Wicker pledges conservative, pragmatic approach as Miss. new senator

Published 4:08 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Sen. Roger Wicker said Monday that his conservative pedigree and pragmatic approach to politics will serve him well as successor to Trent Lott in the U.S. Senate.

Wicker, a 56-year-old Republican and former congressman, was sworn in by the clerk of the Senate moments before he was introduced at a news conference in Jackson by Gov. Haley Barbour. The two attended another event in Gulfport later Monday, where the discussion would center on the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Wicker spokesman Kyle Steward said the former congressman’s Washington office had been vacated and the senator was looking for new ones on the opposite side of the Capitol.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Barbour said it was important to select a person with Lott’s “conservative values” and who would be able to work with Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, also a Republican.

“Roger Wicker clearly meets that test,” Barbour said.

Wicker will serve until a special election is held Nov. 4. Wicker said he would be a candidate in that election to serve out the remainder of Lott’s term, which runs through 2012.

“I am a mainstream conservative in the mold of Trent Lott, Thad Cochran, Haley Barbour and (U.S. Rep.) Chip Pickering and I believe the vast majority of Mississippians share this philosophy,” Wicker said at the news conference. “At the same time, I hope my constituents and colleagues view me as a pragmatic problem-solver.”

While Wicker tried to steer the news conference away from the campaign, he said he would go on a two-week tour of the state on Jan. 2 by airplane and bus before the Senate convenes Jan. 22. Wicker also said he would begin raising money.

“I would hope that by the time the Senate goes into session that I would have covered a great deal of ground around the state,” he said.

Wicker said he would be talking with consultants about organizing and financing his campaign.

Barbour said the recovery and the renewal of south Mississippi after Katrina remains the highest priority for state government. He said Wicker understands the role Congress must take on to help with that. He said Wicker did yeoman’s work as a member of the House Appropriations Committee and he would expect Wicker to do the same in the Senate.

“He knows that is a big part of his job,” Barbour said. “Just as he helped in the past, he is going to keep his foot on the accelerator.”

Wicker said that over the next two or three fiscal years, it is important for Mississippi to continue to secure federal funds for hurricane recovery.

Wicker, a native of Pontotoc in north Mississippi, said he wanted to assure coastal residents that “I intend to continue that representation with all of my energy.”

Lott said in a statement that Wicker has a working knowledge in the key areas important for Mississippi, including “protecting and providing for our military personnel and bases; legislative experience and contacts that will enable him to secure needed federal projects for our state.”

“And, coming from perhaps the most economically dynamic region of Mississippi, Roger can help all Mississippi communities secure more jobs,” Lott said.

President Bush commended Barbour for his appointment, saying in a statement that Wicker’s leadership in the House had earned him the respect of his constituents and his colleagues.

“He is an advocate for our men and women in uniform and a champion of modernizing our health care system, and he shares Sen. Lott’s commitment to promote the interests of the people of Mississippi,” Bush said.

Wicker was elected to the U.S. House in 1994 to succeed the late Rep. Jamie Whitten. He has been re-elected six times from the 1st District in north Mississippi.

Lott served 16 years in the U.S. House before moving to the Senate in 1988. Lott announced in November that he would resign before the end of the year. He resigned Dec. 19 after Congress wrapped up its work for the year.

Lott, 66, said he wants to spend more time with his family and to pursue other job opportunities, possibly teaching. He ruled out any health concerns, but said it’s time for a younger voice to represent Mississippi in the Senate.