Democrat running for Mississippi attorney general pitches civil rights reforms as Election Day nears

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Greta Kemp Martin, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, speaks to reporters at a news conference, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in Jackson, (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Democratic nominee for attorney general Greta Kemp Martin says “inaction” has been the primary feature of the state’s top law enforcement office under her opponent’s tenure.

Two weeks before the general election, the Democrat running to unseat incumbent Republican Lynn Fitch in deeply conservative Mississippi is highlighting issues that she says have been neglected. Speaking to reporters Tuesday in front of the attorney general’s office, Kemp Martin said she wouldn’t avoid tough conversations about the state’s problems.

“I’m not going to shy away from things that people deem controversial, because they’re not,” Kemp Martin said. “These are issues that have to be brought to the forefront. I see no reason why state leaders shouldn’t talk about them. It seems crazy not to.”

Michelle Williams, a spokesperson for Fitch, declined to comment on Kemp Martin’s statements but said the incumbent was focused on several initiatives.

“General Fitch is focused on doing her job for the people of Mississippi, including filing today’s lawsuit against Meta, organizing takedown operations against child predators and human traffickers, and distributing 22,000 Fentanyl Harm Prevention Kits as part of her One Pill Can Kill campaign,” Williams said.

Kemp Martin stood next to family members of an incarcerated woman who she says may have been the victim of prosecutorial misconduct. Also in the crowd was Fabian Nelson, who will become Mississippi’s first-ever openly gay state legislator, women’s advocates and Black candidates for elected office on the Nov. 7 ballot. The assembled guests represent the “faces of the failures of Lynn Fitch’s tenure,” Kemp Martin said.

If elected, Kemp Martin promised to establish a conviction integrity unit focused on claims of innocence by those who might be wrongfully incarcerated and a fair labor division to protect workers’ rights.

She also promised to create a civil rights division within the Attorney General’s Office to evaluate discrimination cases and work closely with the U.S. Department of Justice. She said the move would help the state avoid legal disputes with the federal government, such as when the Justice Department sued Mississippi over its mental health system.

Kemp Martin also said the case involving six white former Mississippi law officers who pleaded guilty to federal and state charges for torturing two Black men might not have been resolved had the Department of Justice not intervened. State prosecutors have said they worked with the Justice Department from the beginning of the case.

“What I think we have seen in this state more often than not is the federal government has to step in and intervene after the state of Mississippi has been put on notice that they are failing in some way,” Kemp Martin said.

Fitch was first elected attorney general in 2019 after two terms as state treasurer. She has championed her role in leading the push to overturn abortion rights nationwide and supporting the expansion of a full year of Medicaid coverage for women after they give birth.

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