The political world still is trying to figure out what caused U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) to announce that he will retire later this month--a full five years before his term runs out.
Timothy Noah, of Slate, notes the numerous theories that have been floated in both the mainstream and the alternative media. Those theories range from: (1) Lott is retiring because it's no fun to serve in Congress when you aren't in the majority; (2) Lott is planning to rake in big bucks as a lobbyist and wants to dodge new lobbying restrictions that take effect Jan. 1; (3) Lott is about to be exposed as having a relationship with a gay male escort.
But Noah cuts to what might be the most plausible reason for Lott's sudden desire to leave the Senate: Extortion. Someone is trying to extort the good senator? Nope, it might be the other way around.
Seems conservative Trent turned positively liberal when his beachfront home in Pascagoula, MS, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and State Farm sought to deny coverage. The mega insurer determined that Lott's home was damaged not by high winds, which were covered by his homeowner's policy, but by flooding, which was not.
Lott, who has joined in the Republican chorus to trash trial lawyers, suddenly decided trial lawyers weren't so bad--not when a corporation was trying to screw him. (What if a corporation is trying to screw you or me? Lott seems to have no problem with that. You and I are to suck it up and be "rugged individualists.")
Lott turned to his brother-in-law, mega trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs, who filed suit on Lott's behalf.
But the Trentster didn't stop there. He essentially used Congress to declare war on State Farm and the insurance industry, introducing or cosponsoring a number of bills that would have tightened the screws on insurers. Chuck Chamness, CEO of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said Lott phoned him and threatened "bringing down State Farm and the industry." A Wall Street Journal editorial writer compared Lott's campaign to "extortion."
Noah notes that the WSJ columnist probably used the term figuratively. But he indicates that knowledgeable people in the legal community wonder if Lott might have applied improper pressure on State Farm in the course of negotiating his claim. And such pressure could rise to the level of a criminal act.
A source of mine in the legal community, one who is familiar with the process of negotiating insurance claims, says it doesn't look good for Lott. "I really think that Lott is probably in huge trouble here," my source says. "This strongly appears to be extortion by a U.S. Senator, using his ability to initiate all kinds of federal legislative pressure on State Farm in an attempt to get his way in a civil claim. "
This is serious stuff, but former Mississippi Judge Wes Teel, who blogs at Gulf Coast Realist, has a very funny take on Lott and related matters. Teel was wrongly convicted in the Paul Minor case and is to report to federal prison later this month. Remarkably, his sense of humor is still intact, and his take on the Lott situation should draw more than a few chuckles.