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"In new term, Congressman Thompson will have clout to fix security flaws"



Thursday, November 2, 2006

Opinion
In new term, Thompson will have clout to fix flaws
By Charlie Mitchell
The Vicksburg (MS) Post


VICKSBURG - When the new Congress convenes in January, a Mississippian
stands to be chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

In that role, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the former mayor of Bolton
(population 650), will have the safety of every American against
international terrorism and domestic disaster as his direct responsibility.
Big step? Yes.

Is Thompson ready? The answer to that is yes, too.

The seven-term congressman took a bit of grief when he changed his
legislative specialty four years ago from service on the House panel on
agriculture - the dominant activity in his Delta district - to national
security. But it is clear he has taken the duty seriously.

The House committee, in companion with the Senate, makes every rule and
decides how to allocate every penny spent on keeping the nation safe from
attack as well as prepared for natural or industrial calamities.

As a Democrat, Thompson has been serving as ranking minority member of the
committee. No matter how good his ideas, Republicans could thwart them.
When, as predicted, Democrats pick up the 15 seats on Nov. 7 needed to gain
control of the chamber, he'll move to chairman and have the votes he needs.

In the daily press, poll after poll and pundit after pundit says the "failed
effort in Iraq" plus myriad topical events will lead to big gains for
Democrats.

No doubt such issues are in play. But history is also a big part of this
picture: In 33 of the 36 midterm elections since 1862, the political party
of whomever was president lost seats in Congress.

Not to take away from the success Republicans have had as flubber-bumblers
in recent months, consider this: Voting on Nov. 7 will be the 10th time
since 1900 that midterms have been in the sixth year of a presidency.
According to Congressional Quarterly, the president's party has lost an
average of 33 seats the previous nine times.

Some of the larger losses were chalked up by Democrat Franklin Roosevelt
(The opposition gained 71 seats in 1938) and Republican Dwight Eisenhower
(The opposition picked up 47 seats in 1958).

Halfway through Democrat Bill Clinton's first term, Republicans picked up 54
seats - just in the House - and while Republicans lost four House seats in
the 1998 midterms, they have held the majority since that blowout in 1994.

The numbers tell the real story. Voters become fed up with whichever party
is running the show - and turn the tide. We keep hearing about Bush being
disliked, but consider this: The same Gallup poll that put the president's
public approval rating at 37 percent last week put the public's score for
Congress at 24 percent.

As ranking minority on Homeland Security, it has fallen to Thompson and
committee staffers to become especially vigilant in pointing out
shortcomings of the Republican majority, including President Bush, whom
Thompson called a "warmonger" last week.

In speeches and otherwise, Thompson has explained that continuing lapses in
airport security and in inspection of cargo arriving at American ports have
left the nation vulnerable. He has been complimentary at times. But on
topics such as intercepts of international phone calls and detention of
terror suspects, he has said the Republicans aren't doing it right.

He showed this same doggedness after Katrina. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency is a department within the Homeland Security umbrella and
Thompson has been vigilant in pointing out FEMA waste, its sluggish response
to people in need and, most of all, in pleading for hearings on no-bid
contracts.

On Election Day, Thompson has to defeat Tchula Mayor Yvonne Brown. When he
does, she'll be the fifth Republican he's trounced.

Then, as his eighth term begins in January, he'll have the clout to set
aright everything that's amiss in national security and in FEMA operations.
And we can all breathe easier.

That is how all this works, isn't it?

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