For Mississippi, control of the U.S. Senate is election s greatest impact
STARKVILLE – Mississippi voters have seen their share of the eccentricities of the 2016 presidential campaign and through social media, the voters of our state have been plugged into the long national nightmare of watching voters struggle to make a choice between two candidates that the majority of Americans just don’t like – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Trump has been far more visible in Mississippi during the campaign and is almost certain to carry this state’s popular vote and the six electoral votes that go with winning the popular vote. But for Mississippi voters, the most significant impact of what happens in the country on Tuesday, Nov. 8, isn’t the decision the voters render in the presidential race – or at least not directly. For Mississippi voters, it is how the election impacts control of the U.S. Senate that will be perhaps most impactful for the people of our state. Succinctly, if Republicans continue to control the U.S. Senate, then Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran will continue to serve as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. If Democrats control the U.S. Senate, that key leadership post will go to a Democratic senator from another state – many prognosticate that the chairmanship would go to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. After one of the nastiest campaigns in Mississippi history in 2014, Cochran won a seventh term in the Senate with 60.4 percent of the vote and was handily returned to Washington and the Senate Appropriations Committee chairmanship that awaited him. Mississippi’s most powerful congressional delegation weapon was still deployed. Cochran’s position leading the Senate Appropriations Committee likewise strengthened the political clout of the rest of the state’s delegation – Republican and Democrat alike. The end of the era of unrestrained and unfettered earmarks has rendered the Senate Appropriations chair as less of a political plum that it was 20 years ago. But in the hands of veteran appropriators like Cochran, the new rules – which soon gave way to what Capitol Hill observers now call “zombie” earmarks, “phonemarks” or “lettermarks” – still allows lawmakers to use their influence to help their constituents back home with federal funding for various projects. The test – whether in the depths of traditional earmarks or the new phantom era of pseudo-earmarks – has always been the character and integrity of the elected lawmaker. Is the money being sent back to a lawmaker’s state for a purpose that legitimately serves the greater good (like rural water systems) or to fund wasteful, needless things that make the taxpayers shake their heads in amazement or disgust. Cochran isn’t up for re-election, so the fate of his chairmanship rests on the outcome of the national elections in terms of how many gains Democrats make in the Senate. Many of the national pollsters and prognosticators have predicted a 50-50 split in the Senate – which would then empower the newly-elected vice president to tip the scales in favor of his party in that chamber. Earmarking by other names continues basically unabated and few states have historically been greater beneficiaries of that process of congressionally-directed spending than has Mississippi. According to estimates, 123 “earmarks” made it into legislation in FY 2016, an increase of 17.1 percent from the 105 inserted in FY 2015. Earmarks in FY 2016 cost $5.1 billion, an increase of 21.4 percent from the $4.2 billion in FY 2015. Congressional leaders like Pat Harrison, Jim Eastland, John Stennis, Jamie Whitten, Trent Lott, Roger Wicker and Cochran have used congressionally-directed spending to help their home state. So it’s no keen act of prognostication to observe that control of the U.S. Senate will for many politically astute Mississippi be the most important thing decided on Tuesday by the American electorate – regardless what’s contained in Hillary’s mysterious emails or whom Trump did or didn’t grope. Daily Corinthian columnist Sid Salter is syndicated across the state. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.