Billy Davis column

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 4, 2010

Outcome the same if Washington career becomes winner’s goal

Anybody who follows Mississippi politics could have put money on state senator Alan Nunnelee winning the Republican nomination Tuesday.

He defeated opponents Henry Ross and Angela McGlowan, beating both with a one-two punch of name recognition and a sizeable war chest.

So now, after the state senator’s runaway win on June 1, we can look forward to a bare-knuckles brawl between the Republican candidate and Travis Childers, the incumbent Democrat. The candidates will fight through the summer and into the fall, bloodied but still standing by Election Day on November 2.

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At stake is control of the 1st District seat and bragging rights. The national Republican Party handpicked Nunnelee as their nominee, believing that his status as a state senator gives them a formidable candidate. If Nunnelee wins, it would be a black eye to the Democrats and, worse, a black eye to the White House.

It’s a must-win seat for the Democrats for the same reasons. They can’t afford to lose a U.S. House seat, now held by a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat, because Childers’ loss would reflect badly on the liberal House leadership that he will flee from on the campaign trail.

From a political point of view, that is the situation in the 1st District: both parties need to win or face humiliation from the other.  

The Republicans may well flip the 1st District seat back to the GOP, using anti-incumbent momentum to win a narrow race in November.

Then what? Will the Republicans tell us the 1st District is better off because voters replaced a conservative freshman congressman with a conservative four-term state senator?

If the Democrats hold on to the seat, you can expect their message to be that 1st District voters saw Childers as an independent-minded congressman who took Mississippi’s values to the U.S. Capital. But what good, really, is a self-described “pro-gun, pro-life Mississippian” in a political party whose leaders are neither?

A little history: the 1st District seat was snatched from the Republicans in 2008, when Childers won it in a special election. But the seat belonged to the Democrats, for over a half-century, when the late Jamie Whitten held it since 1941.

Not only did Congressman Whitten remain in office for 53 years and two months, from 1941 until 1995, but his time in the U.S. House set a national record.

Did it ever cross Congressman Whitten’s mind, say in his 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, to come back to Mississippi and earn a living like the rest of his constituents?  

What the 1st District needs to hear, more than vague promises and mud-slinging commercials, is for both Childers and Nunnelee to declare now that they will serve for a short time in Congress, do their best to do what is right, then return home and go back to their regular jobs like the rest of us.

Do I think that will happen? Of course not, but it’s a nice wish. If senators and representatives treated public office like an overnight stay instead of a one-way trip, then the power and the money would be a distraction, not a perk.

Given enough time in Washington, we constituents become a distraction, too. That is the shameful, sad, dirty truth of the Nunnelee-Childers contest: in the end, it matters not a whit.