Skip to content
Change of partisan control of the...

Change of partisan control of the Senate could elevate Wicker to key chairmanship

By: Sid Salter - June 26, 2024

Sid Salter

  • Columnist Sid Salter says if the Senate flips to Republican control, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker becomes chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Perhaps better than anyone before him, the late U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis understood what Mississippi’s military infrastructure meant to the state in terms of jobs, influence and improving the daily lives of the people of the state.

In Pascagoula, the sprawling shipyard called Ingalls Shipbuilding, now a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, employs some 11,000 workers. Those workers in recent years built the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Jack H. Lucas (DGG 125) and USS Ted Stevens (DDG 128) – both technologically capable of “crisis management and power projection at sea” according to the Mississippi Development Authority.

At the height of Stennis’s power on Capitol Hill when he chaired the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee from 1969 to 1980, military installations like Naval Air Station Meridian, Columbus Air Force Base, Biloxi’s Keesler Air Force Base and the Naval Construction Battalion Center (Seabees), and Camp Shelby, the massive National Guard training facility near Hattiesburg employed some 27,800 people when the senator retired in 1988.

Stennis also used his Senate Armed Services Committee clout to steer what was in 1961 the second-largest construction project in the nation. The Mississippi Testing Facility, later renamed the Stennis Space Center, was tasked with evaluating the Saturn V rockets’ first and second-stage components that later took U.S. astronauts to the moon.

The 1961 MTF project in Hancock County brought 9,000 new jobs and an annual income of $65 million to the area. Today, the Stennis Space Center employs some 5,000 employees and has an annual economic impact of over $1 billion.

Five months from now, Americans will go to the polls to vote in federal elections to decide the presidential election between incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden, 81, and former Republican President Donald Trump, 78.

With the announcement by veteran Democratic West Virginia U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin that he won’t seek re-election from his conservative state, Republicans feel emboldened that they will pick up Manchin’s seat. From there, the political math gets increasingly favorable for the GOP in that the Dems will defend 23 of the total 34 Senate seats contested on the 2024 ballot.

Moreover, three Democratic Senate seats are in states carried by Trump in 2016 and 2024. Four more seats are in swing states won narrowly by Biden in 2020.

While the projections of Senate partisan control numbers are tight and the presidential race numbers even tighter, most political prognosticators give the GOP a solid path to taking control of the Senate away from Democrats if they can win the White House.

So how does the partisan struggle for U.S. Senate control impact Mississippi? Why does it matter?

Representing Mississippi in the Senate since 2007, senior Mississippi U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, currently is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and also a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee. Wicker also serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee.

If the Senate flips to Republican control, Wicker becomes chairman of the Armed Services Committee. How big a deal is that for Mississippi’s economy? Simply put, only Walmart employs more Mississippians than Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula. Wicker is a longtime champion of expanding the nation’s U.S. Navy and commercial maritime fleets with American-built ships.

As it did during the Stennis era, every military base in the state, Mississippi’s robust Army and Air National Guard and Reserve units, federally funded defense research enterprises, and the state’s commercial defense contracting manufacturers and the jobs they represent would benefit.

Wicker is also among the few in the Senate who served in the military. He’s a veteran of active-duty service in the U.S. Air Force and retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2004 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Stennis once famously said: “The best way to avoid war is to be fully prepared, have the tools of war in full abundance, and have them ready.”

In a guest essay for The New York Times in May, Wicker echoed that sentiment: “It is far past time to rebuild America’s military. We can avoid war by preparing for it.”

About the Author(s)
author profile image

Sid Salter

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications at Mississippi State University. Sid is a member of the Mississippi Press Association's Hall of Fame. His syndicated columns have been published in Mississippi and several national newspapers since 1978.