Will It Be Senator Haley Barbour?

Thad Cochran, Mississippi’s senior U. S. senator, was elected to a sixth six-year term on November 4.  The Republican Haley Barbour’s second term as governor will end in January, 2012; the state constitution places a lifetime two-term limit on the governor.

It was suggested on another website that the Republican Cochran might resign while Barbour is still governor, and that Barbour will engineer his own appointment to the Senate.  In other states where this has been done, it has usually backfired.  The voters don’t like it, and they take out their anger on the appointed senator at the next election.  Barbour knows this, and I believe that he’s much too shrewd to attempt such a shenanigan (besides, there is no evidence that Cochran does not intend to serve out his full term).

The Republican Trent Lott was Mississippi’s first U. S. senator in modern times to resign before the close of his term, if not the first in history.  This happened at the end of last year, and Barbour appointed GOP Congressman Roger Wicker to succeed Lott.  On November 4, Wicker was elected to serve the remaining four years of the Senate term.

TENNESSEE CARETAKERS

Our Tennessee neighbors, in contrast, have a tradition of naming caretakers to fill vacancies in the U. S. Senate.  This occurred most recently after Senator Al Gore was elected vice president in 1992.  Governor Ned Ray McWherter appointed a Democratic party stalwart to serve until 1994, when the Republican Fred Thompson was elected to serve the remaining two years on the Senate term.  Thompson was then elected to a full six-year term in 1996.

Senator Estes Kefauver’s sudden death in 1963 at age 60 set off a memorable chain of events in the Volunteer State.  Kefauver had sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956, losing both times to Adlai Stevenson of Illinois.  Rather than naming his running mate in 1956, Stevenson left the choice to the convention delegates.  Kefauver narrowly won a spirited contest with a young senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy, and the Stevenson-Kefauver ticket went on to lose in a landslide to President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon.

The keynote address at that 1956 Democratic convention was delivered by Tennessee’s 36-year-old governor, Frank Clement (“How long, America, O how long”).  Clement had first won a two-year term as governor in 1952.  He was re-elected in 1954, after the term was changed to four years, and the governor was no longer allowed to succeed himself.  For a time, Clement and Buford Ellington– a native of Holmes County, Mississippi– played “musical chairs” with the governorship.  The Democrat Ellington was elected in 1958, Clement won again in 1962, and the voters again chose Ellington in 1966 (another former Mississippian, Winfield Dunn, a Meridian native, was elected to succeed Ellington in 1970.  Dunn, a Memphis dentist, was Tennessee’s first Republican governor elected since 1920 and only the third in the 20th century).

Following Senator Kefauver’s death in 1963, Governor Clement appointed a caretaker to serve until the 1964 elections.  Midway through his term as governor, Clement entered that 1964 race for the two years left on the Senate term; however, he lost the Democratic primary to Ross Bass, a liberal congressman who went on to defeat the Republican Howard Baker in the general election.

In the 1966 race for the full six-year term, Clement beat Senator Bass in a bitter rematch in the Democratic primary.  But Clement then lost the general election to the Republican Baker.

Clement was rumored to be preparing to run again for governor when he was killed in a car crash on a rainy night in late 1969.  He was 49 years old.

Getting back to Governor Haley Barbour:  I had thought that he might be a candidate  for president in 2012.  His recent proposals for tax increases, however, will likely hurt him if he does run.

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