The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Thanks a million for making the 2008 Delta Initiative in DC a success!!

Posted on June 11, 2008 at 05:15 PM

We would like to thank all of you for making the 2008 annual Delta Grassroots Caucus Initiative in Washington, DC one of our best ever. We had 15 Members of Congress as speakers, contacted a total of 31 Congressional offices either with the group or in smaller settings, heard from six Bush administration appointees, two former members of the Clinton administration cabinet–Rodney Slater of US DOT and VA Secretary Hershel Gober–and distinguished grassroots leaders from each one of the eight Delta states.

We had a total of 204 people who came by for at least part of one session. The biggest turnout was at the opening session, but we had a good turnout almost all of the time, with substantially different groups at each session.

We would like to thank our lead sponsor, Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas, not only for their financial support but for being a role model for enlightened corporate leadership for our region. We also thank our major cosponsors: Heifer International, Housing Assistance Council, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Entergy, and the Inspire Hope Institute, chaired by Laymon Jones.

We also thank our many other sponsors who are banks, business leaders, chambers of commerce, nonprofits, colleges and universities, and other local leaders across the region and in Washington, DC, and the literally hundreds of people who made smaller contributions in the form of registration fees or annual membership dues.

We will be thanking everybody for the next couple of weeks and afterward. Right now there are many highlights we could mention, but let me just mention a few examples. Please feel free to suggest others if you like.

–SENATE SESSION–During one period at the Senate Russell building, we had superb presentations from Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the Arkansan Rex Nelson of the Delta Regional Authority, and Dr. J.Y. Trice, long-time mayor of Rosedale, Mississippi and a legendary grassroots leader in the region. Dr. Trice, an African American Democrat, spoke eloquently of his long-time support for the Republican Sen. Cochran, who was particularly instrumental in securing passage of the farm bill, along with Reps Mike Ross and Marion Berry and Senators Lincoln and Pryor (AR), Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (MO), Rep. Rodney Alexander (LA), Rep. John Tanner (TN), and others from the Delta.

Many of us thought that moment with Dr. Trice and Sen. Cochran was especially poignant, in demonstrating the spirit of bipartisanship and regional unity. We should reflect that when Dr. Trice and Sen. Cochran were young men in the days of Jim Crow, they could not have been speakers at the same meeting together. While we still have a long way to go in the Delta, we have made progress in many ways.

–ARKANSAS DELEGATION–We heard great presentations from Congressman Marion Berry, Congressman Mike Ross, Senator Blanche Lincoln and Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas. We had representation from all states and areas of the huge region, but this year we had an especially large contingent from southeast Arkansas, above all from Desha County, but also from Chicot, Ashley, Drew, Jefferson and Lee counties.

A special thanks to the people from McGehee, Dumas, Arkansas City and Lake Village who were so active, including Kenny and Melissa Gober and so many others that we would run out of space if we named them all. Jo Anne Smith of the Southeast Arkansas Cornerstone Coalition and Desha County Judge Mark McElroy gave excellent presentations at the Thursday luncheon. State Rep. Robert Moore and his wife Beverly were there for the whole conference and added a lot to the discussion and we really appreciate Robert’s support and his strong advocacy for the development of much greater tourism to promote the Delta’s growth.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS–We also appreciate southern Illinois for turning out such a large group in relation to their small population, including Donna Raynalds of the Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone (SIDEZ), Mayor Brad Cole of Carbondale, Don Patton of the Southern Illinois University Medical School, President Larry Peterson of Shawnee Community College and others from the great state of Illinois. They had good meetings with the offices of Rep. Jerry Costello, Rep. John Shimkus and Senators Richard Durbin and Barack Obama.

PRESIDENTIAL SPEAKERS–We want to thank Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi, and Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas for doing the always difficult task of speaking on behalf of a Presidential candidate. We hope both parties will devote more attention to the Delta’s economic plight, and please urge the campaign you choose to support to address how the next President and Congress can do much more to promote economic development in our region.

