Many weekdays, former congressman Ronnie Shows can be found sauntering through the Copper Grill at Canebrake Country Club, dodging the heat from the golf course long enough to rub elbows with pals. But he was buying a tractor when reached by phone after he heard the news that Rep. Chip Pickering would not seek re-election for the post Shows lost to him in 2002 when their two congressional districts were carved into a controversial one.
“Oh, yeah, I’m looking at it definitely,” admits Shows about jumping into the 2008 race. “My phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I’m doing really well right now, and have all the business I can handle. But there are some things I’d like to finish.”
Like Pickering, Shows was 28 when he first began serving the public. “Life is all about family, and I admire Chip for making that decision,” says Shows, noting that “my baby’s 37, so that’s a little different.”
After being in public service for 18 years, 11 in Congress, Pickering, 44, said on August 17 that he would not seek a seventh, two-year term in 2008. Republicans were in power during Pickering’s first decade in Congress. He candidly told reporters that being in the minority “is different,” with Democrat leaders requiring representatives to work more days in Washington, D.C.
“Democrats are in control now, and there’s every indication they’ll pick up more seats this round,” says Shows, rattling off Republicans not running for re-election, including Rep. Dennis Hastert. “That’s a good indication right there of things they see coming down the road. I remember people saying they’d vote for me if my party was in control. Otherwise, they considered it a wasted vote. Things are different now. I see what Gene Taylor has done for the people on the Gulf Coast, and if I ran for this thing and was able to get it, I’d try to follow that same suit and bring the bacon home.”
Marty Wiseman, executive director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, says it was tough to see Pickering drop out of the 2008 race “with as much experience as he’s got, and energy and connections within the Republican party.”
“He’s in a very conservative, rural district and I’d assume that someone of a similar political philosophy would be the candidate that’s most successful,” he says. “If you start looking a little bit behind the motivations that caused him not to run again … I mean, he’s the third Republican to throw in the towel … is there a concern over a Democrat president and a even wider gap between the Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, with the Democrats in control? It might be a more frustrating time to be a Republican on Capitol Hill. That’s not to say a Democrat should take the seat.”
Wiseman says Shows may be an exception. “The redistricting plan that ultimately was chosen might make him cautious about absolutely jumping in, but I know he’d like another shot in Washington,” he says.
Wade Jones, president of East Mississippi Business Development Corporation in Meridian, says he was “surprised, but not shocked” by Pickering’s announcement. “We knew how he felt about family,” he says. “He’s done a lot for this area, including getting ready the Kewanee supersite. I’m pleased most that Pickering didn’t say farewell. He may surface to run for a key political position in our state.”
Mississippi Economic Council president Blake Wilson said the business community would notice a void without Pickering. “It’s tough to lose that kind of experience, especially from a unique person who makes sure we benefit from wherever he puts his resources,” he said.
Speculation began swirling immediately after Pickering’s announcement about other possible candidates seeking the rare, open congressional seat in Mississippi. Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, the first person mentioned by many for the post, has already said no. So has Heath Hall, vice president of Mississippi Technology Alliance, who was working for Gov. Kirk Fordice when he lost a bid for Congress in 1998. “I gave some thought to the idea of running, but at this point in my life, it’s not time,” says Hall, who, like Pickering, has five children at home. “Being in the U.S. Congress 22 hours away is difficult on families. At this point, it’s not my time.”
Hall says candidates often run campaigns on the promise of faith and family first, but may not follow through once in office. “It’s refreshing to see that Chip Pickering not only talked the talk, but practiced what he preaches,” said Hall. “I hope we’ll see him again in the political arena.”
Those who may say yes include Republican state Sen. Charlie Ross, who lost to Phil Bryant for lieutenant governor in the August 7 primary election; Walter Michel of Jackson; attorney Gregg Harper, who chairs the Rankin County Republican Party; Gov. Haley Barbour’s campaign manager Joe Nosef; and Nick Walters, former state director of USDA Rural Development who was defeated in 1999 in his bid against Eric Clark for secretary of state. Clark, who did not seek re-election this year, said soon after Pickering’s announcement, his office was inundated with calls about the 2008 election calendar.
“The 2008 election process starts early,” he notes. “Qualifying begins on January 1 and concludes on Friday, January 11 at 5 p.m. The date of the first primary is March 11, with the runoff scheduled for April 1. The general election will be held on November 4.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.