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Rant: Why Mississippi needs younger candidates for political office

Mississippi political parties need to seek and support younger candidates for national offices to keep funds flowing our way.

For the first time ever, both of Mississippi’s seats in the United States Senate will be decided in the same election cycle. For a state that receives about three dollars ($3.00) in federal revenue for each one dollar ($1.00) it pays in federal taxes, it’s a potentially momentous decision.

The main reason Mississippi receives about three times as much in federal money as it pays out in federal taxes is simple: we are the poorest state in the country, with relatively few high earners paying federal income taxes, and a lot of people receiving various types of federally funded welfare.

Mississippi has excelled in seniority of office holders

The other reason Mississippi has for many decades been a “net taker” — receiving more in federal money than its citizens pay out in federal taxes — is our long-time practice of re-electing our representatives in both Houses of Congress again and again. Over the last century, Mississippi congressional representatives have accumulated seniority few states can equal.

In both Houses of Congress, seniority is a major factor in the power accumulated and exercised by individual members. Those with long seniority have much more power in determining appropriations, deciding where money for military and other needs is spent. Sometimes referred to as “bringing home the bacon,” Mississippi Senators and House members with high seniority rank have seen to it that Mississippi, although small in population, receives far more than its “fair share” of federal money.

Two surviving military airbases, U.S. Navy ship building, NASA’s Stennis Space Center, the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway are examples of what congressional seniority has done for Mississippi. Jim Eastland, first elected to the Senate at age 37, and John Stennis, elected at age 46, served together in the Senate for over three decades. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott served together in the Senate for nearly two decades. Lott first went to Congress when he was just 32 years old, and Cochran at age 36. Congressman Jamie Whitten was elected at age 31 and represented this part of Mississippi in the House for 53 years, a record when he retired. He exercised considerable control over the federal purse string as ranking member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee for 50 years.

Mississippi Congressional seniority now at long-time low

Roger Wicker, now Mississippi’s senior senator, is 67 years of age. He has served in the Senate for 11 years, and ranks 42nd in seniority. Wicker will easily be re-elected Nov. 6. His short Senate seniority is better than none at all.

Second District Representative Bennie Thompson, now age 70, will be the only member of Mississippi’s Congressional delegation with substantial seniority. He has served in the lower house for 25 years and will be re-elected.

In the House of Representatives, First District Congressman Trent Kelly, age 52, now has three years of seniority, and will be re-relected. Fourth District Congressman Steven Palazzo has seven years of Congressional seniority, is 47 years old and will easily be re-elected. With Gregg Harper’s retirement, a new Congressman with zero seniority will be elected from Mississippi’s Third Congressional District.

One would have to go back many decades to find a time when Mississippi had so little seniority clout in Congress.

Party leaders should be looking at the long haul

Poor health forced Senator Thad Cochran to retire from the Senate in April, after 45 years in Congress. Cochran was arguably the most powerful Senator. He was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, highly influential in deciding where discretionary federal money will be spent.

When Senator Cochran retired in April, Governor Phil Bryant appointed Republican Ag Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith as the temporary replacement. She is a candidate on the November ballot, and is considered one of the two candidates most likely to survive the Nov. 6 vote and be in the run-off election.

Hyde-Smith is 59 years old. If she were to be elected this November and be re-elected for three more full six-year terms times, she would be just four months short of her 80th birthday when she reaches 20 years of Senate service. That is still not enough seniority to be a top ranking member of the Senate. Like everyone else, Governor Bryant had known for years that Senator Cochran was in frail health. His retirement was not a surprise. It has been reliably reported that Hyde-Smith was not Bryant’s first choice to replace Cochran. At least two, and perhaps three, other Republicans had turned down the appointment before Bryant settled on Hyde-Smith.

Party leaders must cultivate younger candidates who are qualified

Having known for years that Cochran was not likely to serve out his term, could Bryant and his “brain trust” not have identified a bright, energetic man or woman between the ages of 30 and 40, to appoint as Senator? I could name at least three that I personally know here in Union County.

Former U. S. Congressman and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, a Democrat, is also considered likely to survive the Nov. 6 vote and be in the run-off election. Espy will be 65 years old on November 30. If he were to be elected to the remaining two years of Cochran’s term and then be re-elected three times, he would be 85 when he had accumulated 20 years of seniority. As with Hyde-Smith, Espy in his dotage would still not have enough seniority to be a top power in the U.S. Senate.

The third candidate in the running is Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel, of Jones County. McDaniel, at age 47, is the most youthful of the viable candidates for Cochran’s seat. Were McDaniel to serve the last two years of Cochran’s term and then be re-elected to three more six-year terms — total service of 20 years — he would be a sprightly 67 years of age. Assuming he remains healthy and stays in office, McDaniel might be able to look forward to accumulating some real Senatorial power by the time he reached age 75.

However, McDaniel is running third in the polls, and doesn’t appear to have enough campaign money to become a last-minute contender. Without going into detail here, it should also be noted that McDaniel has baggage that would make it difficult for him to be elected and render satisfactory service.

Where are the candidates who can and will serve long enough to benefit Mississippi?

Is Mississippi prepared to go a full generation without a powerful, high seniority U. S. Senator?

Are there no ambitious men and women in their thirties or early forties who want to serve a long and distinguished career in America’s most prestigious club, the United States Senate? Surely one will step forward before this Senate seat is on the ballot again in just two years.

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