BILL CRAWFORD: Mississippi’s firm power in Congress dwindling

It’s always been about power. It used to be about personal power through seniority. Now it’s about party power and control.
That outside money flowing into Mississippi congressional campaigns has little to do with the candidate, his experience, his character, or what he stands for. It’s all about which party will control Congress.
In the old days we elected and re-elected John Stennis, Jim Eastland, Jamie Whitten, Bill Colmer, Arthur Winstead, John Bell Williams, Tom Abernethy, and Sonny Montgomery until their seniority lifted them to positions of power. They became Mississippi’s treasures of influence in Washington. The conventional wisdom was that only by acquiring seniority could a small state like Mississippi have influence and get its share of federal goodies. So, we took pride in “voting for the man,” not the party.
Sen. Thad Cochran and Rep. Bennie Thompson may be our last such treasures – at least for a while. Only Rep. Gene Taylor is on the verge of joining them as a committee chairman or ranking member. But this new “party power” dynamic has him reeling.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates the changing times – and threat to Taylor – than state representative Steven Palazzo’s “Fire Pelosi” emblem on Twitter and Facebook.
Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. To beat her and gain control, Republicans have to capture a majority of the 435 seats in the House. To do that, they need a net gain of 39 seats, making Taylor’s seat and freshman Rep. Travis Childers’ seat important to party power.
With 20 years in the House, Taylor now ranks 4th among Democrats on the powerful House Armed Services Committee and serves as chairman of the Defense and Seapower Subcommittee. No area of the state is more dependent upon military related jobs than the south Mississippi area Taylor represents.
In the old days, this seniority would have made Taylor invincible.
No longer. A talented politician in his own right, Palazzo’s anti-Pelosi, anti-Obama, empower-the-GOP campaign has made the race close.
It will be telling to see if south Mississippi sticks with the old – seniority, or goes with the new – party power. It will be even more telling, if Taylor falls, to see what impact less and less seniority has on Mississippi.
Mississippi has given up gobs of seniority in recent years. We lost a congressional seat after the 2000 Census. Trent Lott and Chip Pickering walked away from their seats and years of seniority. Roger Wicker gave up 12 years of seniority in the House to become a freshman senator.
With the possibility that Sen. Cochran may not run again, Mississippi could be facing a serious power deficit. Unless, of course, Haley Barbour becomes our 45th president.

Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. Contact him at crawfolk@att.net.

Bill Crawford