On June 3, Mississippi Republicans will decide who will be their nominee for the United States Senate seat. The choices are Thad Cochran (the 35-year-incumbent), Chris McDaniel (a state senator), and Thomas Carey (who I have never heard of).
Although I intend to vote in the primary, I must admit that I am still undecided — which, for those who know me will attest, is quite an anomaly. I see strong plusses and minuses for both candidates. (Sorry, Mr. Carey, you are not included in this discussion.)
Senator Cochran was the first Mississippi Republican to be elected to statewide office since Reconstruction. Let that sink in for just a minute.
It’s easy for us to take for granted that Mississippi is a “red-state.” After all, Mississippi has had two Republican senators for more than twenty years. Except for a brief period from 1999-2003, Republicans have held the Governor’s Office since 1991. Only one member of Congress is presently a Democrat, and during the last statewide election cycle, the Democratic Party fielded no candidate for three statewide offices. That is just how strong the Republican party is.
But not too long ago, Mississippi was a “blue state,” particularly at the state and local levels. Believe it or not, folks, there was a time when virtually EVERYBODY who ran for sheriff or tax assessor or county supervisor ran as a Democrat. Thus, if a citizen actually wanted to have a say in who became sheriff or tax assessor or county supervisor, the citizen had to vote in the Democrat primary because the election would be decided then and there.
Fast forward to 2014. Today, tens of millions of dollars are being spent by the candidates and the super-PACs alike to persuade Mississippi Republicans as to how to vote. Whereas only a few decades ago a typical, Mississippi Republican primary comprised of two or three persons arguing about the proverbial seating chart on the Titanic, now a Mississippi Republican primary is a really big deal. The very fact that Republicans are in a position to have a competitive primary — for any office, especially for a race as important as the U.S. Senate — is a credit to the pioneering efforts of one William Thad Cochran.
In point and fact, if it weren’t for the efforts of Thad Cochran in the 1970’s, a certain state senator from Jones County would likely not be in the legislature today. Certainly he wouldn’t be calling himself a Republican. Though he would likely disagree, Senator McDaniel owes a measure of his success to Senator Cochran. Thus when McDaniel and/or his supporters brand Cochran as being a RINO (Republican in Name Only) or as not being conservative, that demonstrates a level of disrespect and (dare I say, ingratitude) that is unbecoming of any Mississippi Republican.
Still, I am bothered by the fact that I can hardly go anywhere without seeing Senator Cochran’s name on a government building.
For example, the next time you visit the town of Aberdeen, take a good look at the Thad Cochran Bankruptcy Courthouse. I call it “the Taj Mahal.” Considering that the building is dedicated just to bankruptcy – and not civil or criminal matters – it is the most ornate courthouse that you will ever visit. Likewise, if you ever visit Starkville, take a look at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology, and Economic Development Park.
Now please don’t misunderstand me. The Research Park and the Bankruptcy Courthouse do a lot of good, and to be honest, I don’t remember what life was like before they were built. So I cannot be a fair judge of whether the money spent was a good investment or not. But that is not the point. What bothers me is the concept of naming projects after sitting politicians.
Everybody wants to leave a legacy, to be remembered. I get that. Businessmen will donate tens of millions of dollars to a college in order to get their names on a building or a stadium. But they are spending their money. They are not spending our money. Thad Cochran did an excellent job getting this money to fund these projects, but at the end of the day, it was not his money; it was our money. He works for us.
Give a politician the opportunity to have a bridge built in his honor or a building named for him, and he will move heaven and earth to get that money for his constituents. In a day where our government has a 16 trillion-dollar national debt, that mindset is no longer good for leaders in Washington. Politicians should be figuring ways to save money, not spend it. And these buildings bearing Cochran’s name demonstrate that he is not too inclined to save money.
In sharp contrast, Senator McDaniel seems to be the penny-pinching, Tea Party type who doesn’t want to spend money unless absolutely necessary. Moreover, he seems especially outraged at the attempts by the current administration to expand executive power. (Perhaps Senator Cochran is as well, but he doesn’t seem as vocal, at least from what I can tell). But sometimes our biggest strengths can be our biggest weaknesses. One can be penny-wise but still be pound-foolish. Sometimes the government needs to spend money for projects in the Magnolia State. Will Chris McDaniel know when to write the checks and when not to? And when he does see the need for checks to be written, will he have enough clout to pull the strings to get the job done? Likewise, will he be able to say no to his base — the Tea Party — when the checks must be written?
Which brings me to my ultimate conundrum. Thad Cochran is experienced and effective at getting money to Mississippi projects, and he makes no apology for it. But in order to get money to fund projects in Mississippi, he had to go along with projects in other states of similar scope and size. Basically, Senator Cochran is the archetypical good-ole-boy who can play the system to serve the needs of his constituency. However, it is this good-ole-boy system that has created the very economic mess we are in. Eventually, somebody has to stand up and say, enough! I think McDaniel gets that.
Essentially Thad Cochran is for keeping the status quo, while McDaniel is keen for changing the culture in Washington. McDaniel wants Washington to return to a constitutional orthodoxy — that may or may not happen if he is elected. But if he is elected, Mississippi will throw away a lot of its clout in the meantime. Is Mississippi ready to pay this price?
Given the polar opposition of each side, we have seen some vicious campaigning between the two camps. It’s gotten so bad that a supporter of McDaniel has been charged with taking a photograph of Cochran’s invalid wife (in her nursing home, at her bedside, no less). Although McDaniel denies any involvement (and for what it’s worth, I believe him), the fact remains that the mud being slung from both camps has so inflamed the devotees of each candidate that people are beginning to do some crazy things.
When elections become this heated, the electorate suffers. For one thing, each side is pointing the finger at the other, saying that the other is a bigger liar. Implicitly, when you call a politician a liar, you are calling his supporters fools. It’s never a good idea for politicians to insult potential voters.
Would an extreme McDaniel supporter – who has just spent the last year calling Cochran a liar and a RINO – even consider campaigning or voting for Cochran in the general election? Likewise, an extreme Cochran supporter – who has just spent the last year calling McDaniel a liar – even consider campaigning or voting for McDaniel?
The fact is, feelings have now been hurt, and lines have been crossed. Forgiveness is not possible (absent a miracle from God). Thus, I can say with some measure of certainty who will be the big winner in the 2014 Republican primary for United States Senate.
Travis Childers (the presumptive Democratic nominee).