According to the Clarion Ledger, when Jackson, Mississippi’s 90-year old zoo needed funds for a new education center, zoo officials went knocking on Rep. Bennie Thompson’s (D.-Miss.) door. And surprise, surprise — Rep. Thompson was more than happy to be of service, securing $950,000 from the 2006 Transportation Bill (H.R. 3058) for the zoo’s education center, where “officials hope to have exhibits, show films, and host lectures.”
When questioned about the appropriateness of this exchange, the zoo’s spokesman Chris Mims defended the request, saying “it’s vital that the federal government assist us in providing education help.” Representative Thompson showed equal disregard for taxpayer dollars. His chief of staff, Lanier Avant, pledged “to continue to support any enhancements that will give families a more enjoyable experience.”
Funds for the Jackson zoo helped propel Mississippi from 9th place for the amount of pork dollars received per capita to 6th place according to the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste, totaling more than $321 million in special projects for the 2006 fiscal year. No doubt, Bennie Thompson, a career politician who has spent 37 of his 58 years in elective office, had something to do with that jump. According to Charlie Mitchell of the Vicksburg Post, Thompson’s only pledge during his 1993 campaign for the House was to “bring home the bacon.” When running for reelection he stole a page out of his original playbook, saying “I’ve brought home the bacon and I need to go back and get some more.”
Unfortunately, Washington is plagued by an “everyone else is doing it” mentality. Perhaps this kind of conformity was excusable when we were 15, but we’re talking about the so-called leaders of the United States. Last time I checked, they are supposed to be the ones setting an example and saying “no” when the special interests come begging. They are supposed to be leaders, not followers.
Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee voted in favor of spending tax dollars on the Jackson Zoo (Senate Roll Call Vote #264) on October 20, 2005.