Monday, November 26, 2007

Senators For Life

Senators For Life

On the occasion of Trent Lott's resignation, a political trivia moment.

Mississippi believes in seniority. Lott's departure marks only the third senator transition in the last sixty years. That's right, since 1947 only four men have represented Mississippi in the Senate.

Mississippi sent two of the last old-time segregationist Democrats to the Senate: James Eastland (1943-78) and John Stennis (1947-88). Still, Stennis was an out and out lefty compared to the man he replaced, Theodore Bilbo, who proposed deporting 12 million black Americans to Liberia and once wrote a book titled Take Your Choice, Separation or Mongrelization.

Stennis and Eastland dropped the overt racism toward the end, after black Mississippians started voting, but were still among the most conservative senators of either party. They were replaced, in turn, by men who were just as conservative but bore the new party label of the white South. Cochran was first, replacing Eastland in 1978 in a three way race with the brother of murdered civil rights worker Medgar Evers running as an independent, vote-splitting candidate. Cochran took 45% to become the first Mississippi Republican Senator since African American Blanch Bruce (1875-81).

Lott replaced Stennis in `88 in what seemed like an odd move. He'd risen in the House to minority whip but apparently didn't see a path to a House majority. He was replaced briefly as whip by some guy from Wyoming named Cheney, then when Cheney left to become defense secretary for Bush Sr., Newt Gingrich settled in.

Lott rose in the leadership again, and was even Senate Majority Leader for a time, but he dropped that ball in late `02 by speculating aloud about how wonderful a Strom Thurmond Presidency would have been. But Lott was on the comeback trail and Senate minority whip again.

The resignation speculation abounds. The juicy rumor is that Larry Flynt has dirt on Lott, but the more mundane version is that Lott wants to avoid lobbyist laws that kick in at year's end. That may be a factor, but I think another reason is Lott doesn't see the GOP in the Senate majority anytime soon.

In any case, expect a long line of candidates (including former state attorney general Michael "not the Fahrenheit 9/11 guy" Moore, a Dem who could actually win), since open Mississippi Senate seats are as common as total solar eclipses.

And yes, with all this segregation talk I expect to hear about Robert Byrd's brief, long ago renounced Klan membership.

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