About Chester Trent Lott, Sr.
Chester Trent Lott, Sr. (born October 9, 1941), is a former United States Senator from Mississippi and has served in numerous leadership positions in the House of Representatives and the Senate. He entered Congress as one of the first of a wave of Republicans winning seats in Southern states that had been solidly Democratic for a century, rose to the position of Senate majority leader, then fell from power after praising Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist Dixiecrat presidential bid.
Lott entered Congress in 1968 as an administrative assistant to Representative William M. Colmer of Mississippi, who was also House Rules Committee Chairman. After Colmer retired, Lott won Colmer's former seat in the House of Representatives. In 1988, Lott ran for Senate to replace another retiree, Senator John Stennis and won. After Republicans took the majority in the Senate, Lott became Senate Majority Whip in 1995 and then Senate Majority Leader in 1996.
On December 20, 2002, after significant controversy following comments regarding Strom Thurmond's presidential candidacy, Lott resigned as Senate Minority Leader. In December 2007, he resigned from the Senate and became a Washington-based lobbyist. Republican Roger Wicker won the 2008 special election to replace him.
Lott serves as a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), where he focuses on issues related to energy, national security, transportation and congressional reforms. Lott is also a co-chair of BPC's Energy Project.
Lott was born in Grenada, Mississippi. His father, Chester Paul Lott, was a shipyard worker; his mother, Iona Watson, was a schoolteacher. He attended college at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where he obtained an undergraduate degree in public administration in 1963 and a law degree in 1967. He served as a field representative for Ole Miss and was president of his fraternity, Sigma Nu. Lott was also an Ole Miss cheerleader, on the same team with future U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. He married Patricia Thompson on December 27, 1964. The couple has two children: Chester Trent "Chet" Lott, Jr., and Tyler Lott.
Lott's success as a legislator was already evident in his undergraduate years at Ole Miss. Lott led the effort at the 1962 national convention of the Sigma Nu fraternity to defeat the Civil Rights era amendment proposed by the Stanford and Brown University chapters to end mandatory racial exclusion by the fraternity. Lott's side prevailed 215 to 76, and Stanford's chapter subsequently seceded from the fraternity.
House of Representatives
He served as administrative assistant to House Rules Committee chairman William M. Colmer, also of Pascagoula, from 1968 to 1972.
In 1972, Colmer, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, announced his retirement after 40 years in Congress. He endorsed Lott as his successor in Mississippi's 5th District, located in the state's southwestern tip, even though Lott ran as a Republican. Lott won handily, in large part due to Richard Nixon's landslide victory in that year's presidential election. Nixon won the 5th district with an astonishing 87 percent of the vote; it was his strongest congressional district in the entire nation.
Lott and his future Senate colleague, Thad Cochran (also elected to Congress that year), were only the second and third Republicans elected to Congress from Mississippi since Reconstruction. Lott's strong showing in the polls landed him on the powerful House Judiciary Committee as a freshman, where he voted against all three articles of impeachment drawn up against Nixon during the committee's debate. After Nixon released the infamous "smoking gun" transcripts (which proved Nixon's involvement in the Watergate cover-up), however, Lott announced that he would vote to impeach Nixon when the articles came up for debate before the full House (as did the other Republicans who voted against impeachment in committee).
Lott became very popular in his district, even though almost none of its living residents had been represented by a Republican before. As evidence, in November 1974, Lott won a second term in a blowout. Cochran was also reelected in a rout; he and Lott were the first Republicans to win a second term in Congress from the state since Reconstruction. They were among the few bright spots in a year that saw many Republicans turned out of office due to anger over Watergate. Lott was re-elected six more times without much difficulty, and even ran unopposed in 1978. In 1980, he served as Ronald Reagan's Mississippi state chairman. He served as House Minority Whip (the second-ranking Republican in the House) from 1981 to 1989; he was the first Southern Republican to hold such a high leadership position.
United States Senate
Lott ran for the Senate in 1988, after 42-year incumbent John Stennis announced he would not run for another term. He defeated Democratic 4th District Congressman Wayne Dowdy by almost eight points. He never faced another contest nearly that close. He was re-elected in 1994, 2000, and 2006 with no substantive Democratic opposition. He gave some thought to retirement for much of 2005, however, after Hurricane Katrina, he announced on January 17, 2006 that he would run for a fourth term.
He became Senate Majority Whip when the Republicans took control of the Senate in 1995, succeeding as Majority Leader in 1996 when Bob Dole resigned from the Senate to focus on his presidential campaign. As majority leader, Lott had a major role in the Senate trial following the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. After the House narrowly voted to impeach Clinton, Lott proceeded with the Senate trial in early 1999, despite criticisms that Republicans were far short of the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution to convict Clinton and remove him from office. He later agreed to a decision to suspend the proceedings after the Senate voted not to convict Clinton.
Lott generally pursued a conservative position in politics and was a noted social conservative. For instance, in 1998, Lott caused some controversy in Congress when as a guest on the Armstrong Williams television show, he equated homosexuality to alcoholism, kleptomania and sex addiction. When Williams, a conservative talk show host, asked Lott whether homosexuality was a sin, Lott simply replied, "Yes, it is." Lott's stance against homosexuality was disconcerting to many Americans, and various media outlets questioned his views.
