In the final installment of the Mississippi Business Journal’s three-part series on the Third District congressional race between U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows (D-Miss) and U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss), the MBJ asked Pickering to discuss the most important issues, differentiate between similar philosophies and voting records he shares with Shows, and to tell us if what was said about his father (Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr.) during the recent Senate Judiciary Committee debate concerning confirmation for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (he was defeated 10-9 along party lines) might impact his campaign.
Mississippi Business Journal: What is the most important issue in this year’s Third District race, what is your strategy for dealing with it and what tools are at your disposal to do so?
Congressman Chip Pickering: The most important issue in this year’s campaign is this: Who can best represent the conservative values of Mississippians? The congressional district lines may have changed in Mississippi but our state’s values have not changed at all. I have a proven, consistent record of fighting for Mississippians’ interests and I’ve focused on getting things done to help the people of our state. I’ve been able to work side by side with our two senators as well as President Bush and his administration. I’ve worked hard to provide a leadership role on many issues important to our state and I’ve built a good relationship with the President and the administration so that Mississippians’ interests will be recognized.
People will want to remember that my race against Ronnie Shows could decide whether Republicans will continue to control the U.S. House of Representatives and be able to continue to support President Bush. On election day, people will have to ask themselves which candidate best represents the traditional, conservative values of our state. Throughout the campaign, I’ll be letting people know about my record, my values and why I want to keep fighting for their values in Congress.
MBJ: What can be done to get and to keep jobs in the largely rural Third District that, like the rest of the country, has been hammered with plant closures and massive layoffs?
CP: Keeping jobs in Mississippi and expanding our economy must be founded on several fundamental principles. First, we must start with making sure our educational system is improved so that our workforce will be attractive to current and prospective industries. Second, we’ve got to make sure industries have the proper incentives — whether it is lower taxes, less regulation and less fear of frivolous lawsuits — to stay or come to Mississippi. Third, we’ve got to play to our strengths. The Third District and all of Mississippi is mostly agricultural with timber, forest products, poultry, catfish, beef, dairy cattle and row crops making up the majority of our agricultural economy. The more farm products we can sell in America and overseas, the better the backbone of our state’s economy will be.
The arrival of the Nissan automotive plant presents our state with many opportunities to bring in suppliers and other businesses to our state, which will add a whole new range of business and job opportunities for Mississippi’s workers. Additionally, Mississippi has established itself as a leader in communications and technology and we’ve got to continue working to help these companies expand to bring more jobs to our state. One important key to this is keeping the government out of the way of progress.
MBJ: What is your view on national tort reform, why and what steps have you taken toward tort reform legislation?
CP: I support tort reform and as recently as mid-March, I voted for tort reform in Congress. The ‘Class Action Fairness Act of 2002’ (H.R. 2341) seeks to bring balance to the judicial system by protecting businesses from prosecution based on unmerited claims. Ronnie Shows voted against this bill. This reform bill was first introduced by Republican leaders in response to more than $165 billion of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually going toward damages, legal fees and court costs. The legislation, which passed 233 to 190, includes a Consumer Class Action ‘Bill of Rights’ to protect consumers against unfair or discriminatory class action settlements. It permits cases of national importance or impact to be heard in federal courts, while also requiring that notices be written and presented so that average consumers can easily understand their legal rights. Ultimately, the legislation will save jobs and help rebuild the economy by lowering consumer costs for goods and services.
MBJ: As the “chicken wars” heat up, and negotiations with Russia going nowhere as of press time, what has your office been doing to regain this important market for Mississippi’s poultry industry?
CP: When Russia first made its move to impose an embargo against U.S. poultry, it was assumed that the move was in retaliation to the President’s efforts to protect our domestic steel industry. However, it has become clear that this embargo is nothing more than a protectionist move on behalf of Russia to keep out U.S. poultry as they work to develop their own poultry industry. Russia is an extremely important market to Mississippi agriculture. An astonishing 20% of the total U.S. exports to Russia is poultry.
With the threat of terrorism, along with Russia’s need to expand their
own export capabilities through additional trade agreements, they will not be in any position to impose an embargo on U.S. poultry if they expect America’s help in other areas. I have been in constant communication with the White House, our U.S. Trade Ambassador and the Commerce Department to express my concern over this issue. Secretary of State Colin Powell has personally talked to various Russian ministers concerning this embargo.
In fact, Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Commerce Secretary Don Evans have had numerous conference calls with Russian officials to discuss a resolution due to the impact this has on our country and the significance of Russia working with us in the War on Terrorism. It is in the Russian’s interest for America to be leading the charge against terrorism. The least they can do in return is to be fair in trading with America’s poultry industry. Unfortunately, the Russians are using stall tactics to prevent progress on a resolution to this issue. I will continue my constant communication with the administration and will push for the quickest possible solution to this unfair embargo.
MBJ: Both of you agree on hot-button issues — opposing abortion and gun control — and vote alike more often than not on other major issues. Business leaders in Mississippi have commended both of you for pro-business stances. What differentiates you from the other candidate?
CP: First, our voting record shows that there are many issues that we disagree on. There are several major differences between my record and the record of my opponent. Since I was first elected to Congress in 1996, I have consistently received high marks from pro-business organizations.
For my voting record on small business issues in the 2001 legislative session of Congress, I received a “Champion of Small Business Award” from the Small Business Survival Committee for my 100% pro-business voting record. Ronnie Shows only scored 60%. The National Federation of Independent Business gave me a 100% rating on their 2001 legislative scorecard that charts how members of Congress vote on issues to lower taxes and reduce regu
lations on small businesses. Ronnie Shows only scored 67%. Those ratings are just two examples of the difference between my record supporting business and the record of my opponent. The fundamental difference between us is that I have a consistent, proven record of fighting for Mississippi’s conservative values on both economic and soci