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 to MSCC for Oct. 23-24 Event; 3 Extremists Lose Elections; Dues; Media Reports

Posted on November 16, 2012 at 04:39 PM

THANKS A MILLION TO OUR GREAT HOST, MID-SOUTH COMMUNITY COLLEGE: The Delta Grassroots Caucus would again like to express our great appreciation to President Glen Fenter and all the team at Mid-South Community College for hosting the Oct. 23-24, 2012 Delta conference, providing the great food, the great facility of the Marion Berry Renewable Energy Center, and an excellent presentation by President Fenter. Mid-South Community College is a dynamic leader not just for the local area but the entire region.

Thanks to 176 grassroots leaders for attending: We emphasize quality far more than quantity at our events, and there was an impressive gathering of knowledge, experience and influence from our region at the conference. After carefully examining the sign-in sheets and other information, there were a total of 176 people who were there for either all or parts of the conference.

In this newsletter, we will summarize the conference through a collection of media reports shortly before and during the conference. Rather than relay our views about the event again, it would be more interesting to present various media reports.

We request that our partners pay the 2012 annual membership dues by Dec. 31, 2012. Specifics are listed further down in this message.

For the Oct. 23-24 conference, the speakers and agenda for the conference can be found on the website at by clicking on the link, “Caucus articles.”




III. COLLECTION OF MEDIA ARTICLES (Copied exactly as they were published)



The annual membership dues are a requirement now if you are interested in being a member and participating in our organization’s work. Some have sent their dues in this year, but many have not. The deadline is the end of 2012.

Thanks very much to those who paid their dues this year, often in generous amounts beyond the $25 minimum.

In fairness to the many people and organizations who have paid, we would request that all others send their dues in as well by Dec. 31, 2012.

Dues are based on each calendar year.

The only requirement for any individual or organization is $25. However, most organizations send in $50 or more. Medium-sized nonprofits, businesses, small banks send in $50. Larger organizations, universities, colleges, corporations, send in at least $100.

Some generous partners have sent in as much as $250 to $350, although again the only requirement for everybody is just $25. If all would send in at least $25, it would be very helpful for our work.

Please make out the membership dues check to “Delta Caucus” with a note for “Dues,” and mail to:

Delta Caucus 5030 Purslane Place Waldorf, MD 20601


We are pleased to report that Rep. Ron Hubbard, Loy Mauch, and Charles Fuqua were all defeated for election to the Arkansas legislature. The Delta Caucus was reported in a number of media outlets as condemning and calling for the terminations of the political careers of these three for comments such as saying that Abraham Lincoln was a war criminal, that African Americans actually benefited from slavery, that all Muslims should be expelled from the USA, and that a passage in the Bible permits execution of rebellious children.

We congratulate the voters for effectively bringing out the termination of these three politicians by their exercise of the right to vote. Bigotry has no place in the Delta of 2012. We reiterate that this is not partisan, because leading Arkansas politicians from both parties repudiated the unfortunate statements.

We have received a number of complaints from supporters of these candidates denouncing us for having helped cause the defeats of these politicians due to the extensive media coverage generated by the Delta Caucus condemnations of their bigoted statements. The response was delivered by Lee Powell, Delta Caucus executive director:

“We are certainly flattered by the charge that we helped defeat these candidates, but we really do not deserve the credit. We give 100% of the credit to the wisdom of the Arkansas voters for doing what was right and repudiating politicians who made such bigoted statements.”

COLLECTION OF MEDIA ARTICLES (Copied exactly as they were published)

We will summarize the conference by relaying a collection of media reports shortly before, during and after the conference. This is more interesting than having the Delta Caucus state what we thought about the conference.

NOTE: The Delta Caucus does not necessarily agree with everything in these media reports, and by the same token these media organizations do not endorse any activities or positions of the Delta Caucus.

