JACKSON Seemingly, it is predestined that Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District seat will go to a Republican in November.
And the lucky Republican to be handed that bauble: young Chip Pickering, newly plucked by Sen. Trent Lott out of his Washington office to move into good old Sonny Montgomery’s seat.
That the 32-year-old Pickering, son of U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering, was elected with Trent Lott’s blessing is a colossal understatement. It was more like hand-picked, packaged and delivered with ample financing to voters in mostly rural, east-central Mississippi.
While Mississippians seem not to be paying much attention, Lott, the state’s all-consumed power politico, has been building his own political machine that would put Big Jim Eastland to shame.
What is actually happening now is that the young, totally inexperienced Pickering is being added to the growing stable of GOP officeholders anointed by Lott. Put in that same stable U.S. Reps. Roger Wicker in the 1st District and recent switcher Mike Parker in the 4th. Gov. Kirk Fordice probably should be but is still not saddle-broken to be a reliable stable horse.
In choosing Pickering over Bill Crawford as their Republican nominee, 3rd District GOP voters bought youth, neat packaging, and Washington connections over maturity and experience.
Crawford is the kind of guy you think of when someone says, “Why can’t we get good people to run for office?” He’s extremely intelligent, he has impeccable integrity, and quite importantly, he has proved himself in life.
When Bill Crawford came to the Mississippi House in the early ’80s he was only one of five Republican lawmakers. He has already done yeomen work in building the Mississippi Republican Party at a time when it was, as they say, not cool to be a Republican. He gave up his legislative seat in 1988 to straighten out a Meridian-based bank for which he had become CEO. Crawford’s ability to organize and direct a massive community effort last year is what helped save the Naval Air Station in Meridian from closure.
The fact that Crawford, as a member of the state college board, had the courage to vote for a plan to reduce and consolidate state universities from eight to five actually cost him in the election around the Columbus area, since Mississippi University for Women would have been made part of Mississippi State University under the plan.
It was absolutely bogus for Pickering to attack the 49-year-old Crawford as not being a “Good Republican” because Crawford admitted he opted to support Ray Mabus in 1987. The implication was conveyed that Crawford had backed Mabus against Fordice in 1991 (falsely reported, incidentally, by Louisville’s Winston County Journal).
Not only had Crawford backed Fordice, the fact that Fordice appointed him to the College Board was evidence he met Fordice’s loyalty litmus test.
Pickering, though evidently a bright young man, has no real job experience under his belt to show he has been tested. Out of college in 1986, he then spent two years as a Baptist missionary in Hungary, and ever since he has held purely political patronage jobs in Washington, first with the Bush administration, and then the last four years as an aide to Lott.
Of course, the fact that his dad, Charles Sr., had formerly been chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, and was subsequently appointed a federal judge by President Bush, had nothing to do with the son landing the jobs in Washington.
The point here is that Pickering is jumping straight to the Big Leagues without any minor league experience. Even in baseball they know better.
What troubles a lot of folks is that Pickering doesn’t have enough life experience to understand the problems of Mississippi’s elderly, poor, or say, single-parent families. He was able to espouse in the campaign a highly-saleable philosophy of conservatism, anti-abortionism, and the rest of the litany of the young Republican radicals in Congress.
But one could reasonably question if he is old enough to have developed any real political philosophy of his own. Evidently that suits Lott fine and he’ll fill in the blanks. In the campaign there was little doubt that Pickering was perfectly coached by someone.
Where Lott was able to help big time and get quick name identification for Pickering, was by turning loose his well-oiled money-raising apparatus. It enabled Pickering to break out of the pack of GOP contenders initially, with $100,000 worth of TV in the first primary. Of course he continued to hit the tube hard in the runoff against Crawford’s almost-shoestring budget.
Just in the final days of the runoff, Pickering ground out four mailouts to the district, something that cost real money. Evidently the fact that Pickering was getting 70 percent of his identifiable contributions from out-of-state (heavily from the telecommunications industry) didn’t register with the voters.
Nor did the fact that Pickering had actually never lived inside the 3rd District (his family’s home and farm is in Jones County in the 4th) and only rented a house to technically live in the 3rd for the campaign.
Now John Arthur Eaves Jr., a practicing attorney in Jackson who lives in neighboring Madison County, faces the monumental task of carrying the Democratic banner in November in a district where the Republican tide is rolling.
If Pickering gets Sonny’s old seat, he will have to grow up on our time.
Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947.