Mississippi 4th District
Coastal Mississippi along the Gulf of Mexico has gone through several transformations in its history. French explorers founded Biloxi in 1699, before New Orleans or St. Louis, and made it the capital of an empire extending to what is now Yellowstone National Park. Two hundred years later, rich people from New Orleans came to this section of the Gulf Coast in summer to get away from yellow fever and to rest on Victorian verandas. Six American presidents have vacationed here, and Pascagoula is the birthplace of the original beach bum, singer Jimmy Buffett. More recently, the Gulf Coast grew more than any other major part of Mississippi. Along much of the shoreline, new 1,000-room hotels rose as part of the boom, and about 50,000 jobs were created. There is also a military flavor to the Gulf Coast. Biloxi’s Keesler Air Force Base was once one of the four largest in the country. Pascagoula is home to more than 12,000 employees at Ingalls Shipyard, whose gray, hangarlike buildings and skeletons of ships under construction loom over the landscape. The Pentagon’s 2005 base-closing actions hit hard here. Pascagoula Naval Station was closed, with its equipment and personnel shifted to Mayport, Fla. Keesler was scheduled to shrink by about 400 military jobs, but new plans suggest the base will actually expand by a few hundred. It is also bidding to host a new cyber-command center, which would bring thousands of high-technology jobs to the region,
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The blow from the base closing, though severe, was trifling compared to the direct hit that the coastal communities took from Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. From Waveland to Pascagoula, about 80 miles were obliterated: beachfront cottages, fishing villages, hotel casinos, oil-drilling platforms, and refineries all were either cruelly swamped or swept away. Status meant nothing. The homes of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Biloxi and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., in Pascagoula were destroyed. The eye of the monster storm passed over the area, and the devastation was, if anything, worse than that from the collapsed levees of New Orleans. In an instant, the storm ruined countless livelihoods, caused losses in the tens of billions of dollars, and laid waste to a way of life.
If there was a saving grace, many of these communities were left with a clean slate to restart development, with more control over the building of high-rises and strip malls that had started to overwhelm more-distinctive properties. With more organization and speed than in Louisiana, the state’s officials planned for the future and quickly spent insurance proceeds and the money available from Washington. It helped to have Haley Barbour, a well-connected national Republican insider, as governor and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Even while the cleanup continued, important decisions were made, especially in Biloxi. Condominium projects were more carefully managed; shrimp boaters got docks for their boats and places to sell their catch; casinos were permitted to be built on land, instead of the barges they were restricted to in the past. In Pascagoula, five new buildings were planned for the site of the naval station, and the state planned to use recovery funds to open a shipbuilding school.
This is the heart of the 4th Congressional District of Mississippi. Prior to Katrina, half of its people lived on the Gulf Coast. The rest were inland, in farm counties or around Hattiesburg and Laurel. This was mostly scrubland, not much good for plantations. With its low African-American percentage of the population, the district has been prime Republican territory. In close to its current form, it gave Republican President Richard Nixon his highest percentage in all 435 districts in 1972; it voted five times against fellow Southerners Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore, and it was represented for 16 years in the House by Lott, until he was elected to the Senate in 1988. In 2008, the district gave GOP presidential nominee John McCain his highest percentage in the Magnolia State, 67%, to Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s 32%.