“The defense authorization act is one of the most consequential bills that Congress considers each year,” wrote Sen. Roger Wicker in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. “I championed several provisions in this year’s bill to advance our defense strategy and support the role that Mississippi plays in our national defense.”
Mississippi bases, guard and reserve units, and defense industries do play important roles in our national defense. These military assets also provide good jobs. Having champions in Washington is absolutely critical to their survival. Mississippi voters should consider this in upcoming elections.
In the 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005 BRAC rounds, the base closure process, the late Congressman G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery, former Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, former Congressman Gene Taylor and then Congressman Roger Wicker played significant roles in protecting Mississippi assets. More importantly, they continually supported missions, acquisitions, and physical improvements to keep these assets topnotch. Their influence on their respective chamber’s armed services and appropriations committees was invaluable.
One only has to observe the historic Maine vs. Mississippi political infighting over new Navy contracts at Bath Iron Works (now owned by General Dynamics) and Ingalls Shipbuilding (now owned by Huntington-Ingalls) to understand the importance of strong, effective congressional support. The same holds true for the many other defense industries scattered around the state.
Wicker, as chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, played a key leadership role last year in getting Congress to authorize a multi-year expansion of the Navy’s fleet to 355 ships. This will be a boon to both Mississippi and Maine in the coming years, e.g. the Navy hopes to build 10 new destroyers between the two facilities over the next four years.
With Cochran’s retirement this year and 2nd District Congressman Bennie Thompson’s tendency to cut defense spending, Wicker will be the key player on protecting and growing Mississippi military assets until other congressional leaders can emerge. 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo spent five years on the House Armed Services Committee before moving two years ago to the important House Appropriations Committee. 1st District Congressman Trent Kelly just completed his 3rd year on the same committee with good subcommittee assignments. New Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has a key position on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The 3rd District will have a brand new Congressman. Of the two Republicans in the runoff plus the Democratic and Reform nominees, only Whit Hughes has experience with protecting and growing military assets. As Deputy Director at MDA he facilitated the Mississippi Military Communities Council and worked on defense industry recruitment and expansion.
Neither of Hyde-Smith’s major challengers in the November special election to fill Cochran’s seat appears to stack up well regarding military assets. Former Congressman and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy thinks Mississippi shipyards still produce nuclear vessels (https://espyforsenate.com/statement/); they don’t. State Sen. Chris McDaniel voted “present” on the bond bill in 2017 that increased funds for projects designed to protect Mississippi bases from closure. He voted against a similar bill for Columbus AFB in 2016.
Wicker is right to highlight Mississippi’s important role in national defense. Electing champions who will fight to protect and grow our military assets will not only sustain that role but also provide good jobs to many Mississippians.