Earlier today, Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) announced that he “will be retiring from the Senate by the end of the year.” Soon after the announcement, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) put out a statement declaring that “pursuant to Mississippi law,” he would “call a Special Election for United States Senator to be held on November 4, 2008″:
Pursuant to Mississippi law, specifically § 23-15-855 (1), of the Mississippi Code, once the resignation takes effect, I will call a Special Election for United States Senator to be held on November 4, 2008, being the regular general election day for the 2008 congressional elections.
If Lott does indeed retire by the end of 2007, as he says he wishes to do, Barbour’s proposed timing for the election might run afoul of state election law. According to the Mississippi secretary of state’s office, Barbour would have to hold the election before Nov. 2008:
While Lott sneaks in under the wire for the extended ban on lobbying Congress by retiring this year, the secretary of state’s office said Monday that state law appears to require a special election within 90 days if he does so.
Conversely, if Lott were to wait and retire in 2008, the law allows for the special election to be held the same day as the general. Of course, he would then be subject to the new two-year ban on lobbying his former colleagues, instead of the current one-year ban.
Because 2007 was a statewide election year, it “could affect how the language of the law is interpreted.” The secretary of state’s office is “checking that law to make sure the 90-day window still applies,” according to spokesman Kell Smith.
Barbour’s office, however, appears to not be concerned about the potential legal brouhaha, saying simply that the governor’s statement “speaks for itself.”
It is speculated that Lott is retiring now so that he can avoid tougher restrictions on former members of Congress’ lobbying activities, but if Lott leaves before 2007 and forces an earlier special election, he may threaten his party’s continued control of his seat:
An earlier special election would likely produce smaller turnout, which would probably benefit Democrats in an overwhelmingly GOP state with a concurrent presidential election.
Lott faces a tough decision: Sacrifice a year of cashing in on his Senate seat or potentially sacrifice his seat to his political opponents.