Powerful seniority has given small, rural Mississippi significant clout in Congress. That clout looks to dwindle sooner than expected.
Since 1940, the state has elected and re-elected U.S. Senators and Representatives for multiple decades to allow them to accrete seniority. For example, Rep. Jamie Whitten served 53 years, Bill Colmer 39 years, John Rankin 32 years, and Tom Abernethy and Sonny Montgomery 30 years in the House. John Stennis served 41 years and Jim Eastland 36 years in the Senate. All rose to chairmanships of powerful committees.
Currently, Thad Cochran is in his 40th year, ranks third in seniority among 100 senators, and chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Bennie Thompson is in his 25th year, ranks 47th in seniority among 435 representatives, and is the former chairman and current ranking member of the powerful House Committee on Homeland Security.
On the verge of significant seniority are Roger Wicker, in his 11th year and ranked 41st in Senate seniority, and Gregg Harper, in his 10th year and ranked 167th in House seniority. Wicker chairs the Armed Services Committee’s SeaPower Subcommittee and the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. Harper chairs the Committee on House Administration and the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
Still with years to go before reaching significant seniority are Rep. Steven Palazzo, in his 8th year and ranked 227th in seniority, and Rep. Trent Kelly, in his 3rd year and ranked 370th.
Rep. Gregg Harper suddenly announced in December he will not seek reelection for another term. And rumors continue to circulate that Sen. Thad Cochran may retire before his term is up in January 2021.
Both would greatly diminish Mississippi seniority.
As names emerge about who may run for Harper’s seat, or Cochran’s should it open up, voters should take note of how long it takes to acquire meaningful seniority. As you can see Harper and Wicker, after a decade, are just on the verge of power. If voters continue to want powerful senators and representatives, they should look for candidates with the right temperament and experience plus commitment to put at least 20 years into the job.
Harper, age 52 when elected in 2008, is calling it quits after 10 years. Cochran, age 41 when elected to the Senate in 1978, is hanging in there after 39 years. Whitten was 31 when elected, Rankin 37, Eastland 38, Abernethy 39, Colmer 42, Thompson 45, Stennis 46, and Montgomery 47. Wicker was 56 when Gov. Haley Barbour appointed him to Trent Lott’s senate seat, but was 43 when elected to the House of Representatives where he served 12 years.
Names and approximate ages of people mentioned for Harper’s seat include Jason McNeel, 38, Joey Kilgore, 39, Whit Hughes, 42, Michael Evans, 42, Michael Guest, 47, Sally Doty, 51, William Shirley, 51, Perry Parker, 52, Mitch Tyner, 54, and Katherine Tate, 61. Names and ages of people mentioned for Cochran’s seat include Phil Bryant, 63, Tate Reeves, 43, Delbert Hosemann, 70, Mark Keenum, 56, David Baria, 55, and Chris McDaniel, 45. FYI, Philip Gunn is 54, Steven Palazzo is 47, and Trent Kelly is 51.
Upcoming elections will show if seniority remains important to Mississippi voters.
» BILL CRAWFORD (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.
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