As the Mississippi gubernatorial contest between Tate Reeves and Jim Hood starts to warm up, a major question is what Hood will do with his investigation into the public road that Reeves’ allegedly tried to get built into the gated community where he lives.

Here’s what Hood should do: Punt it.

Personally pursuing this investigation further would be an abuse of Hood’s current office as attorney general, since he stands to benefit politically from producing any finding that shows Reeves in a negative light. Even if Hood has the goods on Reeves in this matter, the attorney general’s evidence will be received with skepticism because of the glaring conflict of interest that he has.

Hood wants to be the state’s next governor. It’s understood that he and Reeves are going to play it rough for the next couple of months. Running misleading ads and twisting an opponent’s words are one thing. Using a public office to pursue a private gain quite another.

In an op-ed column published this week in the Clarion Ledger of Jackson, a pair of attorneys make a compelling legal argument for why Hood should recuse himself from the case.

Jessica Marsden and Cameron O. Kistler, who serve as counsel for the nonpartisan nonprofit group Protect Democracy, write that Hood, as an officer of the court, has a constitutional duty to “do equal and impartial justice to all.”

Personally supervising a law enforcement investigation of a political rival “is the exact opposite of ‘equal and impartial justice,’” they write. “That’s true no matter how careful and even-handed Attorney General Hood is when conducting the investigation. ...

“Our founders wisely prohibited government officials from participating in cases where they had a significant personal interest because of the risk that their judgment would be biased by their personal interest.

“Judges have to step aside when they have a potential financial interest in a lawsuit; prosecutors have to step aside when they have a personal interest in a prosecution ... .

“There’s no exception to this rule for Attorney General Hood. He is subject to the Constitution just like any other government official in Mississippi (or any other state). ...

“It’s not too late for Attorney General Hood to fix this problem. He should immediately recuse himself from the investigation and refer the matter to a nonpartisan, professional investigator — and make clear that he wants the investigation to be independent. Any other course of action risks violating the Constitution and imperiling the cause of justice Attorney General Hood purports to be furthering.”

Hood should listen.

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