Where does Thad hang his hat?

by Richard Murff

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran is a resident of Oxford – sort of, possibly, if you squint and don’t think about it too hard. And yet, sightings of the long-standing Republican senator at Kroger’s and the inevitable second stop at PJ’s Wine and Liquor are mythically few and far between.

Many of his opponents have a point when they ask how a man who has lived in Washington, D.C. for better than 40 years can really be tuned in to Mississippi voters? On the other hand, if you are paying someone to represent Mississippi’s business in the Republic’s capital, do you really want to run into him at Kroger every week?

Cochran was born in Pontotoc and raised around Jackson. There is no doubt he spent four years in Oxford, studying, mooning around Kiamie’s and throwing cheerleaders in the air as an undergraduate. After a stint in the Navy, he showed back up in Oxford for law school and graduated in 1965, with no more instances of cheerleader tossing.

He first took a seat in the House of Representatives in 1972. Representatives tend to spend more time at home with their constituents than senators, largely because they have to stump for votes all the time. In 1978, Rep. Cochran was elected to the Senate, after which sightings around the state of Mississippi became rare, but not unheard of.

Still, the paperwork all seems to be in order – at least it’s good enough for government work. Even heated rival Chris McDaniel has never leveled the charge that Cochran wasn’t legally qualified to represent the state – only that he lacked a certain “neighborliness” that Mississippians expect in their elected officials.

Just what Cochran’s primary address is has been a source of speculation fueled by revolving paper filings that all say something slightly different. Beginning in 2002, Cochran listed his primary address as Washington, D.C., or Alexandria, Va. – depending who you ask, yet owned a condo in Oxford. In 2003, he sold both and bought a piece of land in Lafayette County, but nowhere in the Federal Election Commission paperwork does it mention that Cochran suddenly became a camping enthusiast. Now he owns a “cabin” outside of town – the living room of which can be seen in one of his campaign ads. As cabins go, it lacks that Abe Lincoln charm.

It is possible, though, that we are looking at the issue the wrong way. Throughout his long political career from MP to prime minister of Great Britain, Lord Palmerston reportedly told his constituents that he would not “be coming up” on the grounds that he thought it would be “wrong to interfere with local affairs.” And in his defense, it’s hard to accuse Cochran of not doing his job.

In 2006, Time called him “The Quiet Persuader” for his low-key persistence in getting Hurricane Katrina relief money for the state. It was some $29 billion in fact, the article noted, “…almost double the money Bush and congressional leaders had initially pledged.”

While on the clock, Cochran claims to live in the basement apartment of a painfully expensive house his executive assistant owns. And if you were looking for an example of government waste, the idea that a senatorial executive assistant can own a three-story home in an outsized real estate market like Washington (which she rents out to her boss who claims to live in a cabin) is as good an example as any.

Cochran’s office says the Senator spends over 100 days a year in his home state. The number is, no doubt, technically accurate. Yet all the paper shuffling, day counting and legal jargon misses the point.

Voters would like to think that when their senator says the word “home” he means the state and people he represents. The fuss, such as it is, isn’t about cabins, houses, possibly tree houses, or basement apartments. The University of Mississippi is not the same school it was in 1959, or even 1965. Oxford is not some sleepy college town anymore. The question is: Does Thad Cochran know it?

Editor’s note: The Oxford Citizen checked with Lafayette County Circuit Clerk Baretta Mosley about what address Sen. Cochran uses for his voter registration. Cochran’s address is 386 Hwy 7 South. But he lists a mailing address of 218A Maryland Ave. NE, Washington DC. Confused?

About Jon Rawl

Publisher of the Oxford Citizen, a Journal Inc. company.