These articles are strictly for the information of the Delta Caucus partners. This is not a statement to the media. We are not responsible for any of this content. If any media organizations have questions, they should contact Lee Powell at 202-360-6347.

Here is the list of articles, which are published in their entirety further down in this newsletter:

  1. Roby Brock column, Arkansas TalkBusiness, Oct. 13, “Delta Grassroots Caucus Calls for GOP’s Hubbard to Resign”

  2. Channel 3 WREG TV, Memphis, Tennessee CBS affiliate, Oct. 24, “Delta Grassroots Caucus Talking Ways to Jumpstart Economy” by Daniel Hight

  3. Arkansas news bureau, Oct. 23, “Delta Grassroots Caucus to Feature slate of high-profile speakers”

  4. AP, Oct. 23, 2012, “1st District candidates to speak to Delta group”

  5. “Officials from Mississippi Delta region meeting,” AP, Oct. 24, 2012

  6. Crittenden County Times, “Delta Grassroots Caucus pays visit to 51st state,” by Ralph Hardin, Oct. 25, 2012 Also from Crittenden County Times, “Delta Regional Conference at MSCC today,” Oct. 23, 2012

  7. Arkansas Municipal League publication, monthly journal, Town and Country, November, 2012, “Heritage Tourism a Delta Economic Driver, Caucus Contends,” by Andrew Morgan

  8. Blog of Mayor Ray Santie, Malden, Missouri, in Daily Dunklin Democrat, southeast Missouri, Oct. 31, 2001 (An individual assessment by one of the mayors at the conference)

  9. Arkansas News bureau, “Delta Grassroots Caucus to feature slate of high-profile speakers,” Oct. 23, 2012

  10. Stephens Washington bureau, “Delta Grassroots Caucus shunning D.C. gridlock,” by Peter Urban, Sept. 19, 2012 (Based on Delta Caucus Sept. 19, 2012 Capitol Hill news conference with Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Congressional Hunger Center Director Ed Cooney, Lee Powell, Delta Caucus, and Associate Director of the Housing Assistance Council Joe Belden)

NOTE: The Memphis Commmercial Appeal and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also wrote articles about the Sept. 19 news conference, which addressed the same basic issues as the West Memphis conference. They are not collected here but you may be able to find them on the Internet.

1. “Delta Grassroots Caucus Calls For GOP’s Hubbard To Resign”

By Roby Brock October 13th, 2012

The Delta Grassroots Caucus, a powerful and influential group of political leaders across the 8-state Mississippi Delta, has leveled harsh criticism regarding comments made by three Arkansas Republicans calling on one to resign.

“The Delta Caucus partners believe that we have made great progress in race relations in the past half century, and we must repudiate the few remaining extremists who want to turn the clock back to the racist past,” the DGC said in a statement issued Friday (Oct. 12).

The statement was in response to positions written and published by Rep. Jon Hubbard (R-Jonesboro), Rep. Loy Mauch (R-Bismarck) and GOP legislative candidate Charlie Fuqua (R-Batesville), who have come under fire for their controversial writings involving race and religion.

Hubbard has written and defended that slavery was a “blessing in disguise” for African-Americans. He has also said that blacks today lack ambition and discipline and need to “appreciate the value of a good education.”

Mauch has written that slavery was not condemned by Jesus in the Bible and that Pres. Abraham Lincoln was a “war criminal.” Fuqua has advocated for the expulsion of all Muslims from the U.S. and suggested the need for a law to allow for the execution of rebellious children.

“Mr. Hubbard is an embarrassment to the state of Arkansas. He should apologize and resign from the Arkansas legislature. We cannot have state legislators who make ignorant comments that could damage our reputation, discourage businesses from investing in our region, and offend the great majority of our people,” Caucus director Lee Powell said.

Powell, is the son of former Arkansas Gazette editor James Powell and was a child in Little Rock during the 1957 integration crisis.

