Un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the vot­ers’ in­tel­li­gence — and pay­ing for it

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

Pol­i­tics can be both cruel and un­sen­ti­men­tal. Con­sider the case of Sen. Thad

Cochran, R-Miss., known on Capi­tol Hill — since his first elec­tion to Congress in 1972 — for his civil and ami­able treat­ment of oth­ers, ir­re­spec­tive of party, and, as chair­man of the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, for se­cur­ing fed­eral bil­lions for his small, poor state. Hav­ing re­cently been hos­pi­tal­ized twice and con­fronting mul­ti­ple health chal­lenges, Cochran, 80, has learned that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell, his col­league for 33 years, has ad­mit­ted to The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin that

though it’s “pre­ma­ture” to an­a­lyze a pos­si­ble Mis­sis­sippi spe­cial elec­tion to re­place Cochran, Mc­Connell and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump have sep­a­rately met with Mis­sis­sippi’s Repub­li­can gover­nor, Phil Bryant, to urge Bryant — should the Cochran seat be­come va­cant for any rea­son — to ap­point him­self to the Se­nate.

Here’s my un­so­licited ad­vice to Bryant: Do not, in your own self-in­ter­est, ap­point your­self to the Se­nate. As my sainted precinct com­mit­tee­woman used to tell us, “do not over­es­ti­mate the

fac­tual knowl­edge of vot­ers, but never un­der­es­ti­mate the in­tel­li­gence of vot­ers.” Vot­ers who are not able to list the mem­ber na­tions of NATO are still wise enough to see through any staged, coun­ter­feit rit­ual in which a gover­nor “re­signs” his of­fice only to have his hand-picked suc­ces­sor then ap­point him to a va­cant Se­nate seat.

I say “him” ad­vis­edly, be­cause since the di­rect elec­tion of U.S. se­na­tors be­gan in 1914, nine male gov­er­nors have suc­cumbed to the temp­ta­tion to go through the res­ig­na­tion cha­rade to be­come pain­lessly, with­out the in­con­ve­nience of an elec­tion and the in­tru­sion of ac­tual vot­ers,

a se­na­tor. Eight of th­ese self­pro­mot­ers, be­gin­ning with Mon­tana’s John Erick­son in 1933, were de­feated the next time they faced their home­s­tate vot­ers. The most re­cent ex­am­ple was Min­nesota’s Wen­dell An­der­son in 1978.

As gover­nor, An­der­son, a sil­ver medal-win­ning Olympic hockey player, had suc­cess­fully cam­paigned di­rectly to Min­nesotans to per­suade a re­cal­ci­trant Leg­is­la­ture to equal­ize state school fund­ing. Hav­ing car­ried all 87 Min­nesota coun­ties in his ‘74 re-elec­tion and en­joy­ing a fa­vor­able job rat­ing of 70 per­cent, An­der­son was men­tioned as a pos­si­ble run­ning mate for the 1976 Demo­cratic

pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Jimmy Carter. In­stead of An­der­son, Carter chose Sen. Wal­ter Mon­dale of Min­nesota to form his win­ning ticket. An­der­son, suc­cumb­ing to temp­ta­tion, re­signed as gover­nor and then had his lieu­tenant gover­nor, Rudy Per­pich, ap­point him to the va­cant Mon­dale Se­nate seat. Such schem­ing af­fronted re­form-minded vot­ers, who, at their first chance, re­tired both An­der­son and Per­pich to pri­vate life and awarded the state’s other Se­nate seat, cre­ated by the death of Hu­bert Humphrey, to Repub­li­can David Duren­berger. For Democrats, 1978 is still re­mem­bered as the year of the

Min­nesota Mas­sacre.

Who was the only gover­nor to win elec­tion from vot­ers af­ter hav­ing or­ches­trated his own ap­point­ment to the Se­nate? That would be Ken­tucky Gov. Al­bert “Happy” Chan­dler, who, in 1939, went from the State­house to the Se­nate. Ken­tuck­ians voted in 1940 — and again in 1942 — to keep Sen. Chan­dler. To­day he is best re­mem­bered for his coura­geous lead­er­ship as com­mis­sioner of Ma­jor League Base­ball. He over­ruled a 15-1 vote by base­ball team own­ers in 1947, en­abling the Brook­lyn Dodgers to sign Jackie Robin­son and break base­ball’s color bar­rier. For up­hold­ing

jus­tice and for hon­or­ing Amer­ica, Happy Chan­dler was fired three years later by the own­ers.

The les­son here? Give Ken­tucky vot­ers some 78 years ago credit for sens­ing the fu­ture great­ness in Happy Chan­dler and re-elect­ing their gover­nor-be­come-se­na­tor. For ev­ery other gover­nor who is tempted, in­clud­ing Gov. Bryant, do not un­der­es­ti­mate the vot­ers’ in­tel­li­gence; they can spot it when the fix is in.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­page at www.cre­ators.com

MARK SHIELDS SYN­DI­CATED COLUM­NIST

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