The Tale of the Mississippi’s Republican Senate Race of 2014 is filled with intrigue, deception, tragedy, and romance. Clayton Kelly, a right-wing political blogger from Pearl, was on trial for shooting video of the wife of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran while she was bedridden with dementia in St. Catherine’s nursing home in Madison. The images Kelly took of Rose Cochran appeared online briefly during the 2014 election.
Kelly included photographs of her in a video on his “Constitutional Clayton” Blog. The video contrasted Cochran’s life as a United States Senator, recounting his travels with a longtime female aide, and the life of the senator’s ailing wife. Investigators said Kelly was one of several people who conspired to produce the video which more than suggested Senator Cochran was gallivanting around Washington D.C. having an affair with a staffer while neglecting his very ill wife.
Yesterday, Kelly pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and exploitation of a vulnerable adult. He now faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. He had faced up to 55 years in prison on additional counts of burglary and attempted burglary before making a plea deal with prosecutors.
After his plea deal, Kelly insisted he was acting as a “journalist” on the day in question and argued that his “constitutional right should be respected.” Kelly’s attorney argued in a motion that Kelly was simply exercising his First Amendment rights and that he would have journalistic protection for videoing Rose Cochran in her nursing home bed at St. Catherine’s Village. That motion and several others entered on Kelly’s behalf to keep him from serving any jail time were all denied.
Charges were also brought against three other men. Two of those cases were resolved. Richard Sager, a teacher from Laurel was charged with conspiracy and tampering with evidence. He entered a pretrial diversion program. His case won’t be prosecuted if he successfully completes the program. John Mary of Hattiesburg pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with investigators. He received no jail time. His conviction will be wiped from his record if he completes probation.
Mark Mayfield, a respected lawyer and Mississippi Tea Party leader from Madison was also arrested just before the primary. He, too, was accused of being part of the conspiracy to commit burglary and exploitation of Rose Cochran. His bond was set a whopping quarter of a million dollars. In truth, Mayfield only directed Kelly to the person or persons who could usher him around St. Catherine’s. Mayfield’s arrest, given his profile and connections, was a shrewd political move designed to hit at the heart of the Tea Party leadership.
Still, had Mayfield not taken his own life last summer, one wonders if he, too, would have been found guilty and if some kind of arrangement would have been made to spare him prison time. We will never know and it seems more likely his arrest served only as an attempt to humiliate him. It’s doubtful Mayfield would have ever served prison time. Many of varying political stripes are still wondering whether the charges against any of these men were justified.
It is fascinating how so many ugly things happen in political campaigns and folks will dismiss them by saying, “Well, that’s just politics.” The arrests of these four men and the conviction of Kelly would suggest that there are limits, at least when it comes to playing dirty with those in the state’s GOP establishment.
Make no mistake, exploiting the elderly, particularly one suffering as Mrs. Cochran was, is reprehensible and should be no part of a political strategy. Still, unflattering images of candidates, their spouses and children, are now a very real and visible part of our high-dollar, low-trawling political process. So, too, are ads that use quotes and events taken out of their context and manipulated in ways designed specifically to denigrate candidates and their families. We’ve come to expect it and accept it. And you wonder why our voter turnout is low and why good people run away from politics.
Of course, the photograph controversy was only one part of this chaotic story. McDaniel led Cochran and one other Republican candidate in the June 3 primary in what many thought would be the beginning of a Tea Party charge to takeover over the state’s GOP. But Cochran’s people rallied an apathetic base and defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes in a runoff three weeks later.
And, yes, the Cochran campaign also made appeals to typically Democratic African-American voters. There were also accusations of untold amounts of “walking around” money being given to pimp preachers. McDaniel claimed the runoff results were tainted by voter fraud and other irregularities under Mississippi law. But a circuit judge dismissed McDaniel’s lawsuit, ruling it was filed too late.
Now, Clayton Kelly is going to jail. Even more than Chris McDaniel, Kelly ends up being the real bad guy in the Tale of Mississippi’s Republican Senate Race of 2014 or, at least, the sucker holding the bag. It makes for a pretty good drama. But romance was promised and last month that too was delivered in the form of matrimony. Our tale also has a happy ending as the recent widower and newly re-elected Sen. Cochran did actually end up marrying a long-time staffer.
You just cannot make this stuff up. That 2014 Republican Primary was a cancerous campaign managed and operated by some people who obviously need their hearts checked and their heads examined.