Barbour made the announcement on the last day of the year in order to avoid a special election. But Wicker's appointment is only temporary — he will have to run for reelection in November 2008.
Wicker will be just the fifth Mississippi senator in the past 60 years, so the junior senator will arrive in the Senate chamber at the bottom of the seniority ladder, meaning he won’t have the plum committee assignments that allowed Lott to funnel billions of dollars to his home state. That means the state will rely even more heavily on senior Sen. Thad Cochran, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, to send federal aid to Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina rebuilding and the state’s ship building industry.
"I appreciate the confidence and trust you've place in me in asking me to share this responsibility," Wicker told Barbour at a Jackson, Miss., press conference, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
In Wicker, Mississippi will get a seasoned appropriator who served the past 13 years in the House. Wicker, 56, was a member of the class of 1994 that swept in the first GOP House majority in four decades. A former state senator, he has voted a conservative line in the House, but has skillfully used his Appropriations Committee perch to direct federal funds to his Oxford district, home to Ole Miss.
"He is an advocate for our men and women in uniform and a champion of modernizing our health care system, and he shares Senator Lott’s commitment to promote the interests of the people of Mississippi," President Bush said in a statement Monday afternoon.
Wicker will have plenty of work to do to live up to the standard set by Lott, who used the last year of a three-decade congressional career reviving himself and achieving the No. 2 spot in the Senate GOP hierarchy as minority whip. Lott was a strong advocate for Mississippi's defense industry, and he was one of the most adept negotiators in the Senate.
Lott may have been best known nationally for his infamous statement at the late Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday the the country may have been better off had Thurmond been elected in 1948 on a segregationist ticket. The gaffe quickly led to Lott’s downfall as majority leader, yet he completed his comeback last January when he was elected Republican whip.