In the family tradition

The Mississippian cut his legislative teeth on telcom bills

It's a cold December day in Washington, and Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) is preparing to take his five sons-ages 2 through 10-ice-skating on the Mall once he finishes his day on Capitol Hill. His wife calls and asks if he needs warmer clothes. "No, but you could ask her to find my gloves," he tells the aide who has taken the call.

"I still feel like a little kid when it snows," says the representative from Mississippi's third district, where it rarely snows. And it's obvious he's excited about taking his five boys out for the afternoon.

There are not a lot of men like Pickering in Washington anymore.

At 37, he's a young legislator, but that's not what's surprising about him. He's a true family man, who married young and speaks proudly of his large family. He is close to his extended family, which has deep roots in Mississippi and the South's new Republican party. His faith is important enough to him that he spent a year and a half representing his church as a missionary in Budapest, Hungary. And he makes his wife and children a high priority, even as he leads the busy life of a Congressman.

Pickering is the son of one of the early leaders of Mississippi's Republican party, Charles Willis Pickering Sr., once a state senator and now a federal judge. Pickering Sr. helped organize Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's first run for Congress. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour ran Pickering Sr.'s run for the Mississippi Senate. And Pickering Sr. chaired George Bush's campaign in Mississippi in 1988, a job Pickering Jr. did for George W. Bush in 2000.

His first real job out of business school in 1989 in President George Bush's administration, as an appointee to the Foreign Agriculture Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He worked there for about two years before he got an offer to work for Lott.

Once he got to the Senate, Pickering says, "I learned I would rather create and innovate, which is more consistent with the legislative branch, than to implement and administer, which the executive branch carries out."

Pickering became Lott's key staffer on the Cable Act of 1992-and met another Mississippian, NAB President Eddie Fritts. Pickering later worked on the Telecommunications Act, which was passed into law in 1996. Pickering didn't get to see the Telcom Act all the way through, however, because in 1995 an unexpected door opened.

"In Mississippi, there's a tradition of electing young men and keeping them [in Congress] for a very long time," Pickering says. "Sonny Montgomery, who represented the district I now represent, was in Congress for 30 years. When he decided to step down, there was a very real possibility that there could be a once-in-a-lifetime possibility to run for an open seat."

Pickering quit his position with Lott and went back to Mississippi to run for Congress. Barbour's nephew, Henry, managed his campaign.

"When I started running, I was the dark horse," Pickering says. "I was the youngest of nine candidates, but I had the most children: four under the age of 6. My campaign slogan was "If not your support, your sympathy."

With his wife rolling his four children around the district in a little red wagon, Pickering went on to win his primary and then his general election. Since then, his campaigns have been easier; he ran unopposed in 1998 and won with 73% of the vote last November.

His next campaign, in 2002, may not be so easy, however. With the 2000 Census finding that Mississippi's population has declined, the state is going to lose one Congressional seat. Most think the Democratic legislature will eliminate Pickering's seat, which will force a face-off with Rep. Ronnie Snows (D) in what is likely to become a Democratic-leaning district.

In the meantime, Pickering will continue his work on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He made his mark shepherding through several bills and proving his knowledge of the issues.