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Mr. President, we need hope, help from you

By By Sid Salter / guest columnist
Aug. 7, 2002
Hail to the Chief? Hail, yes!
Welcome to Mississippi, Mr. President. We're glad to have you with us. It's an honor, sir. It's not often that we get presidential visits down here.
For years, Mississippi was lucky if Air Force One touched down at the Jackson International Airport any longer than it took to refuel or to hold a hasty press conference for the benefit of the TV cameras.
Here to raise money for Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering's campaign? That's what a U.S. president does when the balance of power in Congress is thin and he sees a chance to help a member of his own party raise campaign cash.
Contrasts in Madison County
Madison County is an interesting venue for a presidential nod. Nissan is constructing a gargantuan manufacturing plant there that is well on the way to changing the face of central Mississippi. The county features both extremes that can be found in the Magnolia State glittering wealth in the southern part of the county and withering poverty in the northern, western and eastern sections.
You'll see the obvious prosperity in the city of Madison. What you won't see is the appalling squalor that exists in some areas near Canton, Camden and Flora.
As Mississippians, we are so proud of the changes that we have made in our state over the last three decades. Racial reconciliation is an evolving reality that gets better by the day and public education remains the cornerstone of those gains. We can't retreat from that.
Poverty and insularity aren't as visible these days, but when you step to the microphones at the modern, gleaming Madison Central High School this morning you'll still be standing in the poorest state in the union. Over 425,000 Mississippians remain functionally illiterate. That's a disgrace.
There are many in Mississippi who fear that the perceived lack of commitment to early childhood education funding by your administration leaves too many of our children permanently behind.
And vouchers? Vouchers are a great idea in prosperous Madison. But in small rural locales like Drew, Sebastopol and Mound Bayou, it's a recipe for disaster for the poorest and most vulnerable among Mississippi children unless a transportation component is developed.
Federal dollars are vital
The Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Ingall's Shipyard in Pascagoula, the military bases at Gulfport, Meridian and Columbus all remain vital to our state. We need your support to keep federal dollars flowing to these programs and federal installations. Can you, will you help us?
Like the majority of states, Mississippi is experiencing a Medicaid crisis. Despite record gains in providing public healthcare to the poorest citizens, the disabled and the aged, many Mississippians still languish in need of proper medical attention.
The majority of Mississippians gave you their vote in 2000 and appear ready to repeat that commitment in 2004. Since 1968, Mississippi has voted majority Democrat in only one presidential race Jimmy Carter's in 76.
Your approval ratings here mirror or exceed those in the rest of the country in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities and the ensuing war on terrorism. Since your father's campaigns, Mississippi has consistently been Bush country.
Our state continues to need your help, Mr. President. And like the rest of a nation made wary by murderous acts of terrorism and the financial misdeeds of a few corporate criminals, we need hope and reassurance from you as well.
That's a lot to ask from a morning's work. But then again, you're the chief.