The election to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott is important to all Mississippians but especially cogent to South Mississippians where storm recovery and rebuilding are happening slowly and insurance issues remain unresolved.
Roger Wicker, who was sworn in as Lott’s replacement January 22, is running for a full-term and faces former U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, both Democrats, in the special election.
“This is one of the most important elections for the Mississippi Coast in several decades,” said Brian Sanderson, president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council. “The new senator must be deeply committed to those issues important to this region of the state and engaging public and private sector leaders here.”
Congressman Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis says the election is incredibly important. “I’m encouraging all citizens of South Mississippi to ask the candidates what they will do to pass the multi-peril insurance bill,” he said. “I want them to make it a priority because they’re replacing Sen. Lott who was for it. Not having it is the biggest hindrance to the Coast’s recovery, and it’s something only Congress can fix. The private sector has only raised insurance rates and not fixed it.”
Taylor, who, like Lott, lost his home in the disaster, introduced the insurance measure and has U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran on board for support. After passage, the bill will take some time to go into effect. Therefore, he is urging its passage well before the June hurricane season begins. A Democrat, the congressman affirms that he will work with whoever wins to push the bill through both chambers of congress.
“It affects businesses, homeowners, rental property; it truly affects everyone in South Mississippi at all levels,” he said. “It’s the biggest thing right now.”
Taylor also says the Coast has had the luxury of having a senator from South Mississippi but that won’t be the case regardless of who wins. “As the congressman from the Coast, I want to hear that they will support everything here — our military bases, colleges and economy in addition to the recovery,” he said.
Dave Dennis, president of Specialty Contractors and a former member of the Federal Reserve Board, acknowledges that the race to replace Sen. Lott is of significance to the Gulf Coast.
“Lott was very instrumental, particularly in the post-Katrina environment in terms of major federal legislation and on-the-ground leadership for Mississippi,” he said. “The need for continued activity from Washington is a major item to facilitating a full recovery. It’s crucial for us.”
He says that whomever wins the race will have the full support of the business community, putting the area’s needs ahead of personal considerations. “It’s mandatory that whomever is successful in the election process be 100% engaged in the needs of the Gulf Coast in particular and to the whole state that’s still in recovery mode,” he added.
Sanderson expressed gratitude to Gov. Haley Barbour, the state’s congressional delegation and the American taxpayers for their generosity to the needs of the Coast.
“Significant challenges still remain, however, and we must keep working closely with our federal partners,” he said. “Our residents and the private market ultimately will be the best tools of recovery, but we’ll need the federal government to continue working with us and removing unnecessary, bureaucratic obstacles. We particularly need our federal partners to help solve the lack of available and affordable insurance in our area.”
He notes that while the national economy is taking a downturn, the Coast’s economy continues to strengthen.
“I believe the Mississippi Coast will become even more attractive to investors in these narrowing markets and weakened dollar,” he said. “Our new senator will understand the need for a national economic stimulus, and I know of no better economic engine ready to roar than the Mississippi Gulf Coast. From a national economic policy perspective, it makes sense to create more opportunity here by extending certain GO Zone Act provisions and enacting other measures.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.