It would have been easy for Trent Lott to fade into obscurity after his ignominious fall from grace in January. Lott's departure from the majority leader's post had to be humbling, coming as it did from an offhand remark that in another day and time would have caused barely a ripple.
But Lott, who never was shy and retiring, has picked up the pieces of a career that, at one point, had him in the 2008 or 2012 presidential race and gone back to the business of representing the people of Mississippi.
One of his first acts after stepping down from the majority leader's post was to take on the state's largest newspaper in the decades-old battle over construction of a pumping station for the lower Mississippi Delta.
In a letter titled “Clarion-Ledger flood plan is all wet,” Lott noted he was one of many Mississippians who find the Jackson newspaper's flood control positions to be “inconsistent.” That's because of the newspaper's continued support for flood control efforts in Jackson while opposing construction of the Yazoo Backwater Pumping Station in the Delta.
In its editorials, the Clarion-Ledger has tried to portray the pumping station as a boondoggle that would primarily benefit “wealthy planters” who would use the reduced flooding conditions to clear more land.
Lott, fellow Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Congressman Bennie Thompson, who represents the 18 Delta and part-Delta counties in the state, say that's not true — that it's the region's poorer citizens who suffer when water begins to back up from the levee gates at the mouth of the Yazoo River.
The “wealthy planters” can use their tractors to build ring levees around their homes and tool sheds — as many did in 1974 when the south Delta went under water. Poorer residents can only watch as the muddy water, snakes and other vermin wash up into their homes.
The solution proposed by the Clarion-Ledger and many environmentalists — emptying the area of its human residents — is no solution at all, according to Lott and Thompson. Nor do they think much of the newspaper's suggestion that money for the pumping station be used to build new roads in the south Delta.
“Why would one need new roads and new houses, much less job programs, in order to ride around and look at people moving out of their houses?” Thompson wrote in a letter to the newspaper.
Lott injects a note of realism in his letter. “No project by man is going to totally stop flooding in the Mississippi Delta, but we can work to minimize the loss of life and property in future floods, which is exactly what this project will do.
“Minimizing flooding is what we have done in Mississippi for more than 100 years, and we have made dramatic progress since the disastrous 1927 flood.”
Strong words from a “fallen” senator. But you can't help thinking about the irony of a senator who was pilloried for supposedly racist remarks doing battle with a powerful newspaper for those same folks.