Wednesday, January 25, 2006
For months, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., has been keeping both supporters and enemies scratching their heads at whether he would run for his Senate seat a fourth time. The senator had indicated that he was considering retirement, regardless of the slim 55-to-44 majority Republicans have in the Senate. If Lott's deliberations on retirement had been serious, Senate Republicans would have suffered six open seats on the ballot in November, with Democrats hungry to take advantage of moral lapses involving GOP lobbyists like Jack Abramoff and politicians like Republican Tom Delay, of Texas, both slapped with indictments and inundated by controversy, with Delay forced to resign his post as majority leader of the House after he was indicted in Texas.
Former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, a Democrat, is hugely popular in Mississippi after winning millions of dollars for the state in the 1990s from a successful lawsuit against tobacco companies, and some Democrats had hoped Moore could be coaxed to run.
Attorney Mike More, who now works at Jackson law firm Phelps Dunbar LLP, did not return calls.
Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Dowdy was cool on the prospect of sending a candidate against Lott, telling The Clarion-Ledger that the state's arduous hurricane recovery demanded the state put a high priority on seniority.
"For the good of the state, I'd rather have his (Lott's) seniority than new blood right now. His seniority is that important to the state. Now if Trent steps down, and the state is to get new blood in the Senate, it needs to be Democratic new blood, and I think Mike Moore is that new blood," Dowdy said.
Lott saved Dowdy the trouble of having to recruit more Democratic candidates, such as Mike Moore, to run. "I think I still have a lot to offer this state and because I care for my home I'll be seeking the Senate again this year," the 64-year-old senator told reporters and Capitol visitors Jan. 17.
First elected in 1988, Lott slowly grew in power during the neo-conservative takeover of Congress under the watchful eye of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his über-conservative "Contract with America." Lott got bounced from his position as majority leader, however, after a shocking gaff at the 100-year birthday celebration of former Dixiecrat Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.
Lott had said the nation would have been better off had Thurmond been elected in his 1948 segregationist presidential bid—a "slip" he had made in the past, including at a Nov. 3, 1980, Reagan campaign stop at the Coliseum Ramada Inn in Jackson. Then, alongside John Bell Williams, Thad Cochran, Jon Hinson, Charles Evers and Strom Thurmond, Lott said, "You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today," as reported by The Clarion-Ledger.
Much of the nation didn't get the "joke" in 2002, and criticism forced Lott to step down that December.
The qualifying deadline for registering to challenge Lott is March 1, and Lott already faces Democratic contender Rep. Erik Fleming, D-Clinton.
"I think now Mr. Lott can explain on the campaign trail why Mississippi is in the same shape it was in 1988," Fleming said. "He can explain why our beloved state is still the poorest in the nation, with the lowest median income in the country and over 25 percent of its population in poverty. He can explain why he thinks another six years of his service will yield any different results."
On Dec. 21, the Republican-controlled Senate passed legislation to cut federal deficits by $39.7 billion by a narrow 51-to-50 vote in favor, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote.
Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada said the legislation targeted "ordinary Americans by cutting programs like student aid, Medicare and Medicaid, all to partially pay for another round of budget busting tax breaks for special interests and multi-millionaires."
Continuing on his Web site, Reid said the capital gains and dividend tax breaks called for in the Republican budget "would provide almost half their benefits to those with incomes greater than $1 million. They'll get a tax break worth more than $30,000 a year."
Last week, Lott, who voted in favor of the Reconciliation Spending Bill, defended the middle-class budget slashes, arguing that it was an attempt by the Senate to "weed out some of the waste and some of the fraud."
"We have real needs in everything from education, housing and health care, but we're also fighting a war on terror. We have troops in Iraq with no support, and now we have a multi-billion dollar recovery that we have to fund because of Hurricane Katrina. The combination of all that has put pressure on us to find ways to control the insatiable appetite and growth of the federal government or these deficits are going to cause us huge problems," Lott told the Jackson Free Press.
Despite the added costs of the war and the hurricane, Lott defended tax cuts, so long as they went to wealthy people capable of reinvesting their money in the market.
"Tax cuts just for the sake of tax cuts, no, that's not a good idea. Tax cuts that are targeted in a certain way that will encourage growth, savings and investment, that's good for the economy," Lott said, "but you have to find a balance."
Lott remains proud that he was one of the senators who opposed the tax increase forced through by President Bush I in 1990. The largest deficits the nation suffered since World War II grew throughout the 1980s with the implementation of Reaganomics. Only recently has President George W. Bush surpassed these deficits.
As the Republican leader during the first two years of President George W. Bush's administration, Lott led the fight for passage of the president's tax-cut package, Bush's education reform bill, and the largest increase in defense spending since the Cold War—despite the end of the Cold War—and the resolution supporting the president's now unpopular war against Iraq.
Lott has brought development money to his home state, however. He helped secure major transportation projects like Interstate 69, now under construction, which he hopes will bring much needed commerce to the economically challenged Mississippi Delta. He also supports proposals to build Interstate 14 through South Central Mississippi, Interstate 22 through the Northeast Mississippi region and Interstate 85 in East Mississippi.
Lott was one of the key figures in convincing Lockheed Martin to place a state-of-the-art space satellite manufacturing facility at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, bringing about 500 new jobs to the state, and his flowery words convinced Rolls-Royce to pick the same space center as its first engine-testing facility outside the company's native Britain.
On his Web site, Lott also claims to have aided in making Mississippi a center for the manufacture of unmanned, drone aircraft.