Jennifer Riley Collins says her decision to run for attorney general of Mississippi was “triggered” by controversial statements made by a U.S. senator.

“When we have elected officials that are comfortable saying that they would be on the front row of a public hanging, there’s a problem,” Collins told the Greenwood Voters League Wednesday night.

Jennifer Riley Collins

Jennifer Riley Collins, the Democrat candidate for Mississippi attorney general, speaks to the Greenwood Voters League on Wednesday.

She was referring to a statement made by U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith last November, when she said she would attend a “public hanging” for one of her supporters if she were invited.

Collins, a Democrat, spoke to a crowd of about 40 people Wednesday, as did Richard Oakes, the incumbent Leflore County prosecutor.

Collins will face Republican Lynn Fitch, the current state treasurer, in the Nov. 5 general election.

Collins said she also took offense when President Donald Trump tweeted in July that a group of Democratic congresswoman should go back to the countries they came from.  

“Something was triggered in me. And that something was that same thing my mom and dad have put in me: When something is wrong, somebody’s got to do something about it,” Collins said.

Collins, a retired U.S. Army colonel who served 32 years and  also is a former executive director for the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, aid her life of service was influenced by the actions of her parents.

The seventh child in her family, she recalled her father working two jobs, hunting animals and tending a garden to provide for her family. Collins’ mother also worked hard as a maid and showed compassion by feeding the homeless, she said.

Her platform for attorney general includes fighting for working people, safeguarding civil rights and advocating increased access to health care, among other points.

“I might be 4 foot 11 inches tall, OK, but there’s some tall in here,” she said. “And that tall says I will stand up for you. I will fight for you. I will defend you.”

Fitch or Collins will become the first woman to serve as Mississippi’s attorney general. Should Collins win, she would also be the first African American to hold statewide office since the Reconstruction era, as well as the first African American woman to win statewide office.

Oakes, running as an independent candidate, has been the county’s prosecutor since 2000.

Richard Oakes

Richard Oakes, the incumbent Leflore County prosecutor, explains the functions of his job to the Voters League.

Explaining his job, which is done on a part-time basis, he said he handles cases in the Leflore County Justice Court. He said he deals primarily with DUI and domestic violence cases. In addition, he handles preliminary hearings, which is “probably the most important part of being the county prosecutor,” Oakes said.

Preliminary hearings are granted within 14 days after a person has been charged with a felony, Oakes said. The purpose of a preliminary hearing “is to determine whether or not there’s probable cause to bind that person over to the grand jury,” he said. “The grand jury will make the determination whether or not a person should actually stand trial.”

Probable cause involves “facts and circumstances which would make a reasonable person believe that a crime had been committed and that the defendant was the person that committed that crime,” Oakes said.

He said that’s a “low threshold” that exists “to protect persons who are patently innocent from having to sit in jail for months and months waiting on a grand jury to turn them loose.”

Oakes previously worked for the Greenville Police Department for five years. He then served five years with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

“I love law enforcement, but I also liked the law, and I wanted to be a lawyer,” Oakes said. Being a county prosecutor allows Oakes to have the “best of both worlds,” he said.

Oakes’ opponent in the general election is Kelvin Pulley, who’s running as a Democrat.

Pulley is expected to speak at the Voters League meeting next Wednesday, said the league’s president, David Jordan.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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