“I recall getting bullied when I was a kid because my father was one of the few prominent white leaders who publicly opposed Faubus, and the great majority of the other kids thought Faubus was a hero,” Powell said.

The Caucus offered praise for several Arkansas Republicans and Democrats in response to the writings and comments of Hubbard, Mauch and Fuqua.

“The Delta Caucus praises leaders of both parties, such as Gov. Beebe, Attorney General McDaniel, Republican Congressmen Tim Griffin and Rick Crawford, who sharply criticized these comments. This has nothing to do with partisanship, and is only the product of the bigotry of a few extremists,” Powell said.

You can read the full statement from the DGC at this link. (Editor’s note: this was in the original article–the link does not exist from here.)

The Caucus will be holding a regional conference on Oct. 23-24 at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis. Beverly Robertson, President of the National Civil Rights Museum is expected to be in attendance.

The Delta Grassroots Caucus traces its roots in the mid-1990s to three major bipartisan initiatives dedicated to promoting economic development in the eight-state Delta region, according to its web site.

First, the Mississippi Delta Regional Initiative of the Clinton administration, which included all federal departments and agencies with domestic policy jurisdiction.

Secondly, two grassroots coalitions of local leaders: one called the Delta Caucus that was founded in the mid-1990s, and another called the Southern EZ/EC Forum, including all Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities in the Delta region.

Other notable Arkansans who are members of the Delta Grassroots Caucus are:

Vice President of the Delta Caucus: Desha County Judge Mark McElroy (D-Arkansas City). McElroy is a State Representative-elect in the Arkansas General Assembly. Barrett Harrison, Blytheville, Arkansas; Mayor of Blytheville through 2010; director of Blytheville-Gosnell Regional Airport Authority Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, now a partner with Patton & Boggs, Washington, D.C.

2. “Delta Grassroots Caucus Talking Ways To Jumpstart Economy” Channel 3, WREG TV, CBS Affiliate in Memphis, Tennessee

Posted on: 5:52 pm, October 24, 2012, by Daniel Hight

(West Memphis, AR) Kick starting the economy was just one of many issues leaders from eight states were discussing here in the Mid-South.

Mayor A C Wharton and Congressman Steve Cohen were just some of the leaders working on several plans.

Leaders from St. Louis all the way down to New Orleans packed into the Mid-South community college in West Memphis for several days.

Besides jump starting the economy, getting people back to work is high on their list.

“They were struggling even before the recession, but it’s gotten even worse now so we just want to keep the heat on them, our elected officials, all the time and ask them to do more for the economic development of the region,” said Lee Powell, Executive Director for the Delta Grassroots Caucus.

The caucus is made up of politicians, university presidents, and even businessmen.

Powell believes in programs through the USDA like nutritional development and aid to family farmers.

He says it will not only provide relief, but create jobs.

Powell says they’re also using the time together to call out leaders like Arkansas Representative Ron Hubbard who drew national attention for saying slavery was a blessing.

“We have enough trouble attracting investment to the delta without having the bigoted comments generate negative media coverage and creating the idea that Arkansas has a lot of racial turmoil,” said Powell.

The sluggish economy is even affecting the caucus.

They normally meet in Washington every year, but instead chose to do it in West Memphis this year to save everyone money.

3. 3:29 pm - October 22, 2012 - Updated: 4:33 pm - October 22, 2012, Delta Grassroots Caucus to feature slate of high-profile speakers

Arkansas News Bureau

LITTLE ROCK - This week’s fall conference of the Delta Grassroots Caucus will feature appearances by a slate of dignitaries including the Republican and Democratic candidates for the 1st District congressional seat.

The Delta Conference on Jobs and Civil Rights, being held for the first time in Arkansas instead of the nation’s capital, will take place Tuesday and Wednesday at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis.

