To the total shock and surprise of Washington and Mississippi, Trent Lott announced today that he would resign as US Senator before the end of the year - in spite of having just been reelected a year ago. Why? There are several theories.
Trent himself said he wants to spend more time with his family and to pursue other job opportunities. (They all say that.) Some have speculated that he may succeed Robert Khayat as chancellor of his alma mater University of Mississippi.
But by far, the most popular explanation is he resigned to avoid the requirements of a new lobbying bill that will take effect next year. The bill says legislators must wait two years before they can become lobbyists. By resigning now, he only has to wait one year. And Trent could definitely make big bucks in the lobbying business. He is not a wealthy man, and much of his wealth was invested in his home, which was destroyed by Katrina. This could be his last opportunity to earn a lot of money.
Rumors were that he planned to retire at the end of his last term of office. However, he was talked into running again to help his state recover from Katrina. However, his state still needs him, but I guess he decided he had sacrificed enough.
Since he still has five years left in his term, the Governor gets to appoint his successor until a special election can be held in 2008. That is widely believed to be Chip Pickering, our current Congressman, who just announced his own retirement to "spend more time with his family".
I first developed a dislike for Trent when he was a cheerleader for Ole Miss while I was attending LSU. He did not do much to endear himself to me when he was elected to Congress and was one of the few Republicans to vote against impeaching Richard Nixon. He really didn't develop any stature until he went to the Senate, where he surprised me with his pragmatic abilities. Although I don't agree with his politics (he's a conservative, and I'm a liberal), I have to admit I kind of like and admire him.
He was not a knee jerk Republican. He was capable of being independent when he thought it was necessary. For one thing, he always did what he thought was best for Mississippi. Unlike Haley Barbour, Trent was honest about the ineptitude and incompetence of the Bush Administration after Katrina - after all, he suffered from it. Haley takes all the credit for the help that Mississippi got, but I personally give much more credit to Trent. Trent was no fan of Bush to begin with - he was very hurt by the way Bush treated him after the Strom Thurmond fiasco. Bush saw it as an opportunity to get rid of Trent as Senate Majority Leader. Bush wanted a Senate Majority Leader who did what he was told and that was definitely not Trent.
Probably one reason Trent resigned is that he really did not like the way the Senate functioned any more. He said it was too partisan and that Senators did not work together to accomplish things. That's where he excelled - he could definitely work a deal between conflicting parties. Republicans are saying he did not like working with a Democratic controlled Congress, but that's not true. After all, it was that change that allowed Trent to come back into power. The fierce partisanship started after Bush became President and has gotten worse.
This was brought home to me today by one telling comment Trent made. He was asked what his proudest legislative accomplishment was. He said that when he was Majority Leader of the Senate, he was able to work with Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican House to balance the federal budget and even show a surplus. He said some people think that's too hard - it can't be done - but they did it, and it's his proudest achievement. (It was also a slap in Bush's face.) Now that's an old fashioned Republican. He can work with the other Party to achieve real conservative goals. With his departure, they'll be none of his ilk left in the US Senate.
So bye bye, Trent. Thanks for what you did. (And I don't like Bush any more than you do!)