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Beaming when he’s the star, Thompson bails out when he’s in the background

July 28th, 2010 Comments off

There was at least one conspicuous face absent from  the bevy of public officials descending upon Greenville last week for the ribbon cutting of the new U.S. 82 bridge across the Mississippi River.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson.
MBJ reporter and video-journalist Stephen McDill pointed that out upon his return from covering the event in The Queen City.
Thompson represents the Magnolia State’s 2nd Congressional District, an area stretching from Tunica to just south of Vicksburg. He was first elected to the post in 1993.
The new Greenville bridge is the shiny new belt buckle of his constituency.
Thompson should have been there for this historic occasion.
He rarely misses an opportunity to hang out with friends in Greenville, especially when there is credit to be parceled out, and there are cameras to record the moment.
He had no trouble getting to Greenville two years ago when he announced to a grateful gathering that the federal courthouse would stay there even though rumblings were that a new courthouse would be built in Cleveland, another city in the Delta.
He also had no trouble getting to Greenville last year to announced he had obtained federal funding for area roads.
Thompson always seems to be in Greenville when he is announcing something he claims to have been the architect of.
This time, he would have had a supporting role, and that’s not his trademark. With Thompson, it’s center stage or see-you-later.
History will show that it was former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott who was the brains and political brawn behind the bridge, having inserted language into a bill as an earmark to get the money.
Tugboat captains having to navigate the tricky stretch of river are grateful; the many dents at the base of the old Humphreys bridge are proof that these were waters unfriendly to commerce.
Motorists who have had to endure a white-knuckle drive across the Humphreys bridge since 1940 are also grateful. On a clear day, driving across Humphreys is quite an experience. In inclement weather, it’s a nightmare.
Lott (not a Deltan but a Gulf Coast native) was all smiles at the ceremony.
He praised the presence of his successor, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, and even took a stealthy swipe at dignitaries who were absent.
“I appreciate the fact that you are a senator from Mississippi and that you took the time to be here,” Lott said to Wicker from the podium. “A lot of elected officials missed a great opportunity to take a bow on this great bridge.”
Maybe the new U.S. 82 bridge should be named the Chester Trent Lott Mississippi River Bridge.
Lott wasn’t perfect. But he got this one right.
Thompson, and his entourage, meanwhile, missed a wonderful opportunity to tell their grandchildren about the day the Delta got a new bridge.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

It’s good to be the king (of MDOT)

July 26th, 2010 Comments off

When Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Butch Brown was arrested around 6 last Friday morning, the security guards at the Beau Rivage had no idea who he was.

They were treating him just as they would anyone found spotted sleeping in front of a slot machine.

Apparently when given time to think, officials of the Beau thought better of charging Brown.

The charges were dropped.

While giving no reasons for their decision, Beau Rivage spokeswoman Mary Cracchiola-Spain told the Associated Press the casino considers the matter closed.

Cracchiola-Spain has not returned messages from the Mississippi Business Journal since Friday.

The fact is Brown was arrested as is the standard operating procedure for the casino under the circumstances presented the security guards.

Brown then lied publicly about the events before referring all comments to the casino.

Most people (probably 99.9 percent) wouldn’t be afforded the same opportunity of having the charges dropped.

It must be good to be the king.

MDOT Director Should Resign

July 23rd, 2010 Comments off

Today Mississippi Business Journal reporter Clay Chandler broke the news that the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation was arrested at the Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi for public drunkenness.

Larry L. “Butch” Brown Sr. didn’t just publicly embarrass himself and disgrace the state of Mississippi. He followed his misdemeanor with lying to an MBJ reporter, denying that the incident occurred.

Brown should resign. Our public officials should be held to a high standard of conduct.

Brown was appointed to his MDOT position by the three Mississippi Transportation Commissioners. He was confirmed by the state Senate in 2009. He has three years left before his term expires. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall opposed Brown’s appointment.

The three Commissioners can vote to terminate Brown at any time with a majority vote. It’s time they do that.

About Larry L. “Butch” Brown Sr.

As executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Brown has full and general supervision over administrative and technical matters relating to airport and port development, highway construction and maintenance, weight enforcement, public transit, and rail safety.

At the national level, Brown is president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

Brown is the former mayor of Natchez, serving in that position from 1992–2000. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with degrees in management and marketing, he served in the school’s department of marketing and management as an instructor for seven years. After leaving USM he continued his business ventures in the areas of transportation, warehousing, real estate, wholesaling, and the hotel trade. He has served on the Executive Board of Directors of the Mississippi Business Finance Corporation, White House Conference on Small Business, the U.S. Department of Commerce–Industry Sector Advisory Committee on Trade Policy, and was a member and former chairman of the Mississippi Louisiana Bridge Authority responsible for funding construction of the new Natchez/Mississippi River Bridge.

