From a converted community grocery store on Valley Street near Medgar Evers home in downtown Jackson that now serves as a family office, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith gave Y’all Politics an exclusive interview discussing why he jumped into the 2019 Democrat gubernatorial primary. This is the first opportunity that he’s taken to discuss why he chose to run this year, what his campaign platform is, and his stance on some of the most current issues.
“I know that I can move Mississippi forward. I’ve seen the insides and outsides of this entire system,” said Shuler Smith. “We need to move ahead. We’re not with other states that have moved ahead and we have so much potential here because Mississippians are great.”
However, before he can become the Democratic nominee for Governor, he must face opponents Attorney General Jim Hood, Velesha Williams, former Natchez mayor Phillip West and half a dozen other candidates in the primary. But Hood in particular had something to do with why he decided to run.
Attorney General Jim Hood has unsuccessfully tried Shuler Smith three times. Once was in Rankin County, for charges of robbery and aggravated assault, and the other two were in Hinds County. There, he was charged with conspiracy to hinder prosecution. Two domestic violence charges remain against the DA, that the state could pursue.
Shuler Smith said he believes the cases made by the AG’s office were “racially and politically motivated.” In the video he claims to have text messages in which those prosecuting the case were discussing how to frame him.
“I think they were intimidated or afraid that I might become a candidate for some office some day. It doesn’t make any sense to try to frame someone and then, thank God we found the evidence, if there was a legitimate investigation he wouldn’t even be in this race,” said Shuler Smith.
When asked if those particular cases impacted his decision to enter this race in specific he said, “It certainly was a motivating factor, because there is no way Mississippi can move forward with someone who has that kind of mentality, whoever that is.”
Outside of being prosecuted by Jim Hood, Shuler Smith has had some controversy himself. He unsuccessfully pushed the prosecution of former Downtown Jackson Partners head Ben Allen, whose conviction on a minor charge was ultimately overturned by the State Court of Appeals. He also had very public run ins with now former Circuit Court Judge and former Jackson City Councilman Jeff Weill.
When it came to the issues, Shuler Smith said his platform is a “new Mississippi, and a Mississippi for all.” He said ultimately he hopes to see Mississippi move forward.
When it comes to healthcare Shuler Smith would like to see some changes made to the ACA when it comes to opting out. As it stands, he said, you’re penalized for ending service, even though U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roberts issued an opinion that this would be considered a tax.
Shuler Smith said he would like to form committees to gather an expert opinion on what would work best for Mississippians on healthcare.
In the interview Shuler Smith addressed issues like changing the state flag, which he said he believes should represent all Mississippians. He also said that it should be up to those in executive offices to make the decision on whether to take the flag down, but another vote of the people should be held to see if the opinion has changed since the previous vote.
“I wouldn’t want to interfere with the rights of people but of course I think it would be best to take it down as a state,” said Shuler Smith
While Shuler Smith said a $15.00 minimum wage increase might be cost prohibitive, he does think an increase for hardworking individuals is realistic. But Shuler Smith is more focused on expanding economic productivity in the state, with things like the legalization of marijuana.
“I do support the legalization of marijuana, for a number of reasons. It is the cash crop of the United States,” said Shuler Smith. “I’m pretty sure farmers would not mind growing a plant that is already legal, and it will be legal all over the United States.”
He said the research center on the Ole Miss campus which grows marijuana should be used as an economic boost.
“Just imagine the tax dollars we could use from this plant that is already legal,” said Shuler Smith. He said those funds could be used for things like infrastructure and education.
“The criminal justice reform, I believe, requires that we look at some of these options because we are loosing so much money incarcerating people for marijuana charges,” said Shuler Smith.
Legislature is currently debating two abortion bills, commonly referred to as “the Heartbeat Bills”. Shuler Smith gave a remarkably nuanced answer on his stance on abortion and ultimately stated that he would have most likely been in support of the bill had he been a lawmaker this year.
Moving into the campaign season, he faces a large undertaking in going up an already statewide elected official like Jim Hood, but Shuler Smith said he believes when Mississippians examine the candidates records they’ll make a change.
In the event he is elected to office, Shuler Smith would be the first African American in a statewide office in Mississippi.
“It certainly would change the image of Mississippi, it would do a lot of great things,” said Shuler Smith. However, he said he hopes he is voted for based on his platform.