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For Mississippi, March metes madness

By Brad Keena
web posted March 18, 2002

March 2002 has not been kind to the state of Mississippi. For a state that enjoys more power than most in the Washington political game, Mississippi has taken three "whacks" so far this month, and March isn't even half over.

First, its chicken farmers -- pillars of the state's agricultural fortunes -- received the bad news, March 5, that the President intends to move ahead with long-threatened U.S. tariffs on steel. Steel happens to be a major export of Russia. Russia is mad, and has announced a ban on American poultry imports. Poultry was practically invented in Mississippi, whose chicken producers have been slow to recover from a huge sales dip resulting from the international economic decline of 1998.

Mike Parker

The next day, on March 6, the White House canned former Mississippi Congressman-turned-appointee, Mike Parker. Losing a bid for governor of Mississippi in 2000, the President gave Parker the job of Army Assistant Secretary in charge of its Corps of Engineers. But Parker got a little to chummy with his former cronies on Capitol Hill, criticizing -- in remarks before separate Senate and a House panels -- the President's proposal to trim Army Corps of Engineers' water projects.

"Krikey!" as the Crocodile Hunter would say (or, as people in Mississippi's 4th Congressional District used to say, "Doh!"). Still, the President did go to bat for the embattled state this past week, before Mississippi got its third whacking in the form of a party-line Senate Judiciary Committee rejection of prominent Mississippi jurist Charles Pickering. "This is wrong and the American people deserve better," an angry Bush told a news conference before the vote.

Charles Pickering

Oddly, Judge Pickering got all smiles and backslaps from Democrats the last time he stood before the same panel, on his way to becoming a Federal District Judge with then-unanimous Senate approval. My, how things have changed now that Democrats control the Senate.

Orchestrated by Democrats out to keep Bush from appointing anyone with a brain to the bench, the Committee's action spelled doom for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nomination: Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle (who replaced Mississippi's Trent Lott when Democrat's won control over the Senate last year) vowed to keep the nomination off the rest of Senate, which likely would have approved the nomination.

"By failing to allow full Senate votes on judicial nominees, a few senators are standing in the way of justice," said Bush, alluding to Daschle (D-SD) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). So as I read it, on the one hand, Mr. Bush's job is to supply the many judicial vacancies with credible nominees. On the other hand, however, it is the Senate's job (or so the Democrats who control the Senate think) to keep as many of these nominees from reaching the judgeships to which they have been appointed -- or at least any nominee who isn't a card-carrying Leftist like them.

They "seek to undermine the nominations of candidates who agree with my philosophy that judges should interpret the law and not try to make law from the bench," explains Mr. Bush. And he's right. So effective have Daschle and Leahy been thus far, that of the 92 judicial slots Bush has tried to fill, fewer than half have received the sprinkling of Senate Holy water. Even so, most of those confirmations were for ordinary, garden-variety district judgeships. Trust me, in the end, this strategy will come back to haunt them -- that's a guarantee. Meanwhile, Senate partisans admit their fight against Judge Pickering really is nothing personal, just a trial run for an inevitable future Supreme Court nomination by the Bush White House -- not comforting for the average American trying to rekindle trust in the Legislative Branch.

"We pay them $145,000 a year and this is what they do to the country," I heard someone ask. Yikes, the median household income in Hattiesburg is only $15,000, and the stinking Senate won't even confirm one of its sons! No wonder even Mississippi's Democrats are mad.

Don't misunderstand me -- my appreciation for Mississippi is second to none. I count Judge Pickering's son, U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a friend. In fact, the last time I was in his District, I enjoyed 27 holes of the best golf in memory, courtesy of another friend, Phillip Martin, Chief of the highly successful Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

To be sure, it certainly isn't President Bush's fault that Mississippi's poultry business is ailing, or that one of the state's former Representatives is a knucklehead, or even that Senate Democrats decided to make a popular Mississippi judge their political poster boy. It's just a bad month to be Mississippi.

Contact Brad Keena at jbkeena@hotmail.com.

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