Knowing when the time is rightUnlike many of my conservative brethren, I'm not a big fan of mandatory term limits for non-executive offices. When members of the legislature are forcibly term limited, it has the effect of punishing the good people along with the bad apples. In addition to forcing out the people who don't need to be there, mandatory term limits also cause the men and women who are the decent and experienced guides for younger public servants out of office. In jurisdictions where term limits have already become law the results have often proven to be chaotic. Legislators who have only been in office four years or less will often find themselves in senior leadership posts because everyone is limited to eight years in office. Without more experienced hands to help guide the ship of state, legislative bodies with forced term limits often become a slightly more aged version of Romper Room.
Aside from the lack of experience being the major problem with term limits, the long-serving politicos who hang around State capitols and city halls for no other reason but that they think we can't function without them (the ones who really need to go) find ways around the law anyway. When their terms are up, they keep running for other things and often manage to get elected.
One of the marks of a real statesman-as opposed to a mere politician-is that they don't need special laws to prod them, or even the voters to defeat them to know when the right time is for them to leave the arena. If you are a real statesman you just know instinctively when the time is right for you to say goodbye. Yesterday Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi decided the time had come for him to leave the political stage.
We went to First Baptist Church recently in Jackson. I must say, we were up there and we went to First Baptist Jackson and the pastor there, Stan Buckley, just happened to preach on Ecclesiastes 3:1.
"There's a time for everything and everything – a special time for everything under heaven," I believe that's the paraphrase, but he just seemed to be speaking to me and to us.
We've had this great experience for these 35 years, but we do think that there is time left for us to maybe do something else. We had 30 members of our family for Thanksgiving dinner, children, grandchildren, cousins, and aunts and uncles, and I just realized once again I've missed a lot of those opportunities to spend extra time with family. We'd like to have a little more time to do that, too.
Lott hit the nail on the head about the need for young leaders who believe in the South being willing to give of themselves to public service.
But I do think that it's time for Mississippi to elect a new person, a younger person. We have had a very good history in Mississippi of electing young people to office, usually in their forties, and them staying there 20, 30, 40 years. It’s served us well.
The time to hang it up is different for everyone, but the good people know when the time is right for them. I haven't always seen eye-to-eye with Senator Lott (most of my disagreements with him had to do with immigration policy), but he has been one of the strongest advocates for States' Rights in the Senate and the House over the years. I believe he was railroaded in 2002 when he was run out of his Senate Leadership post after saying some nice things to the Old Man at the Old Man's 100th birthday party. Everyone knew he didn't mean anything racist, hateful, or otherwise malignant by his words. Those of us who had a little knowledge of what was going on believed this was all a convenient way for Lott's enemies in the Party to try and be rid of him. I supported Trent Lott when he ran for Senate Minority Whip last year even though my own Senator was running against him. I had no problem whatsoever with Lamar Alexander as Whip (and still wouldn't) but I wanted to see Trent Lott get some vindication-and he certainly got it.
Lott obviously didn't appreciate how he was treated by the President back then:
Lott later wrote in a book - "Herding Cats: A Life in Politics" - that President Bush hurt his feelings by disavowing the comments in a tone that was "devastating ... booming and nasty.
Even more devastating to Trent Lott was how the Bush Administration handled Hurricane Katrina.
Another event during Lott's exile changed his relationship with the White House: Hurricane Katrina. The massive storm devastated Lott's home state, not to mention his oceanside home in Pascagoula. He found his refrigerator a few blocks away in a neighbor's yard. For him, the administration's bungled response was personal. He considered retiring.
Trent Lott understands that you can't change what you do not acknowledge, and that sometimes those in your own party need to be told-however mildly-when they aren't doing things right. Lott's strength of character is something rarely seen among today's leaders. We may never know all of the personal circumstances that led to Senator Lott's decision to retire from the Senate at the end of the year-well before his term is up-but we can say that he left when he knew the time was right.