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franklin county times

Concerns over Iraq grows among Mississippians

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
August 8, 2004
U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, 50, has served in Congress since 1989.
A Democrat, he represents the 4th Congressional District of Mississippi, but has not endorsed either President George Bush, or his party's nominee, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, in the upcoming presidential election.
A native of New Orleans, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve from 1971-1984. He was a member of the Bay St. Louis City Council from 1981-1983 and was a member of the Mississippi Senate from 1984-1989.
Taylor serves on the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services, assigned to the Projection Forces and Readiness subcommittees. He also serves on the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, assigned to the Highways, Transit and Pipelines and Water Resources and Environment subcommittees.
Taylor discussed several issues with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: What are your constituents in South Mississippi telling you at your town hall meetings?
Gene Taylor: I have noticed a rising level of concern about the situation in Iraq. It was the moms and the dads who contacted us last summer and said their son or daughter is over there with a guard or reserve unit and they don't have the best body armor.
They were right. They did not have the best body armor. We went back to the generals and asked how come. The generals basically said, "only the guys on the front units need it." We sadly learned that there is no front line. We did get that problem fixed. It was something that was brought to my attention by my constituents.
The Star: Are you in support of the White House's creation of an intelligence czar?
Taylor: The genesis of the CIA was of a post-World War II agency to counter the communist threat around the world. The Soviet-communist threat is gone. It is time for a new focus and we as a nation got burned on September 11th. Something we didn't want to believe could happen, did happen.
The Star: What do you have to say as a member of Congress when we have the largest budget deficit in history?
Taylor: I happened to have gone up to Congress when there was about a 70-seat Democratic majority. Then they were running about $200 billion a year annual operating deficits and Republicans said, just give us a chance to run this place, we'll show you how to balance a budget, we'll show you how to cut that spending.'
Well, they got the House, the Senate, and the White House and they are running $700 billion annual operating deficits. They are telling you its $500 billion, but if you take the $200 billion from the Social Security trust fund, the Medicare trust fund, the public employees retirement system and military retirement, it's really $700 billion annual operating deficits through these so-called fiscal conservatives and I'm one of the ones trying to shame them into doing the right thing. I am adamantly for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
The Star: What are your thoughts on President Bush's performance?
Taylor: He often mentions he is a wartime president. Clearly, we are at war. The difference I can see, looking back on American history, every other group of Americans tried to pay for their wars right then to the best of their abilities. Those of us who are fortunate enough not to have to fight this war ought to at least be willing to pay for it.
The Star: What is your assessment of the president on the war on terrorism, Iraq,and the direction he is leading the country right now?
Taylor: Obviously, the strategy in Afghanistan of a small American force, so far, has worked well. They should be commended for that. Like every other American I wish they'd caught (Osama) bin Laden, I hope they catch him today.
In Iraq I happen to be one of the ones who thought we went in with too small a force. The vast majority of weapons that are being used against us, I regret to say, are weapons that we had once captured but have fallen back into enemy hands for lack of manpower to guard them.
I realize in hindsight the mistake of the three or four days of lawlessness when we first took over. A lot of the infrastructure was destroyed, a lot of the things we needed to help maintain order was destroyed and I think to a certain extent a lot of that lawlessness was unavoidable because we had such a small force we couldn't police the place. You're trying to control a country of 24 million people with 150,000 people.
The Star: What are you doing to avoid losing military bases in the next round of base closures?
Taylor: The amendment to delay BRAC by two years was my amendment. It started off as an amendment to kill BRAC. I didn't have the votes to pass that so someone amended it to be a two-year delay. I accepted that.
I hope the senators will agree with us in conference. There's a couple of reasons we should have a two-year delay.
One of the two people who will be president is for a two-year delay. If Congress passes language that says the president will appoint a base closure commission and let's say (U.S. Sen. John) Kerry wins, then Congress has done something that the previous president wanted and the current president is against. We're not so sure who is going to be the next president, so let's wait and see if that's what the next president wants since the consequences are so severe.
The Star: Are you in favor of seeing BRAC stop completely?
Taylor: Yes. In previous rounds of BRAC people kept claiming it saves a lot of money. I don't think they've saved a dime. When they closed bases in the first three rounds local officials, in every instance, would go running to Congress as they should and say, look, you just threw several thousand of my constituents out of work, the least you could do is give me that chunk of property and those buildings so maybe I can do something with it.'
In almost every instance we gave them the property, some real expensive properties the Presidio in downtown San Francisco. Governor's Island was not BRACed, but it was closed by the Coast Guard and it's right at the foot of Wall Street that's worth a half a billion dollars. The president gave it to New York in the wake of 9-11 for a buck.
At Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Fla., there are four runways, three of them are 8,000 feet long. The fourth one is 10,000 feet long. A base just isn't runways, it's quality barracks, quality family housing, hospitals, day care for the kids, all these things cost money. So when you close that base you lose all the things that you paid for and you have to go build them someplace else.
Another thing that has never been explained to the American public is that like any other business, if we pollute a piece of ground we have to clean it up before we can sell it or give it away. We spent $13 billion cleaning up bases we just gave away.
And, no one has a crystal ball to see the future. Right now we're buying 35,000 acres in North Carolina to rebuild the runways we gave away in Jacksonville, Fla.

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