Thad Cochran, U.S. Senator

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William Thad Cochran

Birthplace: Pontotoc, Pontotoc, Mississippi, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Holmes Cochran and Emma Grace Berry

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Thad Cochran, U.S. Senator

William Thad Cochran (born December 7, 1937) is the senior United States Senator from Mississippi and a member of the Republican Party. First elected to the Senate in 1978, he is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and was its chairman from 2005 to 2007. Cochran is the fourth most-senior Senator and the second most-senior Republican member.

Early life

Cochran was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, the son of Emma Grace (née Berry) and William Holmes Cochran, a teacher and school principal, respectively. His family settled in Hinds County, Mississippi, home of the state capital, Jackson, in 1946 after a few moves around the northern part of the state. Cochran still lives in Jackson today. Cochran earned Eagle Scout as a youth and was awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award as an adult. He graduated valedictorian from Byram High School near Jackson and received a B.A. degree from the University of Mississippi with a major in psychology and a minor in political science in 1959. There he joined the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and was on the cheerleading squad (fellow senator Trent Lott was also an Ole Miss cheerleader). After a time in the United States Navy (1959–1961), he attended the University of Mississippi School of Law, was elected to the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and graduated in 1965. He then practiced law for seven years. He married Rose Clayton on June 6, 1964; the couple has two children, Clayton and Kate.

Cochran grew up as a Democrat, but became a Republican sometime in the mid-to-late 1960s. He served as head of Richard Nixon's Mississippi campaign in 1968.

U.S. congressional career

In 1972, Congressman Charles H. Griffin of Mississippi's 3rd congressional district decided not to run for a third full term. Cochran won the Republican nomination for the Jackson-based district, which was renumbered as Mississippi's 4th congressional district after redistricting. He defeated Democratic state senator Ellis Bodron by just under four points. A factor in Cochran's victory was the strong Republican showing in that year's presidential election. Nixon won most of the counties in the 4th by over 70 percent of the vote (Hinds County, for instance, gave him 77 percent) en route to taking 78 percent of Mississippi's popular vote. That year, Cochran and Trent Lott (who later served alongside him in the U.S. Senate) became the second and third Republicans to represent Mississippi in the House of Representatives since Reconstruction. Cochran quickly became very popular in this district, even though almost none of its living residents had been represented by a Republican before. He was handily reelected in 1974, a year in which anger over the Watergate scandal caused several Republicans to lose their seats. He was reelected by an even larger margin in 1976.

In 1978, Cochran, running for the U.S. Senate in the wake of James Eastland's decision not to run for re-election, then defeated Democrat Maurice Dantin and independent candidate Charles Evers. Evers siphoned off many African-American votes that would have otherwise gone to Dantin, allowing Cochran to win the Senate seat with a 45 percent plurality. This made him the first Republican to win a statewide election in Mississippi in a century. Eastland resigned on December 27, 1978 to give Cochran a seniority advantage over new incoming senators. Governor Cliff Finch appointed Cochran to serve the remaining week of Eastland's term.

He handily defeated Governor William Winter in 1984, was unopposed in 1990, reelected with over 70 percent of the vote in 1996 and faced no major-party opposition in 2002. He won reelection in 2008 by a wide margin over Erik Fleming; assuming Cochran completes his current term, he will pass Eastland as the second-longest serving Senator in Mississippi's history. Until 1989, Cochran served alongside Democrat John C. Stennis, the longest-serving Senator in Mississippi's history. As of 2010 he is the sixth-longest currently serving Senator, and the third longest-serving Republican.

Cochran's voting record is considered fairly moderate by Southern Republican standards. He has a lifetime rating of 80 from the American Conservative Union. In 2008, he garnered a rating of 68 from the ACU; the only Republican Senators from Southern states to score lower were Mel Martinez of Florida and John Warner of Virginia.

Generally, Cochran keeps a lower national profile than conventional wisdom would suggest for a six-term Senator. This stands in marked contrast to Eastland, Stennis and Lott. However, Cochran has considerable influence behind the scenes, especially in Mississippi. This is not surprising given his status as the "elder statesman" of the state Republican Party.

Cochran served as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference (caucus) from 1991 to 1996, and is its only former chair currently in the Senate; he chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee from 2003 to 2005. In 2005, he was appointed as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, making him the first Republican from a former Confederate state to chair the committee. He is currently that committee's ranking Republican.

It appears that recognition from his colleagues was quick in coming: In 2005, an agricultural appropriations bill proposed by the Committee Cochran chaired contained a provision (sec. 782) that said:

“The Federal facility located at the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville, Mississippi, and known as the "Southern Horticultural Laboratory", shall be known and designated as the "Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory”

In April 2006, he was selected by Time as one of "America's 10 Best Senators". He was dubbed "The Quiet Persuader" for his role in winning money for the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He managed to win "$29 billion out of his colleagues, almost double the money Bush and congressional leaders had initially pledged". Earlier, Cochran threatened to derail a defense appropriations bill unless it included funding for installations on the Gulf Coast. The article also noted that Cochran has "gained the trust of the Administration and Capitol Hill for his quiet, courtly manner... using his experience and mastery of the issues to persuade his colleagues privately rather than making demands on them in public". The magazine quoted an unnamed "senior GOP Senator" who said "He doesn't get a whole lot of play in terms of coverage, but he is effectively stubborn doing what needs to be done."

On July 18, 2006, Cochran voted, along with 19 Republican Senators, for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act to lift restrictions on federal funding for the research.

In 2005, he was one of nine senators who voted against the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which prohibited "inhumane treatment of prisoners, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay". The others, all Republicans, were Wayne Allard, Kit Bond, Tom Coburn, Jeff Sessions, Jim Inhofe, Pat Roberts, John Cornyn and Ted Stevens.

In March 2009, his former aide, Ann Copland, pled guilty to swapping legislative favors for event tickets and other gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Copland worked for Cochran for 29 years. Cochran has not been indicted for any charges in connection to Jack Abramoff.

Cochran opposed President Barack Obama's health reform legislation; he voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

In April 2010, it was reported that Cochran finished at the top of the Citizens Against Government Waste's list of congressional earmarks, having requested a total of $490 million in earmarks.

In 2012, Cochran encouraged Mississippians to prepare for the effects of Tropical Storm Isaac, saying “Taking steps now to protect people and property should help lessen the losses that might be associated with Isaac. It is important that everyone stay informed and follow emergency orders. I am confident that Mississippians have learned valuable lessons from previous storms and will work together to prepare for this newest threat, I believe Governor Bryant and others are handling emergency preparedness actions very well.”

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Thad Cochran, U.S. Senator's Timeline

December 7, 1937
Pontotoc, Pontotoc, Mississippi, United States