Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Yes, Roger Wicker is Still Around

The political action this summer has mainly been focused on the Senate race for the seat currently held by Thad Cochran. Now, can you recall the name of our other U.S. senator without using technology for assistance?

To help us out, that person is Roger Wicker. He has served in the United States Senate since 2007 (he was appointed by Governor Haley Barbour after Senator Trent Lott's ended his public service to become a well-paid lobbyist), following his service in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1995. Before that, he served in the state legislature.

I wrote about some of Wicker's fundraising methods in a previous post.

This is Roger Wicker.
Last week, the historic Republican class of 1994 reconvened in Washington, DC, for the 20th anniversary celebration of their rise to power. Here is a line from an article about the event that caught my eye:
It was moderated by fellow classmate and current Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who got a round of applause at the start of the event when he lauded the absence of the press so “we can say what we really think!”
I imagine there were a lot of stunned faces of former members who looked at Wicker and thought to themselves "Well, I never thought that guy would make it here this long."

Yes, after 20 long years in Washington, Roger Wicker is still around. Doing what we cannot say because Wicker, apparently, does not like telling the truth to the press.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Best Government Money Can Buy

The state of Mississippi is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at what it likes to call, “economic development.” Results are mixed, as Mississippi recently boasted the second highest unemployment rate in the nation while our poverty rate ticks upward. 

But someone is clearly benefiting from the state’s largesse. His name is John Correnti – and to no one's surprise, he’s a huge Republican contributor!

Correnti has been at the center of the mystery as to how Mississippi Silicon – a company that did not exist a few weeks before – wound up landing $25 million in state and local incentives.

According to FollowtheMoney.org, Correnti and his wife, Dawn, have given more than $100,000 to Mississippi politicians. Correnti’s companies have kicked in another $76,000 in political contributions. In return, Correnti and his companies have gotten over $200 million in state and local incentives. That's not a bad return on investment.

It's not just to the state’s Republican bigwigs – former Gov. Haley Barbour, Gov. Phil Bryant, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, and U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee – who have benefited. Substantial sums have also have gone to the state legislative and Congressional delegations. Each has been responsible for substantial funding opportunities for a bevy of Correnti projects – all of which financially benefited Correnti personally, or his companies. A search of Correnti and his companies on FollowtheMoney.org is illuminating:

  • Haley Barbour received $14,000 from Correnti in personal contributions. In 2011, Barbour ushered in legislation that gave Correnti’s SeverCorr – now Severstal Columbus – $85 million in local and state support. That’s just the tip of financial giving. Barbour received another $28,250 from companies associated with Correnti.
  • Phil Bryant received $5,000 from the Correntis. Companies associated with Correnti have been even more generous to Bryant over the course of his career, handing over $24,500. It is no coincidence that Bryant has been a public supporter of Correnti’s latest project: Mississippi Silicon, currently under construction in Tishomingo County. In fact, Correnti’s partner in the project, Ricardo Vicintin, President and CEO of Brazil’s Rima Industrial, credited Bryant with bringing Rima to Mississippi, something which happened only after Bryant took a junket to Brazil with the Mississippi Development Authority. As we have previously noted, Rima Industrial is currently under indictment in a Brazilian court for:
"falsification, counterfeiting (material and ideological) of financial documentation unlawfully used in the transportation and marketing of charcoal, in such manner that all the coal produced from illegal deforestation, and extracted from native forest, was transported and marketed as if it were originating from planted forest with the knowledge and support of the directors and managers of steel industry beneficiaries" as well as "the practice of environmental crimes, crimes against the public trust, money laundering and conspiracy to commit crimes."

  • Alan Nunnelee appears to have been a Correnti favorite, receiving $36,400 from Correnti and his wife dating back to his time in the state legislature. Nunnelee is currently sponsoring legislation that will allow the Tennessee Valley Authority to hand over to Yellow Creek Port 172 aces of federally-owned land. Correnti’s newest project, Mississippi Silicon, is adjacent to Yellow Creek Port. Sen. Thad Cochran introduced similar legislation in the Senate earlier this year.
  • Roger Wicker, who served in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2007 before taking his seat in the U.S. Senate, received a mere $4,500 from Correnti. He also received $7,500 from Navistar. Correnti has sat on that company’s board since 1994.
State legislators, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, former state Sen. Charlie Ross, and the late state Sen. Terry Brown have been on the receiving end of the Correnti’s giving. In total, the four received $22,000 to help pursue their political aspirations.

