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THE TOBACCO SETTLEMENT

From Tobacco Battle, a Legal 'Hero' Emerges

June 21, 1997|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Michael C. Moore, the man who led the most formidable offensive against the tobacco industry in the nation's history, is a boyish-looking, high-energy prosecutor who has taken on powerful interests before.

Long before Moore, 45, began battling the nation's cigarette makers, he was a crusading local prosecutor ferreting out corruption among officeholders in Jackson County, Miss., an industrialized area along the Gulf Coast.

As the county district attorney, he helped send dozens of county officials to prison for reaping under-the-table windfalls from construction firms and other businesses.

Based on this success, the two-term county prosecutor was thrust onto the statewide scene and was elected Mississippi's attorney general in 1987. He was among a group of well-educated, younger Democrats whom voters favored for many state offices that year.

The University of Mississippi Law School graduate often hides his savvy behind soft Southern accents and down-home phrases such as "that dog don't hunt," meaning a particular idea or proposal won't work.

Moore is particularly proud that he led Mississippi onto the national stage as the first state to sue tobacco companies to recover tax money that was spent treating smoking-related illnesses.

"You know, Mississippi's the little guy," he once said. "We get beat on all the time. We get the negative press. And this has made the people of Mississippi very proud that we're leading the rest of the country in this very important public health fight."

But he even had to battle his governor to do it.

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Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice, one of the nation's most conservative chief executives, tried unsuccessfully to stop Moore's lawsuit against the tobacco manufacturers, legally challenging his authority to sue the industry. But the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that Moore's lawsuit could stand. Soon, the attorneys general of other states began to join in his campaign.

Moore's critics maintain that his motives in taking on the tobacco industry are not necessarily pure. They contend that he loves the spotlight, and that his ambition for higher office has fueled his initiative.

Moore, in fact, does not deny interest in other jobs--he is often mentioned as a potential future gubernatorial or Senate candidate.

But those who have closely watched his determination in the tobacco negotiations are unanimous in their praise.

Says Grant Woods, the Arizona attorney general: "He's been an inspiration to all of us and an inspiration to people around the country. He's an American hero. This was a tough, tough fight, and he started it."

Matt Myers, general counsel for the Campaign for Smoke-Free Kids, said: "When Mike Moore stepped forward to take on this battle, it wasn't good politics [in Mississippi]. But he did it for the right reason."

Moore told reporters on Friday that he had his own family in mind.

"See, I've got a little boy," he said. "His name is Kyle and he's 10 years old. And every day when I've been in the room, that's who I've been thinking about.

"And I also have a dad. He's about 76 years old and has been smoking for a real long time. And I worry a lot about that. And it's my dad and your dads and your moms . . . that we did this for.

"This is about the people and the public health of this country."

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