OPINION: For Pickering, the facts won't alter an incredible public slide

For former 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Flora, the incredible public slide continues and politics now has precious little to do with the results of that slide.
The facts of Pickering’s altercation with the coach of an opposing soccer team who had just defeated his son’s team remain facts in dispute. There are two sides to the story and I don’t presume to know either one of them with any clarity.
I suspect this is one post-soccer game parent/coach dispute story that will lurch toward litigation, but I could be wrong.
Pickering, who served six terms in Congress from 1997 to 2009, has now added a simple assault charge to the devolution of his public life that began in 2007, when he announced that he would not seek re-election, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
At the time of his resignation, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said: “My guess is he’s going to make some money and run to succeed Sen. Thad Cochran” when Cochran retires. That wasn’t Pickering’s only path to a Senate seat.
The Laurel native was the top contender for the U.S. Senate vacancy created when his political mentor, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, announced his retirement. But Pickering turned the literal opportunity of a lifetime down and few could understand why.
An answer of a sort came six months later in July 2008 when Pickering filed for divorce from his wife 20 years, Leisha, citing irreconcilable differences.
The other shoe dropped about a year later when Leisha Pickering filed a alienation of affection lawsuit against her husband’s alleged mistress – claiming an ongoing affair wrecked their marriage and led Chip Pickering to give up his political career.
The Pickering divorce and the resulting Leisha Pickering lawsuit against the alleged mistress remain unresolved in the Madison County courts. There are two sides to that story and I don’t presume to know either one of them with any clarity.
Gossip aside, most Mississippians don’t know any more about that than I do. What they do know is that there were five sons impacted by the divorce – Will, Ross, Jackson, Asher and Harper.
In terms of Pickering’s relationship with Mississippi voters – particularly his conservative base who saw him as one who shared their “family values” – the story of the former congressman’s divorce likely became one of “blah, blah, blah, blah . . . left his wife and five sons.”
Now, Pickering finds himself in a situation in which – whatever the soccer fight facts may ultimately prove to be – what the public will likely remember is “blah, blah, blah, blah . . . got in a fight after one his son’s soccer games with a guy wearing a neck brace.”
Over the course of the last 18 months, Chip Pickering’s political stock has gone from “blue chip” to chipped beyond repair.
There are a lot of divorced public officials in Mississippi and across the nation. There aren’t a lot of public officials who survive simple assault allegations. At some point, maturity and judgment get called into question.
Here’s hoping Chip Pickering has a better year in 2010 than he’s had in 2009. It’s rather hard to imagine that the New Year could get much worse than 2009 for a once-promising man who threw away a U.S. Senate seat.
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.

Sid Salter