All of the national political attention in Mississippi of late has been on the increasingly vicious Republican Senate primary. It’s the general election, though, that threatens to resurrect the political scandal that six years ago boomeranged from the top echelon of Mississippi society to the highest levels of Washington, D.C.
Preparing for the possibility that six-term senator Thad Cochran’s tea-party-backed challenger, Chris McDaniel, beats him in the state’s June 3 primary, Democrats sought to recruit a potentially formidable Democratic candidate. Cochran, though vulnerable in a primary, has a virtual lock on the seat in a general election. It is McDaniel, more untested and more ideological, that Democrats believe they have a chance to defeat if he’s nominated.
Democrats have tapped former representative Travis Childers, a Blue Dog Democrat who boasts
on his campaign website about his “pro-gun voting record” and what the National Right to Life deemed his “exemplary pro-life record.” They hope he has the chance to face McDaniel and become the next Joe Donnelly, winning a surprise victory as his insurgent opponent implodes in the general election.
If the general election is competitive, it may unearth once again one of Mississippi’s most sordid political scandals. That’s because, while Childers hasn’t proved much of a fundraiser, of the $41,600 he’s raised from individual donors since announcing his candidacy in February, 75 percent comes from relatives of the disgraced Mississippi lawyer Joey Langston. That would change, of course, if Cochran loses the primary, when more donations would surely pour into Childers’s coffers, but the support of the Langston family has to this point propped up the Democrat’s campaign.
While Washington buzzes with talk of the Koch brothers’ buying elections, in Mississippi, a senatorial campaign is being bankrolled by, quite literally, the members of a single family, one whose patriarch fell from the heights of power in 2008 to find himself not only disbarred, but behind bars.
Joey Langston made the mistake of getting caught up with Dickie Scruggs, who was for a time perhaps the most powerful lawyer in the South, if not the country, and who was convicted in 2008 of conspiring to bribe judges for rulings in his favor. Several of his friends and associates were convicted along with him in a series of events that rocked the legal and political communities in Mississippi and Washington.
Scruggs made a name for himself nationally as the plaintiff’s attorney who forced four tobacco giants into a record $246 billion settlement and wrenched millions from asbestos and insurance companies in a national class-action lawsuit. His conviction reverberated in Washington because Scruggs’s brother-in-law is former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, and Scruggs had talked of using his connection to Lott to help a local judge secure a federal appointment in exchange for a favorable ruling.
Langston, who made his money as a defense attorney, initially represented Scruggs in the case — that is, until he withdrew as counsel and pleaded guilty, just days later, to conspiring to bribe a judge on Scruggs’s behalf.