BROOKHAVEN, MS (WDAM) - Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant made history Wednesday when he appointed State Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to fill the senate seat that will soon be vacated by Thad Cochran.
"I can assure you there are many that could have filled this position in the United States senate," said Bryant. "They could not have replaced the great Thad Cochran, but they could do the job."
Bryant made the announcement in Hyde-Smith's hometown of Brookhaven.
"We're fortunate to have so many men and women in this state, but it fell upon me to make the decision as governor," he said. "This decision is mine and mine alone. But after it's been made, we need all Mississippians to stand with us if we are to be victorious."
The news comes on the heels of Cochran's announcement to retire on April 1 due to health reasons. Cochran, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978, became the first Republican in over 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi. He also served three terms in the House of Representatives. Cochran holds the record for the tenth-longest senator to serve in the United States.
"I congratulate Governor Bryant on his historic selection of Cindy Hyde-Smith to represent Mississippi in the United States Senate. She is a very well-qualified person whose experiences and excellent character will benefit our state in Washington," Cochran said in a statement.
Hyde-Smith will be the first female U.S. senator in Mississippi's history. The 58-year-old has been the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce commissioner since 2011.
"The honor you bestow upon me today is certainly anything I have never dreamed of or imagined," said Hyde-Smith following Bryant's announcement.
She said she was humbled by Bryant's choice to appoint her.
"And I pledge to you to serve all of our citizens with dignity, honor and respect," she said. "I'm also equally appreciative of the responsibility that I have now to the people of Mississippi to represent our state (and) our values in the United States senate."
She applauded Cochran's role in the senate calling him an "icon in her eyes."
"I want to thank him for his leadership and dedication and the service to our state," she said. "I look forward to serving in the United States Senate with Sen. Roger Wicker and members of the delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives working together as a delegation."
For 12 years, Hyde-Smith served as Mississippi state senator for District 39, making history as the first woman ever to be elected to the statewide position. Prior to becoming a Republican, she served as a Democrat in Mississippi's state senate. Drawing from her spiritual beliefs, Hyde-Smith quoted The Bible in drawing comparison to her life's plan versus God's.
"You know Jeremiah 29 (verse 11) says 'for I know the plans I have for you declares The Lord' and I am so glad he knew because I assure you I didn't know this day would come," she said. "It is amazing that it is here."
A strong supporter of farmers and ranchers, she wrote legislation during her time in the senate geared toward issues impacting those in the agriculture industry. According to Bloomberg, she received the highest grade for a "strong pro-business and fiscally conservative voting record from the Business and Industry Political Education Committee."
"As commissioner, I've already seen first-hand the benefits of Trump's administration rolling back burdensome regulations such as "Waters of the U.S.," she said. "Every farmer and rancher in this state are still celebrating that. Thank you, Jesus."
Hyde-Smith also spoke about working with President Trump during her speech.
"I'm also looking forward to working with Pres. Trump and everyone else who believes in the policies and principles that's making America great again," she said.
Throughout the course of her career, Hyde-Smith has won various awards, including but not limited to Agriculture Legislator of the Year from the Mississippi Association of Conservation Districts, Ambassador Award from the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and Outstanding Service to Small Farmers Award from Alcorn State University.
Hyde-Smith is a graduate of Copiah-Lincoln Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi. As a graduate of USM, she maintains close ties to the university through various service organizations and campus involvement.
Local politicians showed their support on Twitter following the announcement including Congressman Gregg Harper and Senator Roger Wicker. Gov. Phil Bryant also tweeted about making history.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is a Republican, took to Twitter to express his concern with Bryant's selection with Hyde-Smith in a statement.
"Today, I was troubled to learn that Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant dutifully followed the orders of the Washington establishment's Mitch McConnell by appointing Cindy Hyde-Smith to fill the temporary vacancy created by Senator Thad Cochran's retirement," McDaniel said in a press release.
He went on to say that instead of "unifying around my candidacy, and beating the Democrats, the establishment is once again going to waste millions of dollars of donors' money over what should have been a safe Republican seat in Mississippi."
"Fortunately, Mississippi Republicans now know what happens when the establishment tries to handpick their representatives for them – we end up losing seats and wasting money," he said. "The fact is, the DC establishment would rather let a Democrat have the seat than let a conservative win."
In November, Mississippi will have a special election on Election Day to fill the rest of Cochran's term that expires in 2020. If Hyde-Smith plans to run to fill the seat permanently, she will enter a three-way race between McDaniel and former U.S. Rep. Mike Espy. Since the election will not have a primary, whoever succeeds as the top two finishers will advance to a runoff.