Sen. Thad Cochran has certainly made his mark on the state of Mississippi and his alma mater, Ole Miss, during his 40 years in the U.S. Senate. And now he’s retiring.
Cochran earned a psychology degree and then a law degree from the university, which is now home to the Thad Cochran Research Center that is part of the School of Pharmacy.
A press release from Cochran on Monday said he will officially resign April 1 due to health problems.
“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge,” Cochran said. “I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to the people of Mississippi and the Senate through the completion of the 2018 appropriations cycle, after which I will formally retire from the U.S. Senate.”
It has been a great honor to serve the people of Mississippi and our country. pic.twitter.com/IYk3qsFxKa
— Senator Thad Cochran (@SenThadCochran) March 5, 2018
Cochran, 80, was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and is the 10th-longest serving senator in American history.
The Ole Miss community had a lot to say following Republican Sen. Cochran’s resignation announcement.
Cody Smith, a second-year law student at Ole Miss, works as an extern for Gov. Phil Bryant’s office. During his undergraduate career, Smith worked on Cochran’s 2014 campaign. He said the senator’s departure is detrimental to the university.
“Sen. Cochran was always helpful to student advocates,” Smith said. “Every time a delegation would go to D.C., he would meet with them personally to hear their thoughts. Ole Miss is losing one of its biggest advocates in Washington.”
Smith said attacks on Cochran’s character drove him to get involved with the campaign.
“Sen. Cochran represents a time where you could disagree without anger and where you could disagree on issues but still find common ground to work for a better future,” Smith said. “We need more leaders in the mold of the ‘quiet persuader.’”
Senior international business and French double major Terrius Harris interned in Cochran’s office last summer.
Harris said although he worked with the assistant to the chief of staff rather than with Cochran directly, he gained invaluable knowledge about U.S. government.
“Everyday felt like a combination of ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Full House,’ as the work that was being done and subjects discussed were vital to the safety and well-being of the American people, but even among all of the seriousness of the internship, the staffers made me feel like I belonged to a family,” Harris said.
Although he said he’s saddened by Cochran’s retirement announcement, especially since it’s due to health issues, Harris is choosing to focus on the legacy Cochran will leave behind.
“As a strong leader in public service, fighting for the betterment of all men for longer than I have been alive, I admire Sen. Cochran’s dedication to Mississippi and the American people,” Harris said. “I am proud to have had the opportunity to see only a glimpse of the legacy that he will leave behind on Capitol Hill.”
Senior integrated marketing communications major Clifton Carroll was also an intern in Cochran’s D.C. office last summer.
Carroll said he met Cochran a few times during his internship and said Cochran has “done more for this state than just about anyone ever.”
“Having him as the chairman of Appropriations has been huge for Mississippi, and we cannot thank him enough for all he’s done,” Carroll said. “He will be greatly missed, and I think it will be a long time before we see someone do as much for Mississippi as he has.”
Carroll said people often describe Cochran as a gentleman, and he agrees.
“He never runs negative ads against his opponents, and he treats everyone on both sides of the aisle with respect and courtesy,” Carroll said. “I think he is the kind of man that we need to see more of in politics – someone with respect and integrity who will fight for what he believes in but also respects those that disagree.”
Adam Ganucheau, UM alumnus and political reporter with Mississippi Today, said Cochran’s retirement could launch a major game of political musical chairs.
“Maybe with the exception of 1947 and 2008, I don’t believe there’s been a wilder year, politically speaking, in Mississippi history,” Ganucheau said. “Sen. Cochran’s early retirement will tremendously shake up politics in the state, and the implications might extend into the next several years.”
Gov. Bryant is tasked with appointing someone to serve in Cochran’s seat until the special election.
“That could affect who runs for which seats not only in the federal midterms this year, but in the statewide elections next year,” Ganucheau said.
Ganucheau said there will likely be lots of national media attention focused on Mississippi, and although that can be a good thing, it’s often not.
“Depending on which Democrats may run for that seat, you’ll hear speculation about whether the state could elect its first liberal Dem in the modern political era,” Ganucheau said. “As Republicans in Washington try to stave off attacks from the right within their own party, the right Democrat could have a case to make from the left. There will be a lot of money spent in both Senate races, and I suspect there will be a lot of mud slinging.”
Ganucheau has covered various events that Cochran has attended and said he has gotten to know several of his colleagues, staffers and friends.
“I’ll say this about Sen. Cochran: Very few people – even political rivals – have negative things to say about him,” Ganucheau said. “He’s the kind of politician who truly set aside partisan differences his whole career to do what he thought was best for Mississippi.”
Ganucheau pointed out that Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, is one of Cochran’s closest friends in the Senate and the two have worked together on dozens of spending and agriculture bills.
Ganucheau said it’s important to note that Mississippi relies more on federal funds than any other state and the U.S. has a record of Mississippians controlling the federal purse.
Cochran served as Appropriations chairman from 2005 to 2007 and has served presently since 2015. Sen. John C. Stennis served as chairman between 1987 and 1989. In the House, Rep. Jamie Whitten served as chairman of House Appropriations for 14 years from 1979 to 1993.
“Losing that control over federal spending could be very bad news for Mississippi, a state that has ranked last or close to last in most key economic statistics since Reconstruction,” Ganucheau said.
This is the last year that Cochran could serve as Appropriations chairman due to term limits, but since Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah isn’t running again this year, Cochran would’ve been made Senate president tempore, according to Ganucheau.
“In addition to being third in line for the U.S. presidency, that leadership position has a lot of clout over every committee, including Appropriations,” Ganucheau said. “I suspect we’ll immediately miss having his leadership positions in the upper chamber.”