DECADE IN REVIEW: 2002

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

Lott falls from grace
Mississippi’s junior U.S. senator, Republican Trent Lott of Pascagoula, was flying high in his political career as majority leader when he slipped on a verbal banana peel and lost it all.
Speaking at South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration, Lott committed a gaffe that sparked a maelstrom of negative reaction across the board, including his own party.
The nation, he said, would have been better off had it supported Thurmond’s campaign when he ran for president in 1948. Thurmond ran that year as a segregationist “Dixiecrat.”
Although Lott later apologized repeatedly and profusely, the damage was done. Pressure from his own party and the White House forced him to step down and put Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee in the post.
He continued to be active in the Senate, but never regained his clout. Ultimately he surprised political watchers with a retirement announcement in late 2007, just one year into a new six-year term.
Also in 2002:
- Two new laws were passed to limit jury awards against large and small businesses and to protect health care practitioners form civil lawsuits. Medical malpractice law capped non-economic damages – such as pain and suffering – at $500,000. The products liability law capped punitive damages – those meant to punish wrongdoing – at $20 million for the largest corporations and less on a sliding scale for smaller companies.
- Lee County narcotics agents Danny Dillard and Jason Stanford were found not guilty of federal civil rights violations in the death of Billy Ray Stone, suspected in the kidnapping and shooting death of Sheriff Harold Ray Presley in 2001. Their attorneys succeeded in raising suspicions that other deputies were responsible.
- Longtime Mississippi Speaker of the House Tim Ford of Baldwyn announced he would leave office to work in private law practice. Ford came out of nowhere in 1988 to be elected speaker as a compromise candidate to succeed House strongman C.B. “Buddie” Newman.
- Tupelo’s urban renewal project on 50 downtown acres took on the official name “Fairpark District.” Progress on its development occurred with the January opening of the city’s new City Hall there, and sales picked up on lots for business locations.
- Patsy R. Brumfield

The NEMS Daily Journal is looking back at news from the past decade. Follow the stories in the newspaper and at NEMS360.com.