Could Gov. Phil Bryant appoint himself to the U.S. Senate if Sen. Thad Cochran steps down? That’s a favorite theory among some political operatives in Jackson and Washington, D.C.
The extremely rare political shift has occurred just nine times in U.S. history and never in Mississippi, and there’s a significant wrinkle in the process that could give Bryant pause about filling the seat.
If Cochran steps down later this year — as some in Washington and Jackson have predicted — Bryant by law must appoint someone to temporarily fill Cochran’s seat in Washington.
Bryant could appoint himself but that might not be looked on favorably by some voters. Instead, he could resign as governor, meaning Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves would move to the governor’s seat. Reeves, in turn, could appoint Bryant — who would be, at that point, a regular citizen — as U.S. senator.
Whomever is appointed would serve temporarily until a November 2018 special election. The winner of that special election would then serve the remainder of Cochran’s Senate term, which runs through 2020.
Though unprecedented in Mississippi, the move has occurred in several states, including in states with the same constitutional process as Mississippi.
The most recent occurred in December 1976, when Sen. Walter Mondale was elected vice president on the Jimmy Carter ticket. Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson appointed himself to the seat and eventually lost in a 1978 election.
All but one of the nine governors in U.S. history to appoint themselves to the Senate lost the subsequent Senate election — something Bryant would likely take into consideration.
Here’s the list of all nine governors who appointed themselves, compiled from the U.S. Senate website:
• Montana, 1933 — Sen. Thomas Walsh, a Democrat, died. Gov. John Erickson, a Democrat, appointed himself to the seat and lost in a 1934 primary.
• Kentucky, 1939 — Sen. Marvel Logan, a Democrat, died. Gov. Albert “Happy” Chandler, a Democrat, appointed himself to the seat and won elections in 1940 and 1942.
• Nevada, 1945 — Sen. James Scrugham, a Democrat, died. Gov. Edward Carville, a Democrat, appointed himself to the seat and lost in a 1946 primary.
• Idaho, 1945 — Sen. John Thomas, a Republican, died. Gov. Charles Gossett, a Democrat, appointed himself to the seat and lost in a 1946 primary.
• Wyoming, 1961 — Sen.-elect Keith Thomson, a Republican, died. Gov. John J. Hickey, a Democrat, appointed himself to the seat and lost in a 1962 election.
• New Mexico, 1962 — Sen. Dennis Chavez, a Democrat, died. Gov. Edwin Mechem, a Republican, appointed himself to the seat and lost in a 1964 election.
• Oklahoma, 1963 — Sen. Robert Kerr, a Democrat, died. Gov. J. Howard Edmondson, a Democrat, appointed himself to the seat and lost in a 1964 primary.
• South Carolina, 1965 — Sen. Olin Johnston, a Democrat, died. Gov. Donald Russell, a Democrat, appointed himself to the seat and lost in a 1966 primary.
• Minnesota, 1976 — Sen. Walter Mondale, a Democrat, was elected vice president. Gov. Wendell Anderson, a Democrat, appointed himself to the seat and lost in a 1978 election.
Editor’s note: The original version of this story stated that the state constitution bans Gov. Bryant from appointing himself to the U.S. Senate. The story has been edited to reflect that there is no language in the U.S. Constitution, state constitution, or state code that would forbid Bryant from appointing himself.