OXFORD — The likely November rematch between Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy for one of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate seats is a reminder that Mississippi lacks the power it once had at the nation’s Capitol.
It will be a long time, if ever, before this state again has the clout it enjoyed in the Senate when James O. Eastland, John C. Stennis, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott occupied those seats.
Eastland was there from 1943 to 1978; Stennis from 1947 to 1989.
Thad Cochran succeeded Eastland and served until 2018. Trent Lott succeeded Stennis, serving until 2007.
That adds up to more than seven decades in which Mississippi had a significant voice — most of the time two — in the Senate.
Twenty-one years ago, Lott, as the Republican Senate majority leader, worked with Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle to ensure that the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton went smoothly.
It did, with less rancor, than probably is going to occur over the next few weeks with President Trump’s trial.
Lott rose to the pinnacle of the Senate, serving as the Republican leader when his party was in the majority and the minority.
The other three — Eastland, Stennis and Cochran — all carved out their niches of power.
Eastland, a Dem-ocrat back when Mississippi Democrats were segregationists, rose to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee and president pro tem of the Senate.
He is noted — pilloried by some — for thwarting civil rights legislation.
Like him or not, he had clout and he used it.
Stennis, also a segregationist Democrat, as were all successful southern politicians before the mid-1960s, was less strident on race than Eastland and, by the time he retired, had a better reputation nationally, highly respected among his peers.
Stennis, like Eastland, served as president pro tempore of the Senate, was the first chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and also chaired the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Appropriations.
An aircraft carrier is named in his honor.
A Washington Post article in 1986, said, “Stennis’ assumption of the Senate Appropriations chairmanship gives Mississippi control over both spending committees in Congress, a rare if not unprecedented feat for any state and a special boon to a state as poor as Mississippi. Not only is Rep. Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.) chairman of the House Appropriations panel and its agriculture subcommittee, which is critically important to largely rural Mississippi, but Sen. Thad Cochran (R), the state’s junior senator, is also on the Senate Appropriations Committee and will be ranking Republican on its Agriculture Committee.”
Cochran, as the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, directed millions of dollars to Mississippi, including after Hurricane Katrina.
Like Stennis, he was more of a moderate than a firebrand.
With due respect to Sen. Roger Wicker, who succeeded Lott, and Sen. Hyde-Smith, who replaced Cochran, I don’t see that together they have the clout of any one of the above mentioned.
Maybe if they stay there 30 or 40 years, they’ll gain it, but somehow I doubt there’ll be any aircraft carriers named after either in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, Espy, an African American Democrat who once served in Congress and then was U.S. secretary of agriculture under Bill Clinton, is running hard to unseat Hyde-Smith.
It’ll be a near-miracle if it happens, but if Espy wins it won’t be as bad as now former Gov. Phil Bryant said it would be the other day.
In hyperbole on steroids, Bryant wrote on Twitter: “I intend to work for (Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith) as if the fate of America depended on her single election. If Mike Espy and the liberal Democrats gain the Senate we will take that first step into a thousand years of darkness.”
Some of Espy’s supporters assert Bryant’s “step” into “darkness” quote contained subliminal racial overtones.
Maybe so, or maybe it was just Bryant going over the top on a tweet in trying to keep up with his friend Donald Trump.
Dunagin, who lives in Oxford, is a retired longtime Mississippi newspaperman.