Retiring 4th District Congressman Mike Ross, D- Prescott, and Beverly Robertson, president of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, are scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

Speakers Wednesday will include 1st District U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro; Jonesboro prosecutor Scott Ellington, the Democratic challenger to Crawford; Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman; Attorney General Dustin McDaniel; Bob Nash, former senior White House aide to Bill Clinton; Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton; and Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill.

Gov. Mike Beebe is scheduled to address the conference by video.

The caucus said in a news release the conference also will include a condemnation of what it considers bigoted remarks made by three Arkansas politicians and a session on whether President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney would be better for the region’s economy.

Pine Bluff Mayor Carl Redus will argue in favor of Obama and State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, will argue in favor of Romney.

4. Crittenden County Times, Arkansas newspaper (Gary Meece, Managing Editor)October 23, 2012, Delta Regional Conference at MSCC today

Citing a weak economy and a Washington, D.C., where seemingly little can be accomplished, the annual Delta Regional Conference opens today at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis.

The conference is expected to attract over 130 Delta grassroots leaders to survey possible federal, regional and state remedies for the eight-state region’s distressed economy. The opening session is 4:45-7:45 p.m. today at the Marion Berry Renewable Energy Center at MSCC. President Glen Fenter of Mid-South Community College is the conference host. The Delta conference session continues Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., again at the renewable energy center.

Among the participants will be Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Mike Ross (AR), Mayor A. C. Wharton Jr. of Memphis, Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Dustin McDaniel (AR), Prosecutor and Congressional candidate Scott Ellington (D-AR), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, civil rights leaders, and other federal, regional and state officials.

Gov. Mike Beebe will speak by video.

“For the first time ever the annual fall Delta Regional Conference will be held in the heart of the Delta rather than Washington, DC, because we did not want to ask financially strapped partners to take an expensive trip to DC in the fifth year of a weak economy, and the gridlock in Washington is so bad that it would not have been a productive dialogue in any case,” said Lee Powell, caucus director, in a press release.

“… In this crucial election season we are asking leaders of both parties to step up and tell us what they will do to turn around an economy that is sluggish nationwide and severely distressed in most of the Greater Delta Region.”

Among events will be a debate over whether the election of President Barack Obama or Gov. Mitt Romney will be better for the region’s economy. Carl Redus, the mayor of Pine Bluff, Ark., will make the case for the Democratic incumbent while Sen. Missy Irvin (R-AR) will argue for the Republican challenger.

Debate moderators will be Rex Nelson, former aide to Gov. Mike Huckabee and president of Arkansas Independent Colleges and Universities, and Powell, who is a former Clinton Presidential appointee.

President Beverly Robertson of the National Civil Rights Museum is on the agenda, as are rights advocates addressing race relations in the wake of controversial statements by three Arkansas politicians.

“A disturbing development is that we had been planning to celebrate our progress in civil rights and race relations in Arkansas and the region, but this plan was complicated by recent bigoted statements by three Arkansas politicians–such as Rep. Jon Hubbard’s (R-Jonesboro) statement that African Americans benefited from slavery, and his comparison of Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to Nazis after they criticized his statement,” said Powell.

The Delta Caucus has called upon Rep. Hubbard and Rep. Loy Mauch (R-Bismarck) to apologize and resign from the Arkansas legislature, and for candidate Charlie Fuqua (R-Batesville) to suspend his campaign for the legislature. Rep. Mauch said that Abraham Lincoln was a war criminal. Fuqua advocates the expulsion of Muslims from the United States.

“We have speakers such as Beverly Robertson of the National Civil Rights Museum who are going to address the progress on civil rights in our region since the civil rights movement, as well as other advocates of diversity and progressive race relations. We will still move forward with that plan. It was hard enough before the bigoted statements to attract investment into the Delta and this was very damaging, to say the least,” said Desha County Judge Mark McElroy, Delta Caucus Vice Chairman.

The City of Earle is among the listed sponsors of the event.