  • Terry Brown, the former president pro tempore of the state senate, benefited from $10,000 in Correnti money. The Columbus native represented Lowndes County, the site of a much ballyhooed – but failed – 2011 Correnti project. The promised silicon metal purification and production facilities would have created an estimated 950 jobs. It was to be funded in part with a $75 million incentive package approved by the state legislature, along with $19 million in financial incentives from Lowndes County. A previous project, Severstal Columbus LLC, formerly known as SeverCorr Corporation, which, coincidentally donated $1,000 to Brown. The plant was successfully built by a team of entrepreneurs, including Correnti. It cost a reported $980 million to build and employs about 550 people. It was purchased in 2008 by Russian steel giant Severstal.
  • Charlie Ross, who served in the state legislature until 2007 and ran unsuccessful campaigns for U.S. Congress and lieutenant governor, received $9,000 from Correnti and his wife. He got another $6,250 from Nucor – a former Correnti company, and $1,000 from Severcorr.
  • Tate Reeves, who served as state treasurer before being elected lieutenant governor in 2011, only received $3,000 from Correnti. He got another $18,500 from companies who are or have been associated with Correnti.
But while Corretti’s generosity has helped his political allies – as well as his balance sheet – it hasn’t always paid off for those who hoped to benefit from his often-grandiose schemes.

In 2008, he broke ground on a steel rebar plant in Amory. That facility, which had promised hundreds of jobs, failed to materialize and left taxpayers there to foot the bill.

He later announced a silicon metal production facility in Lowndes County. That project ultimately became Mississippi Silicon in Tishomingo County, but not before the Mississippi Development Authority was on the hook for reimbursing Lowndes County $238,000 it spent trying to lure the Correnti project to Columbus.

As noted at the start of this article, Correnti and his companies have gotten a remarkable return on the investment they have made in Mississippi politicians. Truth is, they have done this in a number of states. For Correnti’s it’s not personal – it’s business. Perhaps we should not blame him for knowing how to leverage a few thousand of his own dollars, in return for millions of our own. And it is our own. Those are our tax dollars we send to Jackson, expecting they will be spent in good faith. 


The millions the state of Mississippi has given to Correnti and his companies have come out of our tax dollars. It’s our money, which could have gone to investments in education; expand health coverage to hundreds of thousands of Mississippians, or any one of hundreds of other more worthy efforts. The fault lies with our elected leadership. They are the ones that rewarded their political friends with our money.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

More Evidence That Phil Bryant Isn't Working

Reports out this week show that Mississippi's economy under Governor Phil Bryant's tenure continues to underperform.

The numbers show that not only does Mississippi have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country (currently at 7.9 percent) but payrolls are falling across the state which tells us that employers are not creating jobs; they're eliminating them. A popular refrain of "tell the bums to go out and get a job" does not carry any water. What this says is that there simply aren't jobs available in many areas of the state. While the national unemployment rate continues to tick downward, Mississippi's rate continues to remain high.

On top of these depressing statistics, another report paints a startling picture about the state of poverty in Mississippi. Our poverty rate stands at 22.5 percent, which means that nearly one in four Mississippi makes under $18,000 per year. Yet, Phil Bryant and the Republicans continue to do nothing to address this crisis. Not a single bill has reached Bryant's desk which would allow for tax credits to be issued to help lift Mississippians out of poverty or for Medicaid to be expanded across the state. These two policy proposals would work wonders in helping the quality of life in Mississippi, but Phil Bryant continues to say no.

If you were to ask Phil Bryant how he feels about the state of Mississippi's economy, he'd likely tell you that things couldn't be better. While Phil Bryant strikes deals with shady businessmen at the taxpayers' expense, nearly 100,000 Mississippians are still out of work. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of Mississippians cannot obtain health insurance because Phil Bryant and the Republicans don't care whether Mississippians have health insurance or not.

For all his talk about economic development, Phil Bryant's ideas are not working, and the numbers back that up. Bryant is out of time and out of excuses. As Bryant reminds us, this is the Republican Party he's fighting for.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This Government Brought To You By Rima Industrial and Mississippi Silicon, Part II

At a January ground-breaking for Mississippi Silicon’s new production facility, Ricardo Vicintin, President and CEO of Rima Industrial, said “Rima considered many locations around the world for the new facility and we greatly appreciate the support and enthusiasm shown by the citizens and government leaders in Mississippi.” In getting $25 million in exchange for creating 200 jobs, perhaps Vicintin should have been appreciative.

We know this to be true: Rima Industrial had already shopped numerous sites across the United States and elsewhere looking for the best deal they could get. Also known to be true is that Vicintin is an indicted felon in Brazil, has a racketeering charge pending in federal court, and has been sued for attempting to evade US anti-dumping laws by importing silicon metal from Brazil to the United States at unfairly low prices.