ALABAMA–We had a small but excellent contingent from Alabama, including Rep. Davis, who never fails to do a great job year after year, and Mayor Helenor Bell of Hayneville in historic Lowndes County, Alabama. Mayor Bell is a new partner of the Delta Caucus and she gave a dynamic talk about economic issues in her community. We will want to have her come back and speak again to our group, and we appreciate the other Alabama partners who have been very supportive.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY AND FUTURE FUEL CORP.–Alternative energy holds tremendous promise for our region and our country, so we were glad that Congressman Ross and other Members talked about their efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and new markets for our producers by developing renewable alternative fuels. Above all, we would like to thank Lee Mikles, CEO of Future Fuel Corp., for coming all the way from California to address his company’s great work for alternative energy. They have a plant that employs 500 people in Batesville, Arkansas, and there is potential for other similar plants to come into the region, according to Mikles. We also appreciate the good participation on alternative energy from Jonah Shumate, head of the Batesville Chamber of Commerce.

KENTUCKY–We were very pleased to have President Randy Dunn of Murray State University in western Kentucky as one of our main speakers at the Senate Russell Building session. Murray State University is one of the most important institutions in the entire region, and it is always important to include western Kentucky in our regional activities. Patrick Powell of Murray State is one of our most active regional partners. President Dunn did a great job of addressing higher education issues and their importance for our region, and we were very pleased to have his participation.

MISSOURI–Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri has many admirers in our group, and we were very pleased to have her speak at the opening session. She does a great job on many issues, from agriculture to rural development to the economy and many others. We would like to point out that she is an especially strong not just regional but national leader in the field of nutrition, and she is one of the people most responsible for the strong nutrition section in the recently passed farm bill.

Martha Ellen Black of Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in Missouri was a stalwart as always, and we appreciated hearing from Dennis Roedemeier, head of the Missouri Research Corp. the economic development arm of Southeast Missouri State University. Roedemeier has received recognition across the country for his innovative ideas on rural economic development. We were also glad to have Superintendent of Scott County school system Joel B. Holland, who is a very knowledgeable educator and can offer helpful advice on how to improve No Child Left Behind, and other Missouri participants.

GOV. BEEBE–Fran Flener, Arkansas State Drug Policy Director for Gov. Mike Beebe, spoke to our group for the first time on substance abuse issues and did a great job. Substance abuse issues do massive damage to many people in our region and we all ought to thank Fran for tackling such a difficult problem. We also appreciated Chris Masingill, Gov. Beebe’s DRA Alternate, for speaking on the transportation panel, which I will mention below, and also a special thanks to Herman Williams of the governor’s office for being there for the entire conference. I know I speak for many people in saying that no one has done any more for the Delta the last two years than Gov. Mike Beebe.

LOUISIANA–We were pleased to get a strong Louisiana participation this year, and we really appreciated hearing from Sen. Mary Landrieu, who has led the charge in trying to rebuild New Orleans and southern Louisiana after Katrina. Reid Doster of the Louisiana Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is doing great work in helping with housing, mental health issues and other activities in rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina, and he gave some very moving comments at our USDA session.

Delta Nutrition Intervention and Research Initiative (NIRI) always does the Lord’s work on hunger and nutrition issues in the Delta, and we were glad to have her participation along with Ed Cooney of the Congressional Hunger Center and Eric Steiner, Associate Administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, the agency that administers food stamps, school lunch, WIC and other federal nutrition programs. This year’s farm bill had a strong nutrition section in it, so we commend everybody who worked on that vital legislation.

We were glad to hear from Rep. Rodney Alexander and Rep. Charles Melancon, who we commended for supporting the farm bill, which had excellent provisions for rural development, nutrition, a decent safety net for farmers, alternative energy and conservation. We were also glad that the new Member of Congress, Rep. John Cazayoux–who was elected just a few weeks ago–was able to come by and greet us. Special thanks to Dr. Obadiah Simmons of Grambling State University for his steadfast support for our coalition’s work.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL OF LOUISIANA–We’d like to say that we have heard many good things about the new Republican Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who brings a fresh air of some new leadership to the region. In his short time as governor he has already paid more attention to the Delta Caucus than others who have been in office a good while, and he was good enough and generous enough to send the DRA Designee for the state of Louisiana, Natalie Robottom, to speak at our Senate event. Natalie did a great job and we really appreciate her participation.