5. Crittenden County Evening Times, Newspaper based in West Memphis, Arkansas, Oct. 25, 2012, “Delta Grassroots Caucus pays visit to ’51st State’” “VIPs at MSCC fpr two-day event”

By Ralph Hardin

“I love this country,” said Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen. “The only problem is there aren’t enough states.” Cohen then explained his statement.

“There ought to be a 51st State,” he said. “Made out of the Arkansas Delta, Tennessee and North Mississippi. You can call it the Delta State, or the Mid-South, but there’s no denying that our region has a shared tradition and heritage and the same common goals.”

The Congressman’s idea drew hearty approval from those in attendance at the Delta Grassroots Caucus Regional Conference Wednesday morning at the Marion Berry Renewable Energy Center on the North Campus at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis.

“And Memphis should be the capital,” he quipped, drawing a few light-hearted boos before engaging the audience in a call for unity and cooperation as not only the upcoming election season comes to a head in less than two weeks, but also as “America continues the road to economic recovery.”

Cohen was especially concerned with promoting racial unity and equality, pointing out that a white man was elected to Congress in a majority-black district, while Memphis Mayor AC Wharton, who was also in attendance at the conference, “received a large number of white votes despite having the option to vote for a white candidate.”

Wharton, in addressing the crowd, also said the nation “is still in a state where race is an issue.”

“When we can overcome what divides us,” he said, “then we can focus on what we share and grow ourselves, our region and our country.” Wharton outlined the need to build up the Delta economy, including expanding its infrastructure, educating its workforce, and “taking advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.”

The Grassroots Caucus also included a “presidential debate” of sorts, with Pine Bluff Mayor Carl Redus standing in for President Barach Obama and the Democrats, and State Senator Missy Irvin of Mountain View representing Gov. Mitt Romney and the GOP.

“This is for the benefit of that one person that might be in the audience who hasn’t decided who to vote for,” joked debate moderator Rex Nelson. Both speakers touted party lines, giving particular focus to increased funding for the Delta Regional Authority, renewable energy, and with both stressing the need to spend tax money wisely.

The two-day event, which commenced Tuesday afternoon with a reception at MSCC hosted by MSCC President Glen Fenter, featured a veritable “who’s who” of regional political, economic and education leaders.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, unable to attend due to his presence being needed at a jobs creation announcement in Batesville, addressed the crowd via a pre-recorded message. Rep. Mike Ross, Sen. John Boozman, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Prosecutor Scott Ellington were among the many who gave presentations.

Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, also spoke, promoting the best practices in community development. Topics under the banner included the need to promote and grow Delta Heritage Tourism.

Booths promoting regional attractions such as the Dyess Colony Project, the King Blues Festival in Helena, and New Madrid, Missouri’s River Walks, which highlighted the New Madrid fault’s history and Civil War battle sites.

The significance of having the caucus in West Memphis was not lost on local officials.

“This is a pretty big deal,” said City Clerk Phillip Para, who helped orchestrate the proceedings. “To have this many people with this level of importance is an honor. We’re glad to have them.”

CAPTION UNDER PHOTOGRAPH: Pine Bluff Mayor Carl Redus, a Democrat, and Republican State Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View brought a spirited issue-driven debate to the conference ahead of the upcoming Nov. 6 presidential election.

CAPTION UNDER SECOND PHOTOGRAPH: The Marion Berry Renewable Energy Center at MSCC played host Tuesday and Wednesday to the Delta Grassroots Caucus Regional Conference. Traditionally held in Washington, DC, West Memphis welcomed political, economic and education leaders from around the Mid-South to the two-day event.

6. “1st District candidates to speak to Delta group”

By The Associated Press This article was published October 23, 2012 at 6:50 a.m.

WEST MEMPHIS - The two candidates for an east Arkansas congressional seat are among the speakers expected during a two-day conference of Delta leaders.

The leaders plan to meet starting Tuesday at the Mid-South Community College’s Marion Berry Renewable Energy Center in West Memphis for the conference organized by the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus.

Retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ross plans to speak to the group Tuesday.

Republican Rep. Rick Crawford and Democratic challenger Scott Ellington, who face each other in the 1st District congressional race in the general election, are to appear before the group separately Wednesday.

Other speakers expected at the conference Wednesday include U.S. Sen. John Boozman, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton.

Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to speak to the group by video.

7. Officials from Mississippi Delta region meeting, Memphis AP

Associated Press Posted October 24, 2012 at 4:01 a.m.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Officials from eight states in the Mississippi Delta region are gathering in eastern Arkansas to discuss jobs and civil rights.

The Delta Conference on Jobs and Civil Rights is taking place in West Memphis, Ark., on Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. are scheduled to speak at the conference. So are Republican Congressman Rick Crawford and Democrat Scott Ellington, the two candidates for in the 1st District congressional race in Arkansas.

Delta Caucus Director Lee Powell says the caucus will condemn recent statements made by three Arkansas politicians and call on them to resign.

8. October 28, 2012–Daily Dunklin Democrat blog, Mayor Ray Santie, Malden, MissouriPosted Wednesday, October 31, 2012, at 8:45 AM

I spent part of this past Tuesday and Wednesday in West Memphis, Arkansas at a meeting of The Delta Grassroots Caucus… City Administrator Ted Bellers and Councilman Charles Dierks also attended… The area encompasses two hundred fifty-three counties or parishes.

The primary reason we attended the meeting and the stated purpose of the caucus was to discuss economic development in the delta. To borrow a chamber of commerce phrase from our past, Malden is “smack dab in the middle” of Missouri’s portion of the delta.

We listened to many speakers. The Governor of Arkansas spoke to us. There were three United States Congressman present and a United States Senator. The Attorney General of Arkansas made a speech. The Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee talked. There were high level representatives from FedEx and Wal-Mart and others from the private sector. Academic people from Arkansas State University, Murray State University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Memphis were present. Personally, I thought one of the best speeches was made by Glen Fenter, the President of Mid-South Community College. Mr. Fenter was passionate and articulate about the need to educate people (the work force) in our area, and that for most of our population it must be done by non-traditional means. I would recommend Mr. Fenter as a guest speaker to any group or institution involved with this area and its people.

The condensed version of what we heard is that the search for the “lottery win” industry employing hundreds of people is largely a waste of time. There are a few large employers out there, but if they are seeking a place to locate, they will find you rather than you seeking them. I was struck by the similarity of stories told by the participants in the caucus. Everyone could remember when their communities had a shoe factory, or a garment factory, or a soft drink bottling plant. I can remember when Malden was two for three on that list, and Bernie had the shoe factory. The consensus is that those employers are gone and not coming back any time soon.

So what do we do? The general opinion is that you build from within. You look for established businesses in your town that can use some assistance, and try to give them some help. Demand that your local school system be as good as anyone’s. Insist that the community you live in look as good as possible. We shouldn’t accept decrepit buildings and junk or trash in plain sight. I believe Malden is working on these issues. The communities that survive will be the ones that work the hardest and with the best success.

I sat next to a woman named Mildred Barnes Griggs. I asked, at one point, if I could bring her a bottle of water. She responded, “Thank you, but I’m scheduled to speak next.” Ms. Griggs is the Dean and Professor Emeritus of the University of Illinois College of Education. She is a small wiry woman who has returned to her home in Lee County, Arkansas after being away for forty years. Lee County is the poorest county in the 49th poorest state. Ms. Briggs said she, “Went back to give back.”

Glen Fenter, who I mentioned earlier, echoed this same sentiment. We heard from those who can be called “heavy hitters,” but the words that resonated the most were from people like Ms. Briggs and Mr. Fenter. They said GET INVOLVED in your community. If you are not happy with the state of education in your town then run for the school board or attend the meetings and ask questions. The same goes for your local government. Do not sit passively on the side lines. We all need to get in the game. Our very survival as a community depends on it, and that was the message I brought back from the Delta Regional Authority Caucus in West Memphis, Arkansas.

