Last week, I announced I'd be retiring from the Senate when the Senate ends its current session. That'll be sometime in late December depending on when we finish appropriations bills and other pending Senate business.
My reasons are varied, but basically it's a family decision - one that I'd planned to make a few years ago, but, as many of you know, Hurricane Katrina delayed it.
As I recently listened to my pastor's sermon, he reminded us what the Bible says in the Book of Ecclesiastes, that there is a time for everything.
Though I'd heard those verses before in words and song, that day the message really spoke to me as a 66-year-old man, trying to decide just how long I should stay in public life.
And, after much prayer, I've decided this is the right time for me to retire from the Senate, to spend more time with family and to pursue other professional opportunities.
With all my heart, I thank the people of Mississippi. You've all been wonderful to me and my family. You've enabled me - a pipe fitter and school teacher's son from Pascagoula - to live the American dream, to do things I'd never thought I'd be able to do.
But, more importantly, together we've helped make Mississippi a better place. Today Mississippians have before us more economic opportunity than ever before. And, we've rebounded from the worst natural disaster in American history with grace and resilience that have impressed the nation and the world, enabling them to finally see the real Mississippi.
As I've said, Hurricane Katrina is central to timing my retirement decision. Well before the storm, my wife Tricia and I had planned to retire after my term ended in 2006. Then Katrina hit. I was stunned in more ways than one. Not only was our beloved home in Pascagoula wiped away, my plans to retire were in question, too.
I struggled with the decision of whether to run for another term last year, or retire as I had originally planned. Yet in the months following Katrina, as the magnitude of the recovery effort sank in, I just couldn't leave the Senate. Mississippians weren't quitting, and neither could I. It wasn't the season to break in a new Senator. More than ever, Mississippi needed its Senate influence to help get the unprecedented federal support for our storm recovery.
Surely, we have a long way to go in our rebuilding. But, from a legislative standpoint, I'm satisfied that Mississippi has all the major federal resources and programs we need for our ongoing renaissance. Mississippi has some of the best local, state and federal leaders we've ever had, and I'm confident they'll continue leading us in the right direction.
As for who'll be my successor, that's up to Governor Haley Barbour and the people of Mississippi. The Governor will appoint a capable Mississippian to serve as Senator before a special election takes place. I've told Governor Barbour I'll be glad to offer my advice. But, the decision as to who our next Senator will be is not mine.
My advice to Mississippians as we select a new Senator is simply this: Smaller states like Mississippi need strong Senators. With that said, there are two paths to power in the Senate - through leadership positions or through decades of seniority. For generations Mississippians have understood this, and we've followed kind of an unwritten formula whereby as one Senator had seniority, the other was building it. We'd be wise to continue that.
With Senator Cochran well positioned with seniority, our new Senator should be someone who is young, capable of staying in the Senate and pursuing either of those two paths to Senate influence.