During roughly the same time period, there have been 12 presidents, 13 governors of Mississippi, 18 No. 1 hits (a disputed number) by Elvis Presley, 11 head football coaches at Mississippi State University and 12 head football coaches at Ole Miss. And that’s not even counting the time period Stennis and Eastland served in the Senate before I was born.
Gee, I am not that old.
The point is that when Cochran announced his retirement last week that was big news – simply because of the fact Mississippians don’t often see their United States senators retire. Blue moons are more likely occurrences – much more likely.
But Cochran’s retirement is significant for more than the simple fact that Mississippi senators have almost a lifetime job. It also is noteworthy because he is such a historic figure in Mississippi’s political history.
He is a politician from the old school in a lot of ways – not flashy, but effective in Washington. Also in his heyday, Cochran was surprisingly accessible.
Through the years, multiple politicians have visited the Daily Journal for editorial board meetings. These normally last about an hour in the conference room where there is a little small talk and some healthy policy discussions and give-and-take.
Once in the late 1980s or early 1990s, Cochran came for an editorial board meeting, then went to lunch with some editors and finally spent time that afternoon at the Daily Journal, using a vacant desk to make phone calls and interact with Journal employees.
If someone came into the office that day they might have assumed Cochran was a member of the Daily Journal staff. Now before people see too much of a conspiracy, one did not exist. There was no conflict. He was not reading what we wrote about him before it appeared in the newspaper.
It was just adults – well journalists and politicians – interacting in a civil manner.
Cochran, who even back then was considered one of the most effective members of the Senate, spent the time at the Daily Journal without any staff assistants to the best of my memory.
Cochran built allegiances and coalitions through personal contacts, not through political action committees or fancy media campaigns.
Cochran is a true Mississippi political icon. He was the first Republican elected statewide since Reconstruction.
In the first Senate election Cochran competed in 1978, he won with a plurality of the vote. Every six years after that, he was re-elected unopposed or either by a comfortable margin, such as in 1984 against another Mississippi political icon – former Gov. William Winter.
Cochran’s last election – in 2014 – was the only one where he faced a serious challenge – from anti-establishment Republican Chris McDaniel – a state senator from Jones County.
The retirement announcement by Cochran was a big deal. And it will set off a chain of political events as people grapple behind the scenes and in the public through the electoral process to replace him.
It will be a rare political events in Mississippi politics. We just don’t have many open Senate races – not nearly as many as Elvis had hits.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol correspondent. Readers can contact him at (601) 946-9931.
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