attributed in the column to his Democratic opponent, Jim Hood, were related to civil justice reform and meant that Hood isn't interested in the issue.
The column actually was about Republican John Kitchens' unexpected decision last spring to drop out of the attorney general's race, cross party lines and endorse Hood for the job.
It quoted Hood as saying that many things in the attorney general's office likely will stay the same if he wins. It also quoted him as saying he shares many of the same priorities as current Attorney General Mike Moore.
The column and Hood's comments had nothing to do with civil justice reform and lawsuit abuse.
Those points, however, apparently mean little to Newton. He even said last week that he believes he didn't misrepresent the column, its contents and Hood's position.
Newton's campaign manager originally said the candidate would talk about the news release off the record and not for publication. When Newton realized that wasn't an option, he agreed to the interview.
The problem here is obvious: Newton has joined other Republican candidates who are trying to make civil justice reform and lawsuit abuse a hot-button issue in this year's state elections.
That might work with candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor or the Mississippi Legislature jobs that can play a role in changing civil justice laws if any changes are needed.
But the issue doesn't work with the attorney general's race. Even Moore, a Democrat who will step down in January after serving four straight terms in office, agreed on that point.
Hood, who once worked for Moore from 1990 to 1995, has taken a different approach with his campaign.
Rather than focus on civil justice reform, Hood has offered a 10-point plan he intends to follow should he win in November.
Hood, who outlined the plan at news conferences across the state earlier this month, said he will focus on such issues as fighting violent crime, making schools safer and fighting public corruption.
Newton campaign manager Neil Forbes said his candidate plans to unveil his own comprehensive plan at a series of news conferences in the state on Monday.
Information Forbes provided last week shows that Newton likely will talk about such issues as fighting drugs, helping crime victims, attacking cyber crimes and aiding district attorneys on rape cases.
Oh, yes, one more thing: Civil justice reform also is high on Newton's list of priorities. Newton simply is flat-out determined to do something about civil justice reform and lawsuit abuse no matter what.