The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Delta Caucus Mourns Passing of Sen. Thad Cochran, Distinguished Statesman and Leader for the Delta

Posted on May 30, 2019 at 02:07 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus mourns the passing of US Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, a distinguished statesman, fearless advocate for the Greater Mississippi Delta region, and towering figure for four decades in the United States Senate.

“Sen. Cochran generated a beneficial flow of federal funding to Mississippi and our region for infrastructure, agriculture, food stamps (SNAP) and other initiatives, while epitomizing the ‘Southern gentleman’ in the best sense of that phrase in his cordial, respectful attitude to everyone whether he agreed with them or not,” said Lee Powell, Caucus director. “His voice of pragmatism and civility is sorely lacking in today’s political arena.”

Caucus Director Lee Powell joined other Delta Caucus senior partners from both parties who knew Cochran in this tribute, including Wilson Golden, fellow University of Mississippi law school alumnus who knew Cochran for four decades; Ben Burkett, African American farmer and Mississippi coordinator for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives; Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville, Alabaman, Joel Berg, CEO of the national anti-hunger and poverty organization Hunger Free America, and Brad Cole, former senior aide to US Sen. Mark Kirk (Republican, Illinois), currently executive director of the Municipal League of Illinois.

“Thad Cochran worked with the Delta Caucus partners for a quarter of a century on Delta issues, spoke to our group on many occasions, and was unfailingly thoughtful and always heard us out even when we disagreed with him. In particular we should express our deep appreciation for his work in bringing large sums of federal dollars to Mississippi in the region, his support for the food stamp nutrition program in a region and era when many reactionary politicians bashed this vital program, and his bipartisan support for such economic development entities as the Delta Regional Authority,” Powell said.

“While the Delta Caucus does not make formal endorsements, it is no secret that many of our individual partners vigorously campaigned in Mississippi for Sen. Cochran in 2014, when he faced an extreme right-wing, TEA party attack from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who assaulted the many constructive programs that Cochran had brought to the state over the decades,” Powell said.

“Sen. Cochran made a bipartisan appeal to both Republicans and Democrats in that historic election, including African American voters, and we were delighted that he prevailed in that election, albeit by the narrow margin of 51% to 49%,” Powell said.

Ben Burkett, African American farmer from Mississippi and Federation of Southern Cooperatives official, said “He was one of the few political leaders who was a man of his word. If he told you he would do something, he would follow through; and if he said he would not do it, he meant what he said just as well. Whether it was the Pigford lawsuit filed by African American farmers on USDA racial discrimination or federal aid to African American farmers and small farmers in general, he always followed through and kept his promise.”

Joel Berg, CEO of the national anti-hunger and poverty organization Hunger Free America based in New York, said “We will always honor Senator Cochran’s legacy of standing up for nutrition assistance programs that aided the most vulnerable in Mississippi and nationwide. “

Wilson Golden, Clinton administration Presidential appointee who formerly practiced law in Greenville, Mississippi and currently is board member of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in Jackson, MS said “With the passing of Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, who died May 30 at age 81, the nation lost a quiet voice for reason and moderation sorely missing in today’s divisive political climate.”

Cochran’s public service began with his 1972 election to the US House of Representatives from a southwest Mississippi congressional district that extended from the state capital of Jackson to the Mississippi River counties which included Natchez extending south to the Mississippi-Louisiana border. In 1978 Cochran was elected to fill the US Senate seat previously held by Jim Eastland.

Wilson Golden said that at Cochran’s retirement in February 2018, he had achieved national recognition as an “across the aisle” leader dedicated to addressing the nation’s most urgent problems with minimal partisan bickering. He and was a leading voice for agricultural interests and Mississippi’s overall economic development throughout his career in the Congress.

Brad Cole, Executive Director of the Illinois Municipal League and former senior aide to US Sen. Mark Kirk (Republican, Illinois), said: “”Senator Cochran was a true champion for the Delta–not just Mississippi but the entire region. His leadership helped establish the Delta Regional Authority and his support over the following years was critical to the DRA’s progress. All of us lost a good friend with Thad Cocharn’s passing.”

Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville Alabama, a Republican leader in the Alabama Black Belt, said “He worked closely with Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama and leaders across the Delta and Alabama Black Belt to create and preserve the DRA. He was a true gentleman who worked hard and effectively for so many years to help rural America, and his legacy will live on.”

When President Clinton was working on the legislation creating the Delta Regional Authority in 2000, Lee Powell, Wilson Golden and other current Delta Caucus partners were then Presidential appointees in the Clinton administration and placed the highest priority on working with Cochran and his staff, knowing that the bill would not pass without bipartisan support and especially from the statesmanlike Cochran, dean of the Senate.

“Sen. Cochran gave his blessing to the creation of the DRA, and without his support it is unlikey that this constructive economic development agency for the 8-state Greater Delta Region would have ever been created,” Powell said. President Clinton and Democratic members like Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas were supporting it, but without senior Republican support—especially from Thad Cochran—the bill would never have passed.

Cochran not only played a key role in the DRA’s creation but opposed efforts in the early Bush administration to drastically slash its funding, which had originally was envisaged at $30 million but was cut by President Bush to $5 million in the early 2000s. With the support of Members of Congress, grassroots leaders, supporters of the DRA worked over the years to restore the funding to $25 million and assure its long-term, solid basis.

Sen. Cochran rose to the heights of power in the Senate, serving as Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee from 2005 to 2007 and again from 2015 until he resigned in 2018 for health reasons. He chaired the Agriculture Committee from 2003 to 2005.

Cochran was a key champion of aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina when he was Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and engineered approximately $87 billion in aid for the disaster-struck region. “We in America are generous in helping victims of disasters, and Cochran served our country well in following in that noble tradition,” Powell said.

Powell recalled that on one of the occasions when the Delta Caucus had brought a group of regional grassroots advocates to Capitol Hill for a few days of advocacy, he advised us “To make our case to the law-makers quietly but firmly, and recognize that you won’t get everything you ask for, but if you present the needs for the region and back it up with experiences from your daily lives, you will likely get at least a reasonable amount of help for the Delta.” That was wise, practical counsel.

We also recall the memorable occasion in 2008 when Sen. Cochran shared the floor with the Rev. J. Y. Trice, late African American pastor, social activist and former Mayor of Rosedale, Mississippi. When they were young men in the age of Jim Crow, Rev. Trice would not have been allowed in the same meeting hall together, but on that day they greeted each other as old colleagues and together were the key speakers for a diverse coalition from all across Mississippi and the Greater Delta Region.

Sen. Cochran’s legacy will live on as long as civility, thoughtfulness and statesmanship endure in our nation.