/Sen Thad Cochran, a 45-year veteran of Congress, dead at 81

Sen Thad Cochran, a 45-year veteran of Congress, dead at 81

Cochran’s Office released a statement Thursday saying that Cochran’s family was grateful for the support given to him by Mississippians throughout the years. Cochran resigned as Senator in April 2018. His final years in Congress were marked by both the powerful chairship he held at the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and later by his health problems. Cochran stated that his health had become a continuing challenge in a press release announcing his retirement. “I will fulfill my responsibilities to the peoples of Mississippi and the Senate through completion of the 2019 Appropriations Cycle, after which I will officially retire from the Senate,” Cochran said in a release. On Monday, a funeral service will take place at the Mississippi State Capitol at 11 a.m. and a second service at Northminster Baptist Church at Jackson at 11 a.m. The senator, who is 81 years old, was elected in 1978 to the Senate. He was also the longest-serving member of Congress at the moment of his retirement. He was the chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee and he managed to direct hundreds of millions of federal dollars each year to Mississippi. One of his most memorable moments was 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Cochran, a Republican who was also facing resistance from George W. Bush at the time, threatened to shut down government if Congress did not send large amounts of relief money to the Coast. According to Brad White, Cochran’s former chief of staff, Cochran, White is now the president. He persuaded his fellow Republicans to allocate nearly $30 billion to the recovery effort. White stated that it was the largest earmark in American history. “It saved Coast.” White said. White stated that while some people had to look more hard than others, there was common ground with all. White’s model of public service was that people always have the right. We (in Congress) are there to serve, and not be served. “We were there to help Mississippians.” Over three decades Mississippians have returned the favor by easily electing Cochran every six-years with more than 60% of the vote. In 2014, he was challenged by Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville), for the nomination. McDaniel, a tea-party Republican, lost the primary but Cochran won the runoff thanks to strong Democratic turnout. McDaniel took aim at Cochran’s marriage and health, but the drama between the campaigns was often more intense than at the polls. White stated that people talk about the bitter 2014, “I have never heard Sen. Cochran speak a negative word about Sen. McDaniel,” White said. As the news of Cochran’s death spread Thursday morning across the internet, praises for the senator surged. Gov. Phil Bryant, the U.S. Senator who succeeded Cochran in April appointed Cindy Hyde Smith to be his successor. He praised Cochran for both his achievements and his character. His influence is felt in every corner Mississippi. Bryant stated that Bryant was dedicated to all Mississippians, whether it was helping farmers in the Delta or fighting for resources in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “The Quiet Persuader was the dominant figure in Mississippi politics for almost half a century. He did this by being a gentleman. Senator Cochran left a legacy that should inspire all Americans.” His friend and former colleague, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said that even though they were in opposing parties, their priorities were the same. “Thad Cochran was a dedicated public servant, a Lion of the Senate and one of my closest friends. Leahy stated that despite our differences in political views, he knew Thad was committed to the interests of Mississippi and the country. Cochran continues a tradition of Mississippians holding record-setting terms in the upper chamber. John Stennis and Jim Eastland, three senators from Mississippi, are among the 16 longest serving senators in U.S. History. Mississippi is the most dependent state on federal dollars in the country, and has had a long history of having a large influence on federal spending. From 2005 to 2007, Cochran was the Appropriations chair, and from 2015 to 2018, he was the chairman. Between 1987 and 1989, Stennis was chairman. U.S. Rep. Jamie Whitten was the chairman of House Appropriations from 1979 to 1993. Cochran was raised a Democrat but his interest in the Republican party started in 1968, when U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R.Tenn. convinced him to run for Richard Nixon. Cochran, who was already active in state politics, ran for a seat at the U.S. House of Representatives at 34 years old. Four years later, longtime Democratic U.S. Senator James O. Eastland retired, triggering a free-for all, which saw a field that included former Gov. Bill Waller, father of the current Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Waller, Jr., was a Democratic candidate. Henry Kirksey, a civil