Awards received by Brown include the Governor’s Golden Glove; the Mississippi Volunteer of the Year Laureate; the 1996 and 2000 NLC City Cultural Diversity Award; INC. Magazine’s INC. 500 Award, which recognizes the fastest growing privately held corporations in America; and during Brown’s service as mayor, Natchez received several times the Most Livable Community Award given by the Mississippi Municipal Association.

Brown is married to the former Shields Godfrey and is the father of three children, Larry L. Jr., Coyle Sessions, and Caroline (deceased). He is a member and former deacon of the First Presbyterian Church in Natchez.

Biographical information obtained from AASHTO.

(UPDATE) Barbour, Gang of Six can’t halt Choctaws’ casino

July 20th, 2010 Comments off

(UPDATE) — In a story published on our website this morning, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says there is no legal basis for the state to block a casino proposed on Choctaw tribal land in Jones County.

To read complete story click here.

—– (FROM TUESDAY, JULY 14) —-

Without getting into the political or moral issues of gambling, I understand why Gov. Haley Barbour and so many others don’t want the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to develop a proposed casino on tribal land in Jones County.

As most of you know by now, Gov. Haley Barbour and his “Gang of Six” Republican statewide elected officials have asked the Choctaws to withdraw plans for the casino, which would have 500 to 700 slot machines. It would be a $17-million investment, employing about 250 people.

The officials sent a letter to the Choctaws’ chief, Beasley Denson.

Those signing it with Barbour were Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, Auditor Stacey Pickering, Treasurer Tate Reeves and Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell.

At the heart of the legitimate argument is the proposed casino has nothing to do with the way Mississippi has historically defined casinos as a “destination place”.

The Coast, Tunica County, Neshoba County as well as other locations along the Mississippi River fit that description, which is to provide other amenities, “such as a golf course, water park, and restaurants needed to ensure the developments are consistent with state policies,” as was stated in the letter from Barbour and the Gang of Six.

It’s a fair argument.

The problem is there appears to be no legal leg to stand on, and that’s exactly what the state House Gaming Committee said.

Democratic Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto has articulated that, saying Mississippi has no authority over whether the Choctaws move forward with the casino.

Moak says courts have upheld a gaming compact that then-Gov. Kirk Fordice signed with the Choctaws in 1992.

So, while Barbour and the Gang of Six may have one good argument in their bag, they will have to appeal to the Choctaw leadership on a different level in order to prevent legal gambling from surfacing in Jones County.

Thompson doesn’t talk about financial reform

July 15th, 2010 Comments off

A sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial regulations was sent to President Barack Obama’s desk today after a year of partisan struggles and delicate cross-party courtships that promised more and delivered less.
What is promised is that financial entities will be held to a higher degree of accountability.
Unfortunately for most banks in Mississippi, the bill could be a burden that will hurt its customers — like you and me.
In a story in the Mississippi Business Journal this week, we talked to the Mississippi Bankers Association, which is among bill opponents who are angry that the bill, if passed, would punish community banks for the bad behavior of big banks, mortgage brokers and non-bank lenders. The bill will make less credit available and increase bank costs.
Community banks are those with assets of less than $10 billion, which includes most banks in Mississippi.
Mac Deaver, MBA president, told the MBJ the bill is bad for Mississippians.
The community banks are going to get the brunt of this, and their examiners are going to examine them in a politically charged atmosphere,” Deaver said. Banks will lose money in compliance costs.
On the House side, Second Congressional District Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi voted for the bill despite the urgings of experts in his home state that his constituents will be hurt by the bill.
Despite repeated phone calls and e-mails to Thompson’s offices about the financial overhaul and the impact on Mississippians, the congressman did not respond.
In fact according to a Wall Street Journal story today, the financial overhaul will hurt American farmers.
Oh yeah, Thompson represents most of the Mississippi Delta where a large majority of Mississippi’s farmers live.
So Thompson voted for a bill that his state’s bankers, by and large, say will hurt them and a majority of their customers, and he has voted for a bill that will wreak havoc with the finances of the state’s agriculture industry.
Good move, congressman. You have managed to help pass a bill that impacts more than 40 percent of the Mississippi economy for the worst.
And you have no comment.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

That’s not journalism to me

July 14th, 2010 Comments off

Journalism gets a bad rap to me.

I hear too many times about the “Liberal Media”.

Seriously, I am not sure what that means. During the 20-plus years I have been in the business, I have not personally known anyone I have worked with who has tried to advance a political agenda simply based on their work with a media outlet.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t done, however.

But when it is done, my opinion is that those people shouldn’t be lumped into the big pile of folks that call themselves journalists.

And maybe they don’t consider themselves journalists anyway.

