ANDY TAGGART: Thad Cochran for Mississippi

As a weekly television political commentator from the Republican side of the aisle on WLBT’s “Red/Blue Review,” I regularly offer my opinions of what I think is happening or will happen in the political arena. When I do, I try not to let my view of what I hope will actually happen override my objective view of what I believe actually will happen.

In other words, my goal is for my television commentaries to be a reflection of my objective sense of what’s going on in state and national politics.

But I will readily admit that I am not objective when I write about how important I believe it is for Thad Cochran to be re-elected to the United States Senate this year. And I believe it is important not only for the State of Mississippi, but for the United States of America.

When Thad Cochran was first elected to Congress, our state was still fresh off the civil rights abuses and reeling from the raw emotions caused by the government-sanctioned mistreatment of people because of the color of their skin. Though it’s hard for us to imagine it now, many civic and business leaders in our state were still at that time insisting on the segregation of the races.

Not only did Thad Cochran never act in any manner that would cause racial divisiveness during any of his campaigns, but upon being elected to the House of Representatives, and later to the United States Senate, he always employed African Americans in positions of responsibility in his office.

That sounds like such a natural and appropriate thing to do now; something that would not raise objection from anyone. But at the time, Thad Cochran was leading our state in the right direction on race relations, even though many did not want to follow enthusiastically.

The reason Senator Cochran was able to do that then is the same reason he is such an effective leader for our state and nation today. His statesmanship, his fundamental decency, his kind demeanor and his ability to build relationships where others prefer to build walls make it possible for Thad Cochran to get things done that would be impossible for many others to accomplish.

How often can a public servant’s career be examined in the detail and for the duration that Thad Cochran’s has been on display, and find nearly universal respect, admiration and gratitude for the service he has offered? But that is exactly what we find when we look at Thad Cochran’s career of service to Mississippi.

But what is this? Now Republican primary voters are being asked to fire Thad Cochran on June 3, for the apparent offense of not being “conservative enough.”

The whole idea is astounding to me. In fact, I believe what some of Senator Cochran’s critics mean by not “conservative enough” is that he doesn’t yell loudly enough, or pound the table vigorously enough, or point his finger defiantly enough to suit their tastes.

Let me note here, that if a firebrand orator is what people are looking for, they probably should not vote for Thad Cochran. I’ve heard him speak many, many times over the years. He is extremely bright, very well-spoken, and forthright and compelling in his speaking style. But I have never heard him raise his voice or seen him point his finger in all the time I have known him. That’s just not the way he does business.

On the other hand, consider how he does business:

Unfailingly polite and uncommonly humble, Thad Cochran does not surround himself with an entourage. Many are the people in our state who will report having seen him traveling through airports by himself, carrying his own bag, not imposing the trappings of his important position on anyone.

Those characteristics make it particularly galling when I read or hear someone criticizing Senator Cochran with comments such as “that seat belongs to the people, not to one man.” For goodness sake, no one would agree with that comment more than Thad Cochran. But on the other hand, few have occupied that seat, courtesy of the people of Mississippi, with greater humility and grace.

When delegations from our state travel to Washington to call on Senator Cochran’s office on some issue of import to Mississippians, they are not hustled off to a small meeting room with a junior staff person who will report later to the Senator. Instead, Thad Cochran sits down around a table in a room adjacent to his personal office – or as often has people directly in his office – and talks to them about their issues of concern.

Then, I have heard that some people believe Thad Cochran should be replaced because he helped direct appropriations of federal funding – “earmarks” – to his home state. Perhaps if I better understood which of Senator Cochran’s earmarks so offended his critics, I could better respond to their concerns.

Is it, for example, the bridge that was built over Biloxi Bay after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it that Senator Cochran should not have tried to fund? Or is it, perhaps, the bridge over Bay St. Louis that is not “conservative enough”?

Should Senator Cochran not have tried to help fund the internationally renowned Thames School of Polymer Science at USM or the National Acoustic Center at Ole Miss or the Research Park at MSU? Are those extraordinary activities of some of our state’s public universities not “conservative enough”?

Maybe it’s his efforts over many years to address Jackson’s chronic flooding problems that earn Senator Cochran the sneer of those who believe he is not “conservative enough.” Or is it the work he did to support the transportation infrastructure improvements that made it possible for north Mississippi to land the new Toyota plant a few years ago that puts off his critics so badly?

For my part, if Thad Cochran is not “conservative enough” because he believes that members of Congress and not unelected bureaucrats should decide how tax dollars are spent, then I’m not conservative enough, either.

Some are asking that the people of Mississippi fire Thad Cochran in a few weeks for giving his career to the service of the United States and to our state.

I say, if Thad Cochran is willing to re-up for another tour of duty, not only does he have my vote, he has my gratitude for his service and selflessness.

Andy Taggart is a Madison attorney who served as Chief of Staff to Gov. Daniel Kirkwood Fordice.

Madison County Journal
4/18/14