rights activist, was on the Democratic side. Cochran was up against future U.S. district court judge Charles Pickering. Marice Dantin (a Democrat and Columbia district attorney) finished second while Charles Evers (brother of slain civil right leader Medgar Evers) finished third with more than 20 percent of votes. Cochran was the first Republican to be elected to the Mississippi statewide office since Reconstruction. Cochran was a member of the Senate Ethics, Judiciary, Labor and Human Resources and Indian Affairs Committees. He also chaired the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committees. Cochran was a specialist in agriculture policy and budget issues. He also gained notoriety for his ability to direct money to his home state. Cochran also received recovery funds for Katrina and allocated millions to Mississippi’s state industry and interstate highway system. He was a tireless advocate for federal courthouse construction in Jackson and Greenville. His name is also on buildings at half of the state’s college campuses. White referred to the Jackson County shipyard, saying that White got Ingalls contracts. “And DeSoto County would not be able to flush its toilets if they weren’t for Thad Cochran, and all the federal funds that went into infrastructure (when their growth rate was so rapid),” White said. But Cochran often received rebuke from pork barrel-spending watchdogs. Citizens Against Government Waste, a conservative group, reported that Cochran was more successful in securing federal earmarks in 2010. This practice was largely stopped by the Republicans who regained control of Congress in 2011. Cochran faced little opposition during his tenure. Exceptions include runs by former governor. William Winter (1984) and Erik Fleming (Democratic state Rep. 2008) were notable exceptions. McDaniel’s momentum in his 2014 primary challenge was overwhelming for Cochran’s campaign. McDaniel’s supporters used those stories to paint Cochran as inept and complacent during that campaign. McDaniel, who enjoyed wide support from the once-powerful Republican Tea Party movement, attacked Cochran for being an insider in Washington, D.C. who was not sufficiently conservative on fiscal and social issues. McDaniel won less than half of the vote in the Republican primary of June 2014. However, he did not receive enough votes to avoid a second round. Cochran used Mississippi’s open primary system to his advantage, which allows voters the freedom to vote for either party in the primary. Cochran won support from African Americans and other groups for his support of historically black colleges, universities and city infrastructure projects to defeat McDaniel. People who knew Cochran well described a man who was a part Washington’s old guard. He loved his job and felt a stronger loyalty to Mississippi than his political party. Cochran’s achievements often get praised alongside his character. In his statement after Cochran’s passing, Lt. Governor. Tate Reeves spoke about the senator’s “wit” and “wisdom,” and said that Cochran was “a true statesman”. Public service was a part of Cochran’s family tradition. Both his parents, Emma Grace Cochran and William Cochran were teachers when he was born in Pontotoc, in 1937. William Cochran was appointed Hinds County superintendent after his family moved to Byram. Nielsen was his brother and served as a Jackson City Council member as well as as a member on the Mississippi Public Service Commission. Cochran was influenced by this tradition and he served in the U.S. Navy as a cadet after graduating from college. Cochran never forgot his duty to the nation, even in his later years. White visited the Oxford assisted living home three weeks ago, where Cochran spent his last days. Cochran was already having trouble with his memory. The visit with his former chief of staff rekindled something inside the former senator. “He looked at my face and asked me, “Chief are there any votes today?” White replied. “I said, “No senator, we’re not in recess.” He replied, “Oh good. Go out and ask the people in your district what they need. We have to ensure that people are well taken care of. White explained to Mississippi Today that although he wasn’t aware of all the details, he made sure to make sure Mississippians were taken care. Cochran graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He was stationed in Boston, Massachusetts for two years while he served in the U.S. Navy. After that, he enrolled in Ole Miss law school. Cochran was an editor at the Mississippi Law Journal during law school and returned to active service in the summer. He began practicing law in Jackson in 1964, the year he married Rose Clayton. Rose Cochran, who was a resident of a nursing home for over a decade, passed away in 2014. Their two children were Kate, an English professor at Southern Mississippi University, and Clayton, a Madison-based nonprofit fundraiser. In May 2015, Cochran married Kay Webber, his long-time aide. To support this work, you can make a regular donation to us today as we celebrate our Spring Member Drive.