I was reminded of that this morning when I listened to an interview with Mississippi political strategist Jere Nash. Nash, a Democrat, along with Republican strategist Andy Taggert are often asked their opinion on the issues of the day. They both do a good job of giving fair analysis.

Unfortunately, the person interviewing Nash put him in the spot of defending the Democratic party. The interview was conducted in a manner that appealed only to an audience he admitted was overwhelmingly majority Republican.

All of that is fine. Folks that lean left, read, listen and watch one thing. Folks that lean right, read, listen and watch something else.

But when addressing the subjects of the day, people in these forms of media shouldn’t give the impression they are giving an impartial point of view.

They are not practicing journalism and are giving the rest of us a bad name who work very hard at reporting stories impartially.

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Where’s the old Haley? We need him more than ever

July 9th, 2010 Comments off

In the last several weeks, I’ve written several items that have been critical of Gov. Haley Barbour  regarding his response to the Gulf oil spill.
I’m not one of these conspiracy theorists, who are suggesting he is protecting his old oil lobbyist buddies from his days in the business.
Having said that, the continued inaction came to a head last week when beaches in Hancock County were closed as heavy oil washed ashore in Waveland and Bay St. Louis.
Before that, visitors during the Fourth of July holiday taking a trip to Ship Island didn’t see oil in the water but found thick oil on the beaches of the barrier island.
All of this after Gov. Barbour told a group of mostly native Mississippians last month that the oil tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t as bad as the media is making it out to be.
“It’s really more of a nuisance,” he said.
“Really?” I said in a blog post soon after the comments were made.
Barbour made the comments at the Mississippi in the Park event at Central Park in New York City.
In previous columns, I wrote,
Does he really believe that?
Nearly 40 percent of the Gulf of Mexico is closed to fishing and boating; oil is inundating the marshes of Louisiana and is beginning to wash ashore in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
I suppose nuisance is one way to describe it, but I suspect only folks that are trying to downplay the effect of this tragedy would use that term.
Gov. Barbour has no sense of urgency about this event and hasn’t since Day 1.
While Mississippi has not seen the devastation to environment and wildlife that Louisiana has to date, there is no guarantee those conditions will hold.
Well, conditions didn’t hold and the governor appears to be more concerned about either his future presidential aspirations or that of the Republican Party more than what is going on in Mississippi.
Otherwise, how could he be “shocked,” as he told National Public Radio, that the Coast Guard had no way to effectively coordinate hundreds of vessels deployed to fight the Gulf oil spill.
Shouldn’t he, or someone on his staff, researched the actions the Coast Guard was taking prior to its arrival off our shores?
Then, when asked whether the Deepwater Horizon disaster challenges the governor’s “small government, less regulation” ethos, Barbour said the market system is working.
But somewhere along the way, he must have decided that the oil spill is more than a nuisance.
Because last week, he announced a yearlong economic impact study to examine the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Barbour said participants will include the state College Board, Departments of Employment Security, Environmental Quality and Marine Resources, Mississippi Development Authority, the Department of Revenue and the Gulf Coast Business Council.
The $600,000 study will be funded equally by BP and anticipated grant money from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
“We need a clear grasp on how this oil spill will impact the State of Mississippi and local communities for years to come,” Barbour said in a statement. “We want a picture of exactly how this spill will effect Mississippi businesses, families and communities. This study will help as state leaders, agencies and local governments create long-term coastal restoration plans.”
Sounds good, right?
Yeah, well if he had been paying attention, something like that has already been done.
Here’s part of a story we ran nearly a month ago.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill will cost Mississippi’s coastal counties nearly $120 million in lost tourism and service industry revenues this summer season, even though the state’s beaches have not been hit by crude, say researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi.
David Butler and Edward Sayre project a 5 percent revenue loss from May through August, compared to the same period last year.
Their study, released June 14, notes that tourism has taken a large hit with non-casino hotels down 50 percent. These figures include the tourism and service sectors related to hotels, restaurants and food and beverage outlets. It does not include the losses in the seafood sectors such as shrimping.
The report said the hardest-hit segment of the coastal economy will be charter boats. Revenue is down 70 percent on average, with some down more than 90 percent. Butler and Sayre said that without additional sources of revenue there is a chance that industry will shrink significantly.
Admittedly, the study is a short-term one, but to listen to Barbour, this is something he just cooked up and that he is now on board that this oil spill could be a little bit more than a “nuisance.”
Where is the Haley Barbour that faithfully and dutifully led us effectively through the worst natural disaster in American history?
These days he seems disconnected unless it has to do with the Choctaws opening a insignificant casino.
We need the old Haley Barbour, the one that hitched up his britches and took care of Mississippi when it needed it most.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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