What was not known previously was that the entire deal seems to have come together all around a secretive junket to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. We cannot confirm whether Governor Phil Bryant enjoyed long strolls along Copacabana beach or with whom he met with on the trip. The Mississippi Development Authority, which paid for the trip with a combination of taxpayer money and corporate cash, refuses to release the details.

Not long after Phil Bryant returned tanned and rested last year, a bevy of corporate filings related to the new Tishomingo County industrial endeavor cropped up. Interestingly, Mississippi Silicon Holdings LLC, which is owned almost entirely by Rima Industrial, didn’t even exist until just weeks before the junket.

In fact, none of the company’s affiliated corporations came into existence until after the Mississippi trade delegation’s September 2013 trip to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. And the primary owner of the project, Rima Industrial S/A of Brazil, wasn’t announced until three months after the trip during a press conference headed by Phil Bryant.

Details of the Brazil trip, arranged by the Mississippi Development Authority, are a closely held secret. MDA officials said it was set up to bring together Mississippi companies wanting to expand trade and create new business relationships with their South American counterparts.

MDA Executive Director Brent Christensen, along with directors of the Gulfport and Pascagoula port authorities, accompanied Phil Bryant. The MDA’s website and newspaper accounts indicate Phil Bryant’s expenses were not paid by taxpayers but fail to identify who contributed the “private money” that paid for his trip.

Business representatives who participated in the trip – none were identified by the MDA – were offered financial incentives through the U.S. Small Business Administration-funded Mississippi State Trade Export Promotion program to offset costs of the trip, according to an MDA press release. Up to 50 percent of their travel expenses were paid by the program.

All of these points lead us to a few lingering questions such as who are these private business interests that paid for the trip and what did they get in return? Additionally, how did an entire corporation go from non-existent to getting $25 million in state funding in a few weeks?

The common denominator to these questions might be John Correnti.

According to public records, Mississippi Silicon is an 80-20 joint venture owned by Rima Holdings USA, a subsidiary of Rima Industrial, and Clean Tech I LLC, headed by Correnti.

Correnti is known in Mississippi for having a history of making promises he doesn’t tend to keep. This includes proposals – with offers of substantial government funding – to build steel and silicon plants in Amory and Lowndes County.

The MDA is currently on the hook to reimburse Lowndes County for expenses incurred in Corretti’s failed effort to build a plant there two year ago.

In addition to private funding, the Mississippi Silicon project is set to benefit from a $3.5 million MDA loan to Tishomingo County, plus another $21 million in MDA loans and grants for infrastructure improvements and job training. The Appalachian Development Authority has approved $300,000 for site improvements. The Tennessee Valley Authority is providing a $1.5 million loan and a $425,000 grant for the project.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Change in Command Coming to Mississippi GOP?

Sources within Republican ranks are reporting that Governor Phil Bryant is sending his former chief of staff and former Cochran campaign manager, Kirk Sims, to be the new executive director for the Mississippi Republican Party.

For those unfamiliar with Sims, he served as Governor Bryant's chief of staff before leading Cochran's 2014 Senate primary. After Cochran's near defeat in the June 3 Republican Primary, the decision was made to not keep Sims on Cochran's campaign staff. On top of that, he is the son-in-law of U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.

What should outrage Tea Party supporters is that Bryant's rumored handpicked executive director, along with Chairman Joe Nosef, have done everything they can to diminish and discredit the U.S. Senate campaign of Chris McDaniel.

Furthermore, the Haley Barbour establishment and their big-money donors should be frightened that Bryant is permitting the person who nearly lost Cochran his re-election to be the next executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party.

Stay tuned as rumored staffing hire develops.

More thoughts: I am puzzled why Phil Bryant is allegedly sending Kirk to work for the state party and rather than hiring Kirk to run his re-election campaign for governor. Perhaps Kirk did such a poor job that not even Bryant wants him on his own campaign staff.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Travis Childers and Mississippi are Looking for Thad Cochran

In the latest US Senate race news, Democratic nominee Travis Childers reminds voters that Republican nominee Thad Cochran continues to duck voters and refuses to face Childers for a debate.

Cochran refused to debate Chris McDaniel; Cochran doesn't look like he will debate Travis Childers. It seems that after serving 36 years in the country's greatest debating forum, Cochran has finally lost his ability to engage in a discussion over issues. At this stage in his long career, it is odd and disappointing that Cochran would shy away from running on his record.