After the 2000 elections produced a 50-50 partisan split in the Senate, Vice President Al Gore's tie-breaking vote gave the Democrats the majority from January 3 to January 20, 2001, when George W. Bush took office and Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote gave the Republicans the majority once again. Later in 2001, he became Senate Minority Leader again after Vermont senator Jim Jeffords became an independent and caucused with the Democrats, allowing them to regain the majority. He was due to become majority leader again in early 2003 after Republican gains in the November 2002 elections.
Resignation from Senate leadership
Trent Lott spoke on December 5, 2002 at the 100th birthday party of Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a long time conservative leader. Thurmond had run for President of the United States in 1948 on the Dixiecrat (or States' Rights) ticket. Lott said: "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either."
Thurmond had based his presidential campaign largely on an explicit States' Rights platform that challenged the Civil Rights Movement and later, the Civil Rights Act as illegally overturning the Separation of powers under the United States Constitution. The Washington Post reported that Lott had made similar comments about Thurmond's candidacy in a 1980 rally. Lott gave an interview with Black Entertainment Television explaining himself and repudiating Thurmond's former views.
In the wake of controversy, Lott resigned as Senate Republican Leader on December 20, 2002, effective at the start of the next session, January 3, 2003. Bill Frist of Tennessee was later elected to the leadership position. In the book Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig argues that Lott's resignation would not have occurred had it not been for the effect of Internet blogs. He says that though the story "disappear[ed] from the mainstream press within forty-eight hours", "bloggers kept researching the story" until, "[f]inally, the story broke back into the mainstream press."
After losing the Majority Leader post, Lott was less visible on the national scene, although he did break with some standard conservative positions. He battled with Bush over military base closures in his home state. He showed support for passenger rail initiatives, notably his 2006 bipartisan introduction, with Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, of legislation to provide 80 percent federal matching grants to intercity rail and guarantee adequate funding for Amtrak. On July 18, 2006, Lott voted with 19 Republican senators for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act to lift restrictions on federal funding for the research. On November 15, 2006 Lott regained a leadership position in the Senate, when he was named Minority Whip after defeating Lamar Alexander of Tennessee 24-23.
Senator John E. Sununu (R) of New Hampshire said, after Lott's election as Senate Minority Whip, "He understands the rules. He's a strong negotiator." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) said he's "the smartest legislative politician I've ever met."
2006 re-election campaign
Lott faced no Republican opposition in the race. State representative Erik R. Fleming placed first of four candidates in the June Democratic primary, but did not receive the 50 percent of the vote required to earn the party's nomination. Fleming and second-place finisher Bill Bowlin faced off in a runoff on June 27, and Fleming won with 65% of the vote. Fleming, however, was not regarded as a serious opponent, and Lott handily defeated him with 64% of the vote.
On November 26, 2007, Lott announced that he would resign his Senate seat by the end of 2007. According to CNN, his resignation was at least partly due to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which forbids lawmakers from lobbying for two years after leaving office. Those who leave by the end of 2007 are covered by the previous law, which demands a wait of only one year. In his resignation press conference, Lott said that the new law had had no influence on his decision to resign.
Lott's resignation became effective at 11:30 p.m. on December 18, 2007. On January 7, 2008 it was announced that Lott and former Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, a Democrat, opened their lobbying firm about a block from the White House.
Lott now works at the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, a "strategic advice, consulting, and lobbying" firm. He also serves on the board of directors of EADS North America.
On October 10, 2008, Lott was named Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, Dublin.
Lott is a 3rd Degree Freemason and holds the Grand Cross in The Southern Masonic Jurisdiction.
Richard Scruggs controversy
On November 29, 2007, The New York Times noted that Lott's brother-in-law, Richard Scruggs, was indicted on charges of offering a $40,000 bribe to a Mississippi state judge in a fee dispute. Scruggs represented Lott and Rep. Gene Taylor in settlements with State Farm Insurance company after the insurer refused to pay claims for the loss of their Mississippi homes in Hurricane Katrina. Lott and Taylor had pushed through federal legislation to investigate claims handling of State Farm and other insurers after Hurricane Katrina, a potential conflict of interest. On July 30, 2008, the Associated Press reported that during a deposition related to the Hurricane Katrina claims, Zach Scruggs, son of Richard Scruggs, was asked by State Farm Fire & Casualty Cos. attorney Jim Robie, "Has it been your custom and habit in prosecuting litigation to have Senator Lott contact and encourage witnesses to give false information?" Zach Scruggs responded, "I invoke my Fifth Amendment rights in response to that question." On February 14, 2009, The New York Times noted in relation to an indictment of Judge Bobby DeLaughter for taking bribes from Scruggs that federal prosecutors have said that Lott was induced by Scruggs to offer DeLaughter a federal judgeship in order to gain the judge's favor. The RichardScruggs controversy was the subject of the 2009 book Kings of Tort in 2009 by Alan Lange, and the 2010 book The Fall of the House of Zeus: The Rise and Ruin of America's Most Powerful Trial Lawyer.
Lott's memoir, entitled Herding Cats: A Life in Politics, was published in 2005. In the book, Lott spoke out on the infamous Strom Thurmond birthday party gaffe, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and about his feelings of betrayal toward the Tennessee senator, claiming "If Frist had not announced exactly when he did, as the fire was about to burn out, I would still be majority leader of the Senate today." He also described former Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota as trustworthy. He also reveals that President George W. Bush, then–Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other GOP leaders played a major role in ending his career as Senate Republican Leader.