9. “Heritage Tourism a Delta Economic Driver, Caucus Contends,” November 2012 issue of City & Town magazine, the official publication of the Arkansas Municipal League.

By Andrew Morgan, League staff

Political, community, and business leaders from across the eight-state Mississippi Delta region discussed job creation, economic development, the November general election, progress and setbacks in race relations, and more at the annual Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus fall conference, Oct. 23-24. The fall meeting has traditionally taken place in Washington, D.C., to give leaders from the region the opportunity to meet with members of Congress and the administration. This year the Caucus chose to meet in the heart of the Delta at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis.

Identifying ways to promote economic development, small business development, heritage tourism, education, and job training are high priorities for the bipartisan Caucus.

The Caucus also works to protect the funding for the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), which has used its relatively modest budget to form many public-private partnerships across the eight-state region and leverage much more investment in numerous projects.

Delta heritage tourism continues to be a strong source of revenue for Arkansas and the region. Sites and events like Arkansas’s Dyess Colony, Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, the King Biscuit Blues Festival, and the American Queen steamboat educate locals and visitors alike about the region’s rich cultural traditions, history, art, struggles, and much more.

The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss., attracts visitors from across the globe and has undergone a 7,300-square-foot expansion and has more new exhibits in the works, Director Shelley Ritter said.

The Memphis’ National Civil Rights Museum, another big heritage tourism draw for the region, just celebrated its 20th anniversary, museum President Beverly Robertson said. The museum is built onto and incorporates the Elaine Hotel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Heritage tourism is important to Delta communities, not just because of the economic boost it brings, said Rex Nelson, president of the Arkansas Independent Colleges and Universities, former co-chair of the DRA, and columnist.

“When we talk about heritage tourism, it’s about more than just attracting outsiders and the dollars they spend,” Nelson said. “Attracting those outsiders, getting them familiar with the great heritage and wonderful people of the Delta is important. It is part of economic development in this day and time. But I also think it has a lot to do about giving our own people, who live here, pride and hope.”

Communities that spruce up to attract outsiders often succeed in giving their own people pride, he said. He saw many examples of this in his many travels across the region with his work for the DRA.

“Usually you could get a sense within about 15 or 20 minutes whether a town had it going on or not, by whether its downtown was boarded up or whether there were real Main Street restoration efforts, by whether the grass was mowed, by whether the trash was picked up, aging signs were taken down on the way into town. It could give you a sense of whether or not that community had anything going on or not.”

Too many Delta communities still rely on a “1950s mentality” of economic development, Nelson said. In those days, he said, the south could attract northern manufacturers with cheap, union-free labor.

“Drive all over the rural south today and you’ll see that building on the edge of town where they used to make the shirts or make the shoes that’s long since been empty,” Nelson said. “Those jobs are long gone. They first went south to Mexico, and a lot of them have since left there for Southeast Asia and China.”

Getting a grant to build a big building to lure those kinds of jobs isn’t going to work anymore, he said. First you should consider the quality of local schools, hospitals, community race relations, and more, he said. Towns that take the more holistic approach to economic development, that focus on downtown redevelopment, heritage tourism, and build pride in the community might never attract the “Acme Widget Company,” Nelson said, but will have a better chance of retaining the young talent that would otherwise go elsewhere to raise a family or start a small business.

“You nailed it,” Arkansas House Speaker Robert Moore told Nelson about his description of the region’s strengths and economic challenges, and he congratulated the Caucus and the DRA on their efforts to forge new economic paths. He was struck, he said, by an issue of National Geographic magazine that described “geo-tourism,” which is tourism of a region’s natural resources, cultural history, diversity, and other unique qualities.

