BOBBY HARRISON: Cochran holds important place in Mississippi’s history

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

JACKSON

On my nearly stone-age era telephone/answering machine at my desk in the state Capitol is a message left by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

It has survived since 2009. I had called his spokesman earlier that particular day to get a comment on a Medicaid-related issue. I really expected his spokesman to get a comment and relay it back to me either by email or by phone.

That is often how it works in this modern era. When I left fairly late that evening, I still had not heard from Cochran or his spokesman. Since Washington, D.C., is an hour ahead of us, I assumed there would be no statement coming from Cochran. But when I returned the next morning, there was a message left on my answering machine from the previous night – not from a spokesman, but from Cochran.

“Hello, Bobby, this is Thad Cochran,” the message said before he went on to bemoan the intense partisanship in the nation’s Capitol.

I have been careful to preserve that message for a couple of reasons, but mainly not because of what was said, but just because it was from Cochran.

Regardless of what a person might think of his politics, by any measure, Cochran is a historic figure in Mississippi politics. He is the first Republican elected statewide since the 1800s and he is one of five U.S. senators from Mississippi in my lifetime, which is getting fairly lengthy. I also have a message saved from William Winter because I think he also is a significant figure in Mississippi history – not only because of what he did as governor, but also because of the impact he has made after leaving the Governor’s Mansion.

There are other politicians whose message I would have saved, but they never left one. I do have a message preserved from a legislator, who shall remain nameless, who was extremely upset at me when he called. I preserve that message for different reasons. It provides some comical relief.

Last week, Cochran, who turned 76 on Saturday, announced he would seek a seventh term in the Senate. For months, the state’s media members have been speculating on whether Cochran would run again. When he ran in 2008, he left impressions with some that he would not seek the office again.

Plus, he is being challenged by state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville. Now Cochran, a political icon, might figuratively wipe the floor with McDaniel. It is just too early to say. But McDaniel does have the national support from groups that have been successful in upending entrenched politicians in other states.

So, there was intense interest among the state’s media about what Cochran might do. I was literally afraid to go to lunch, thinking I might miss the announcement. But instead of announcing his decision to the state media as a whole, he gave the scoop to one Washington, D.C., reporter, who works for a state newspaper.

In some ways this fits the narrative that most likely will be espoused by McDaniel and his supporters that Cochran is a Washington, D.C., insider more so than he is a Mississippian.

Granted, he was talking to a reporter working for a Mississippi media outlet. But why did he not come home to make the announcement before people who will decide his political future?

Does he not have time to do that?

As I listened again to that aforementioned message left on my antiquated telephone it dawned on me that if nothing else Cochran is as unassuming and as accommodating as someone in his lofty status in life can be.

No doubt, Cochran was asked a question by a reporter, who by being in the nation’s capital every day has better access to him, and, since he had decided what he was going to do, he answered the question.

That is the way Thad Cochran always has done business, and he saw no reason to change at this point in his life.

It should be noted that later on the same day Cochran personally called Mississippi journalists to talk about his decision.

Perhaps a campaign opponent can accurately allege many things about the Pontotoc County native. But it would be a stretch to say he no longer pays attention to the folks back home.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’sCapitol correspondent. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.