Biolab: Rep. Thompson needs to bring it on home

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2008

News that U.S. Rep. Bennie C. Thompson, D-Miss., has been working and will continue to work to bring a $60 million federal research investment to Vicksburg is welcome. In a partnership guided by Mayor Laurence Leyens, the federal Engineering Research and Development Center and Bassville-based ARES Systems Group could conduct tests of security technologies here, but there’s also a bigger fish in the pond.

Thompson has never been shy about describing his purpose in Congress, at least in part, as “bringing home the bacon” to his mostly Delta district.

From his initial election in special 1993 voting until today when he chairs the generously funded Homeland Security Committee, Thompson has steered all sorts of entitlements and initiatives to Mississippi. Included have been such strange deals as hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide free high-speed Internet access in Mayersville, population 750. In the name of national security, a lot of county supervisors in Mississippi have pristine pickups.

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Now Thompson should accept the challenge of wresting from Kansas a new $450 million federal laboratory to study livestock diseases and some of the world’s most dangerous biological threats.

Flora, a Madison County town in Thompson’s 2nd Congressional District, was a finalist in the three-year selection process conducted by the Homeland Security Department. So were sites in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

It appears Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, is taking the lead in challenging the selection of Kansas during the one-month window said to remain until the decision is final. That’s fine, but Thompson should be in the catbird’s seat with this due to his chairmanship as well as his early endorsement of President-elect Barack Obama.

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is to replace an aging 24-acre research complex on Plum Island, N.Y., where research is conducted on foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax. The investment is expected to generate about 1,500 construction jobs and a permanent payroll of $25 million to $30 million for more than 300 employees once the project is completed by 2015.

Some say using political influence to steer projects is universally bad. It can be. But when all else is equal — such as site suitability — then no one should be shocked or surprised when victors reap the spoils.

All the data indicated Flora, about 25 miles from Vicksburg, is perfectly suitable.

Re-elected in November, Thompson will start his 9th term in January. When he went to the House, his district was near the top of the list of all 435 districts in terms of unemployment, education, poor health and low-income residents. Fifteen years later, those statistics have budged very little or gotten worse.

It’s nice for the good people of Mayersville to have taxpayer-provided Internet service. It would be better to have 300 jobs and a $25 million to $30 million payroll.

That’s real bacon, Rep. Thompson. Bring it home.