Rep. Gene Taylor (D)
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%.
Rep. Gene Taylor (D)
Elected: Oct. 1989, 10th full term.
Born: Sept. 17, 1953, New Orleans, LA .
Home: Bay St. Louis.
Education: Tulane U., B.A. 1974.
Family: Married (Margaret); 3 children.
Military career: Coast Guard Reserve, 1971–84.
Elected office: Bay St. Louis City Cncl., 1981–83; MS Senate, 1983–89.
Professional Career: Sales rep., Stone Container Corp., 1977–89.
The congressman from the 4th District is Gene Taylor, a Democrat chosen in a 1989 special election. Taylor graduated from Tulane University, where he studied political science and history, and then served in the Coast Guard Reserves as skipper of a search-and-rescue boat for 13 years. He was elected to the Bay St. Louis City Council in 1981 and in 1983, at age 30, was elected to the state Senate. In 1988, when Lott ran for the Senate, Taylor ran for his House seat and won the Democratic primary, but lost the general election to Republican Larkin Smith 55%-45%. When Smith died in an August 1989 plane crash, Lott backed his own longtime aide, Tom Anderson, who had spent little time in the district and proved to be an abrasive candidate. Taylor, combining a barely reined-in aggressiveness with a down-home manner, won the special election 65%-35%.
|Gene Taylor (D)||216,542||(75%)||($513,266)|
|John McCay (R)||73,977||(25%)||($11,141)|
|Gene Taylor (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (80%), 2004 (64%), 2002 (75%), 2000 (79%), 1998 (78%), 1996 (58%), 1994 (60%), 1992 (63%), 1990 (81%), 1989 (65%)
In the House, Taylor has been among the most conservative Democrats, especially on cultural issues, and has bluntly criticized the leadership of both parties. Taylor is a peppery populist with a reasonably consistent view on issues. He is against abortion rights, gun control, foreign aid, and federal deficits. He is strongly pro-defense and boasts of bringing defense contracts to his district. As a senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, he has participated actively in expanding health benefits for military retirees. In 2007, he became chairman of the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee, a useful assignment for his coastal district. He is an advocate of requiring the Navy to use nuclear propulsion to fuel its large surface ships, both to decrease fuel costs and to enable the ships to spend more time at sea. He supported more competition for contracts on shipbuilding, and opposed an expansion of the DDG-1000 destroyer program, a ship built in his district, saying it could bankrupt the Navy’s shipbuilding program.
Taylor has tended to oppose any U.S. military commitment that stops short of assured and total victory. He voted against the first Gulf War in 1991, lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia, and sending troops to Haiti. He won House passage of limits on forces in Colombia. Since then, he has become more willing to use military power. When faced with apparently ineffective American military involvement in Serbia in 1999, he said the United States should declare war. And in 2002, he voted for the use of force in the second Iraq conflict. Taylor is a protectionist, loudly opposing free-trade agreements for North America and Central America and opposing normalizing trade relations with China.
With his background in the Coast Guard and the geography of his district, Taylor is big on boats. He promotes Ingalls and other shipyards and succeeded in widening and deepening the Gulfport shipping channel. He protects the interests of the Merchant Marine fleet, champions the seafood industry, and wants to limit foreign-flag ships from competing with domestic shipping. With GOP Rep. Jo Ann Davis of Virginia, he organized the Shipbuilding Caucus to expand the Navy fleet. He vigorously opposed the 2005 base-closing round, and suffered a big defeat when Pascagoula Naval Station was shuttered. He has fought to give the National Guard membership in the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Katrina preoccupied Taylor for many months, both personally and politically. He lost his home in Bay St. Louis and joined a lawsuit against State Farm for unpaid claims. He added links to his website to aid constituents seeking Social Security checks and missing persons. Despite opposition from Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to a Republican-led select committee investigation, Taylor participated. At a hearing a month after the storm, he grilled former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown about the inadequate response: “I was there, and I don’t recall seeing you,” he told Brown tartly. “You get an F-minus in my book.” He filed a bill for retroactive federal compensation for homes and businesses without flood insurance. “After the storm, so many people who normally ask very little of their nation were now looking at losing everything, and they needed our help,” he said in April 2006.
Two months later, the House passed his amendment requiring the Homeland Security Department to investigate whether insurance companies had wrongly denied claims after Katrina. Over criticism from the Bush White House in September 2007, the House also passed his amendment adding wind coverage to national flood insurance, but the bill stalled in the Senate and died at the end of the 110th Congress in late 2008. Taylor reintroduced the measure in early 2009 at the opening of the new Congress. He is the sponsor of a bill that goes even further for policyholders. As part of the National Flood Insurance Program, it would allow people in coastal areas to make claims for rebuilding costs no matter what the cause of damage from a natural disaster. The bill was supported by Gov. Barbour and the entire Mississippi congressional delegation, as well as the Democratic House leadership, but it never made it out of committee.
Taylor is hardly ever a reliable Democratic vote, especially on economic matters. In 2008, he voted against the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, telling the Biloxi Sun Herald that he would not only vote no, “if there was a button that said ‘hell no,’ I’d push it.” In February 2009, he was one of only seven Democrats who voted against President Obama’s economic stimulus bill. Still, Taylor has rebuffed all importunings to switch parties. “I personally would feel like a prostitute. I still believe the average working person’s best interest is best served by the Democratic Party,” said Taylor, with his characteristically colorful choice of words. When it briefly looked like the House might have to decide the contested 2000 presidential election, he said then that he would vote for Republican Bush over Democratic nominee Al Gore to reflect the views of his constituents.
At home, he faced serious opposition only in 1996, when Republican Dennis Dollar challenged him for re-election. Taylor won with a solid 58%-40%, even as GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole was winning the district by a similar margin. If Taylor departs, Republicans would have a good chance to capture this seat. But he shows no signs of accommodating them. In 2008, he cruised to his 10th term with 75% of the vote.