Big Chicken in Mississippi Politics

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran is relying on the state’s biggest chicken salesman to help him win his fierce winner-take-all primary battle with State Sen. Chris McDaniel.

Joe Sanderson, the primary owner of the nation’s tied-for-third-largest chicken processor, is Cochran’s fundraising chairman, and he’s using his state-wide clout to win funds for Cochran’s campaign.

Chicken moguls have huge influence in southern agricultural states, but they don’t have the cachet of Silicon Valley’s software moguls, and they are rarely feted by the New York Times or Vogue magazine.

There’s a reason for that low status. The business of killing and processing chickens is so tough, horrible and poorly-paid that not even criminals will participate for more than a few days, said Haley Barbour, a former governor, a close ally of Sanderson and an insistent advocate for more immigration.

Working at a slaughterhouse is “nasty, dirty work where every day the [workers] come home covered in blood and guts, veins and feet and feathers,” Barbour said at an immigration-boosting event held by the Bipartisan Policy Center, an D.C-based business advocacy group.

Not even convicts in the state’s work-release program will do the job, Barbour added. “The inmates, they won’t stay two days, they’d rather be in a penitentiary than work in a chicken plant,” he said.

The conditions are so terrible that Americans won’t work in the slaughterhouses, and the companies have to hire illegals, Barbour suggested.

“You go into a chicken-processing plant anywhere in Mississippi, and if you can find somebody on the floor who speaks English, I’ll give you $100,” he said, before making a pitch for a new immigration reform that would allow companies to hire more foreign workers in place of Americans.

Barbour has a long history with Sanderson. As governor, he appointed Sanderson as one of six chairman or vice chairmen of the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In Mississippi, they’re now working together for the same cause: re-electing Cochran.