OPINION: Apparent infidelity shatters Pickering’s paragon-of-virtue image

JACKSON – Now we know: spending more time with his family wasn’t the real reason Chip Pickering quit Congress and later passed up an expected Senate appointment.
It all comes out in a July 14 alienation of affection lawsuit filed against Chip’s alleged long-term mistress by estranged wife Leisha, the mother of their five sons.
Charles W. Pickering, Jr. had presented himself to voters down here as a paragon of virtue and was given a 100 percent Congressional rating by James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family.” In Washington he stayed at the now-famous C Street “Christian fellowship house,” according to Leisha.
The C Street connection is what gives the Pickering love triangle story national legs. New York Times columnists Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins put Chip in the Republican sex scandal lineup with Nevada’s John Ensign and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford since all three hung out at the C Street house owned by a secretive religious group to promote Christian ideals among Congress people.
Leisha, against whom Chip 13 months ago filed for divorce in Madison County, names wealthy Elizabeth “Beth” Creekmore Byrd for the Pickering family break-up, and as the reason Chip gave up his 3rd district House seat, then removed himself as the heir apparent when his former mentor, Sen. Trent Lott, resigned in December, 2007.
The 45-year-old Pickering filed for divorce from Leisha in June 2008, but the final decree has been sealed in what smacks of a coverup by the Madison County Chancery Court. Leisha contends in her alienation lawsuit that Beth Creekmore had been Pickering’s sweetheart back in college and rekindled their affair after Chip was elected to Congress in 1996.
The next shoe to drop in this Magnolia-scented love triangle will be what Special Hinds County Circuit Judge William Coleman, who has been assigned the case, decides to do with a diary Chip kept for seven years that Leisha uncovered. She planned to use it in her divorce case until Madison County Chancery Judge Cynthia L. Brewer on July 3 ordered Leisha’s attorney to turn it over to Chip’s attorneys. Put in a delicate position, Bettie Ruth Johnson has withdrawn as Leisha’s divorce attorney.
Since Ms. Creekmore Byrd resides in a posh Northeast Jackson neighborhood, Leisha’s lawsuit was filed in Hinds County. Significantly, Chip had moved in May out of his family’s Flora residence to a house just down the block from his alleged mistress. Creekmore had shed her former husband, a Dr. Byrd, in 2007.
The wealth of Creekmore comes from her family’s ownership (she’s a board member) of Cellular South, the largest privately-held wireless company in the U.S., based in Ridgeland. Pickering, known as the leader of the “Wireless Caucus” in the House, figuratively had been in bed with the telecommunications industry since as a staffer for Lott, he helped craft the 1996 Telecommunication Deregulation Act. Almost overnight, the measure created a lot of wireless millionaires.
Cowboy-style Bernie Ebbers and his WorldCom long distance company became the most prominent beneficiary of the 1996 act. However, his company by 2002 turned into one of the biggest boom and bust stories of all time and Ebbers was sent to the slammer for 25 years for presiding over a $11 billion accounting fraud.
In his heyday, Ebbers became one of Pickering’s most generous political patrons – sitting in the front row of a $1,000 a plate fund-raiser for Chip’s 2002 election battle with Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows – at which Vice President Dick Cheney spoke.
Ultimately, Leisha’s lawsuit says, “Creekmore-Byrd gave Pickering the option to remain a public servant or become a private citizen and continue her relations with her.” Both when he announced in August 2007 he would not run again for his House seat, and again when he backed off the Senate seat, Chip had used the canard of wanting more family time.
More will unfold on the extramarital career of Pickering, the family values lawmaking advocate, but betrayal of his former constituency already seems obvious.

Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. His address is Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215. Send e-mails to Minor through edinman@earthlink.net.

Bill Minor