Here is the ad, for your viewing pleasure:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Nuclear Waste Storage Showing Up Again

Just when you thought the issue of nuclear waste storage in Mississippi had gone away (again), here we go once more!

Tomorrow in Atlanta, a panel discussion will be held to discuss the impacts of consolidated nuclear waste storage on communities. A representative on this panel is none other than Patrick Sullivan, President of the Mississippi Energy Institute. Let's not forget that Brent Christensen, Phil Bryant's right-hand man at the Mississippi Development Authority, is still on the Mississippi Energy Institute's Board of Directors.

When I hear "consolidated," I take that to mean they are not just planning on storing Mississippi's nuclear waste in southern Mississippi. It means that Mississippi could be the consolidated dump for nuclear waste from places like California, New York, and Florida.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission, in a bipartisan way, has gone on record to say that we do not want nuclear waste stored in Mississippi, especially around our neighborhoods, forests, and waterways. Even Republican U.S. Representative Steven Palazzo is opposed to nuclear waste storage in Mississippi.

Nearly a year has gone by with the public and regulators in opposition to this idea, yet Sullivan continues to advocate Mississippi as the best place to go for dumping nuclear waste.

Phil Bryant even went as far as to say concern over this issue is an "overreaction." Once again, Phil Bryant and his cronies continue to ignore the will of Mississippians while helping his friends make a buck at the expense of our state.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Phil Bryant's Position Is Getting Lonelier

In a radio interview yesterday morning, Governor Phil Bryant said that his fellow 29 Republican governors are standing strong in their efforts to fight Obamacare. A problem with Bryant's argument is that it is not true.

In recent months, Republican governors across the country have worked to offer health insurance options for thousands of working Americans. Most recently, Republican governors in Pennsylvania and Tennessee (who also have Republican-led legislatures) are laying the groundwork to broaden their states' Medicaid eligibility. Even Florida's Republican governor unsuccessfully tried to expand Medicaid in his state.

This now means that Republican governors in Arizona, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have agreed to provide additional health care options for their states. Republican governors in Indiana, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming are still ironing out the specifics on their own version of expansion.

The well-known Republican governor of New Jersey was quoted as saying “We expanded Medicaid, because we believe that folks are better off going to see physicians and having care than going to emergency rooms all the time." And this guy may want to run as a Republican for President of the United States?!

Phil Bryant can beat his chest and talk a big game on talk radio, but at the end of the day, his misguided position is still bad policy with life-threatening consequences. This is the Republican Party he's fighting for.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Republicans Offer More Empty Words on Labor Day

A tweet from the Mississippi Republican Party was a token gesture to those who are the backbone of our communities and economy: the labor force.


Consider, if you will, a few examples of what Mississippi Republicans have done to show their gratitude.
  • In 2012, the Republican legislature passed and Governor Phil Bryant signed a law to weaken worker's compensation rights in the state. Rep. Gary Chism (R-Columbus) argued that the bill was the "biggest vote for business since tort reform."
  • This year, the Republicans passed a law that would handicap the ability of individuals wishing to organize or have a demonstration. Even Rep. Dennis DeBar (R-Leakesville), the manager of one of the bills being referenced, acknowledged that unions do not have much of a presence in Mississippi, but he wanted to "make a statement."
  • Under Phil Bryant's watch, Mississippi has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
  • Governor Bryant and the Republicans have done everything within their power to prevent hundreds of thousands of working Mississippians from obtaining health insurance coverage. 
  • Governor Bryant and the Republicans have done nothing to raise the state's minimum wage, provide paid sick leave for a worker's to tend to an ill relative or to take leave when she or he is sick, or to ensure that women earn the same salary as a man does for the same job.

It takes a lot of nerve for the Republicans to claim they are thankful and proud of our workers when Republicans do so much to make life difficult for the state's labor force and their families.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Update on the Pete Perry tax situation

I received word today that Pete Perry had cleared up his delinquent taxes referenced in one of Ryan's posts last week.  Mr. Perry's Neshoba County Fair cabin had been listed for tax sale in the local paper, and is currently listed as being up for tax sale on the Neshoba County website as well.

So I called the Neshoba County Tax Collector, Mike Lewis, and asked him if Mr. Perry had paid his delinquent taxes.  Mr. Lewis confirmed that Mr. Perry had, in fact, paid the 2012 taxes that were causing his property to be listed for sale.  However, Mr. Lewis stated that Mr. Perry had not paid his 2013 taxes, which were due February 1, 2014.  So if you're looking at buying a tax deed to Mr. Perry's Fair cabin, you're out of luck this year.