Candidate LeSueur repeats his claim Thompson negligent

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2004

[10/30/04]ITTA BENA In a final face-to-face session before Tuesday’s voting, Clinton B. LeSueur again accused U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., of negligence in the oversight of federal funds appropriated for Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District.

In response, Thompson challenged LeSueur to report any specific evidence of corruption he may have to law-enforcement officials.

The exchange came during a two-hour debate at Mississippi Valley State University.

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Thompson, 56, who has represented the district since 1993, told LeSueur he was “masquerading as somebody that can do something. You have not put one program on the table. You have not been able to do it. You are trying to come to get a job as congressman. You really need to get a job and get on with your life.”

It was in response to that statement that LeSueur, 35, made his accusation.

“For your information, I have a master’s degree like you, sir,” he told Thompson. “Given the opportunity, I will create jobs here in the 2nd District, and not steal it all.”

That exchange drew the most vocal reaction from the crowd, which the debate moderator, Dr. Rickey Hill, estimated at 600 to 700, including a large group of Thompson supporters front and center.

“I’m not certain what that means,” Thompson replied. “But I know most of the mayors in this district. I know most of the supervisors. I know most of the superintendents of education. I know the majority of economic-development people in this district. They are good, honest, hardworking people. And I resent the fact that you would allude that some of them are stealing the (federal grant) money. If you know any of these in this district, I challenge you to report them to the law-enforcement officials and not make those kind of accusations in a debate forum like this.”

The meeting was at least the third between the two in a debate-like format. They had both spoken at a forum in Vicksburg about a month ago, in which LeSueur had made a similar accusation.

Thompson, the Democratic nominee, defeated LeSueur, the Republican nominee, two years ago with 56 percent of the vote in the 22-county district. The Reform Party Candidate, Shawn O’Hara, 46, of Hattiesburg, also participated in Thursday’s debate.

Hill posed questions to the candidates that he said were culled by the Social Sciences department chairman, Dr. Tazinsky Lee, from ones solicited from around the district.

LeSueur repeated his claim that the district’s “No. 1 problem is the lack of accountability.” He said more federal money goes to the district than to any other in the United States, yet the district is the second-poorest in the country.

The challenger said he thought education should be a top priority in economic development, and said he supported the No Child Left Behind legislation that attempts to improve measurement of schools’ performance and has set performance standards with consequences for schools that do not meet them.

Neither candidate said he opposed NCLB, and they agreed Congress underfunded the act.

“We have a trained labor force in this district,” Thompson replied, citing comments by an executive of a car-parts manufacturer that had recently chosen to locate in the North Delta.

Thompson also, however, blamed free-trade agreements like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the Delta.

“The bill that allowed them to leave, I voted against that,” Thompson said of NAFTA.

LeSueur did not state a position on foreign trade.

Thompson said he had opposed the invasion of Iraq, and that President Bush’s strategy of pre-emption in the War on Terrorism was a mistake in the situation since it was based on faulty intelligence and was made without the backing of some other countries. LeSueur said he supported pre-emptive military action “when necessary” and that he was for as early a withdrawal as possible from Iraq after that country’s forces become able to secure their own country.

Responding to a question about whether descendants of former slaves should receive financial reparations, Thompson said the idea was worth studying. LeSueur repeated that he would instead emphasize education as the way toward progress for black people.

LeSueur added that he supported measures to help people pay for college, saying that the first bill he would introduce would propose extending the current six-month grace period for repayment of student loans to at least 12 months. He also emphasized that he thought efforts at vocational-training needed to be strengthened in the Delta.