MISSISSIPPI–As always, we had great participation from many organizations and leaders based in Mississippi, including Gloria Dickerson of Kellogg, which has so many important activities across the Delta, George Miles of Mid-South Delta LISC, Tuwanna Williams and John Greer of the Mississippi Delta Empowerment Zone Alliance, Senators Cochran and Wicker and Rep. Pickering, Rep. Travis Childers and Bill Triplett of the DRA based in Mississippi. Bill Bynum of Enterprise Corp. of the Delta and Hope Community Credit Union gave a very informative presentation supporting the New Markets Tax Credit Initiative and other important activities of ECD, which is one of the major foundations working in our region.

BEST PRACTICES COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PANEL–The panel on best practices and community development activities received a lot of positive feedback. We had Gloria Dickerson of Kellogg and George Miles of Delta LISC, plus Renee Wilburn, who heads a community development corporation that is active in Lee County and nearby counties, and Toyce Newton of Phoenix Youth &Family Services, serving five southeast Arkansas counties.

WEST TENNESSEE SPEAKERS–Long-time rural development expert and regional leader Minnie Bommer of Covington, Tennessee gave a very colorful and informative talk about her work in the west Tennessee Delta, and we were glad to have her son, Major John Bommer there to hear his mom speak (best wishes to Major Bommer in his service to our country). Minnie also introduced Congressman John Tanner, who represents a big chunk of the Delta in Tennessee. Rep. Tanner and many other Congressmen are big supporters of completion of Interstate 69, which will go through Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and western Kentucky.

TRANSPORTATION PANEL–the transportation speakers were very important, with the highway bill coming up next year. President Bush’s appointee, US Dept. of Transportation Deputy Assistant Secretary Joel Szabat, Chris Masingill, gov. Mike Beebe’s DRA Alternate for the state of Arkansas, Bill Triplett of the DRA, Johnnie Bolin of the Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council, Associate Administrator David Shipman of the Agricultural Marketing Service, and Dr. Sunny Morris of ADWIRED in West Memphis, gave a great panel on the Delta Development Highway System and the multi-modal plan the DRA is developing. We want to push hard from now and over the next year for major progress on completion of the Interstate 69 Corridor and the Great River Bridge in the upcoming highway bill.

I thought it was again another moment of bipartisanship when former US Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater had a very cordial exchange with President Bush’s current US DOT Deputy Secretary, Joel Szabat. Secretary Slater has done so much for our region and we always appreciate his taking the time to come and speak to us.

As the panelists noted, the designation of I-69 as one of only six national corridors of the future will give us leverage to push for progress on I-69. This is a historic chance to make major progress on this major transportation artery that we all know we have been waiting for far too long.

THANKS TO BUSH ADMINISTRATION USDA APPOINTEES–We appreciated so many high-level Bush administration appointees at USDA for coming to speak, including White House Liaison Anthony Hulen, an Arkansas native. They knew we sharply disagreed with them on the farm bill but they were gracious to come and meet with us anyway, and we appreciate that.

Harvey Joe Sanner of the American Agriculture Movement had a strong difference of opinion with Anthony Hulen on the farm bill, but it was handled quite courteously on both sides, I thought, and this year Harvey Joe did not call for anyone’s impeachment (thank God!).

Last but not least, it was great to see so many old friends, from Dr. Harold Gist, with whom I worked closely in the Clinton administration’s Delta initiative along with Cecil McDonald, Al Eisenberg, and Wilson Golden of the great state of Mississippi. I am sure I am leaving out some people, but we will be working on thanking people for another couple of weeks. You can never thank people enough.

Laymon Jones did a stalwart job for us all the way through. We added him to our coalition because we needed a country boy from Wynne, Arkansas, to balance some of our more highfalutin, cosmpolitan members like Judge McElroy, who is often perceived as too intellectual and aloof, unlike me.

A special thanks to Rex Nelson, Bill Triplett, R.L. Condra and Bevin Hunter of the DRA staff for participating throughout the conference, and more importantly for all the great work you do in economic development, health care, information technology, transportation, job creation and training, strategic planning, advocacy, communications and all the work of the DRA.

My wife, Caroline Thorpe-Powell, an organizational development expert with USDA in DC, said it was a good conference but criticized me because my tie was often crooked. I will work on improving in the future.

We have been growing steadily for the last six years, and we have to keep working for the Delta’s economic development, month after month, year after year. Last week was a good week for our region–what are you doing this week for the Delta?

Thanks a million!! Lee Powell, executive director, MDGC (202) 360-6347