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"'Man of the people' Rep. Thompson has learned how to purr"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

'Man of the people' Rep. Thompson has learned how to purr
By Charlie Mitchell
The Vicksburg (MS) Post

VICKSBURG - While in New Orleans earlier this month to view some of the
devastation, show some compassion and berate the federal response, 2nd
District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., managed to work in a little
frolic for himself.

According to The Times-Picayune newspaper, the chairman of the House
Homeland Security Committee held a fundraising dinner in the disaster area -
with admission costing $2,300 per plate for individuals not representing
political action committees. For the PAC people, the price was $5,000.
(Maybe they got an extra slice of pie.)

Thompson, former alderman and mayor of Bolton and member of the Hinds County
Board of Supervisors, was once a man of the people. But re-elected to an
eighth term from the mostly Delta 2nd Congressional District in November
2006, he has been dubbed by The Clarion-Ledger as "congressman for life" and
increasingly fits the image.

While he has proved resilient and indefatigable - possessing that rare
talent of being beloved by workaday people - he leads an increasingly
opulent life at their expense and at the expense of corporate donors.

When seeking federal office in 1993, Thompson positioned himself as a
champion of the guy who drives a pulpwood truck and the mother struggling to
keep her children off drugs and in school.

But while he may have been elected as an outsider, he's become a typical
Washington insider.

Having to raise money for campaigns - even shoo-in campaigns - is a reality
for all state and federal candidates. In the last cycle, Thompson's major
donors were two casino companies with locations in Tunica, which is in his
district. Harrah's gave $21,600 and MGM Mirage donated $14,000. Entergy,
which sells electricity in the Delta, gave $12,500, but most of the rest of
the donors in the $10,000 range were big labor or big labor PACs.

Thompson is a veteran junketeer. His trip a few years ago to the Mariannas
at the behest of confessed criminal lobbyist Jack Abramhoff to study
"working conditions" was largely ignored. That's because Thompson wasn't a
major player in the Washington game at the time. He is now.

The change came in January with his promotion from ranking member to
chairman of the Homeland Security Committee after the Democratic takeover of
the House. It moved him closer to the spotlight and got him on CNN not long
ago, deflecting questions about a "fact-finding" mission during this year's
spring break aboard an $85 million government jet with stops in Honduras,
Mexico City, Key West and the Virgin Islands.

The trip was made in the interest of national security, of course. But there
was room for spouse and family members.

In the Virgin Islands, the Thompsons stayed at Caneel Bay, a five-star
resort where the cheap rooms are $1,000 per night. Why there? Because,
Thompson told the interviewer, almost sadly, Caneel Bay was the only place
with a room.

The tab for the 13 hours of flying time came to $130,000. Again, there was a
simple explanation. Thompson conceded to CNN it sounded expensive, but
again, the mission could not have been accomplished in such a short time on
commercial flights.

As an aside, do note that Thompson and other members of Congress always feel
the need to find facts in places like Caribbean resorts. Maybe there are no
facts to be discovered in, say, Adak, Alaska, where there actually are U.S.
security installations.

Thompson did make it to one Pacific venue. The American Association of
Airport Executives reported spending $9,500 for him to visit Hawaii, one of
15 reported trips Thompson took in 2006 that was sponsored by someone other
than taxpayers.

Same old story. Get elected to get rid of the fat cats. Go to bed and wake
up the next morning in luxury ... purring.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post.

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