“That’s what we have-natural resources, a wonderful rich history that we’ve heard about today, our culture and diversity of the people, and the goodness of that diversity and how important it is to the future of our economic growth,” Moore said.

Young people continue to leave the Delta, however, and even those that would like to stay often can’t find good work. Heritage tourism can help turn that tide, he said.

“Not only is [heritage tourism] a huge economic force in the Delta, but when young people are growing up and they are in an environment where they see people wanting to come to where they live, what does that do to their psyche? It means they start thinking, gee, maybe we’re in a pretty good place, and maybe I want to stay here.”

This article appeared originally in the November 2012 issue of City & Town magazine, the official publication of the Arkansas Municipal League.

10. 1:35 pm - September 19, 2012 - Updated: 5:36 pm - September 19, 2012, Delta Grassroots Caucus shunning D.C. gridlock

By Peter Urban

Stephens Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The Delta Grassroots Caucus for the first time has moved its fall conference off Capitol Hill and will meet instead in Arkansas.

“The decision to meet in the heart of the Delta and not hold the traditional annual briefings in the fall on Capitol Hill is an indication of how frustrated the Delta coalition leaders are with the partisanship and gridlock in Congress,” said Lee Powell, director of the Delta advocacy group.

The two-day fall conference will be held at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis starting Oct. 23.

Powell said caucus leaders did not want to ask financially stressed partners to make an expensive trip to Washington particularly given the partisan gridlock.

“Our partners did not believe it would have been a worthwhile time to have a dialogue with most of the powers that be in Washington,” he said. “Usually, our leaders like Desha County Judge Mark McElroy and I are very interested in having three days of dialogue with congressional and national executive branch officials on Capitol Hill each fall, but even we had no enthusiasm for a D.C. trip this year.”

A Gallup poll released last week found Congress at its lowest job approval rating in 38 years. Only one in 10 Americans approve of the job federal lawmakers are doing.

Powell spoke Wednesday at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol where he expressed his frustration with partisan gridlock in Congress even as he praised efforts by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., to keep the Delta Regional Authority funded.

“Not everything in Washington is dysfunctional,” he said.

Pryor and Boozman spoke at the press conference. Both expressed their frustration with Congress for failing to approve a budget or farm bill or take any meaningful action on job creation.

“I’ve been really disappointed with Congress and, honestly, with the White House this year because it has all been about the 2012 election,” Pryor said. “People are putting the election ahead of the general welfare of the country a lot of times.”

Congress is on course to being the least productive in modern history. The 112th Congress, which opened in January 2011, has enacted 173 public laws - less than half as many as in any of the previous 20 Congresses save one: the 104th.

The 104th Congress, which ran between 1995 and 1996, produced 333 public laws. That session preceded the re-election of Bill Clinton, and came after House Republicans took the majority for the first time in four decades.

Congress is in session this week but will then go on hiatus until after the Nov. 6 election.

They have not completed a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. They also have put off action on reauthorizing a farm bill, addressing expiring tax cuts and reducing long-term deficits to avoid across-the-board spending cuts that would otherwise be triggered in January.

Boozman said that the failure to address the farm bill has “put a wet blanket on that sector” of the economy as farmers and lenders face uncertainty about the rules ahead.

“We’ve got to get this done,” he said.

More than 120 members of the Delta Grassroots Caucus from eight states have signed up for the conference in West Memphis.


Sponsors for Delta Grassroots Caucus, Oct. 23-24, 2012

Mid-South Community College, West Memphis, Arkansas

Lead Sponsors

Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas, Blytheville, Arkansas

Major Co-Sponsors

Siemens Industry, Inc.

Heifer International

Mississippi County Economic Opportunity Commission

Housing Assistance Council, Washington, DC

McGehee Industrial Foundation


Southeast Missouri Delta Grassroots Partners

Desha County Judge Mark McElroy

Lincoln County Industrial Development Commission

The City of Earle, Arkansas

East Arkansas Enterprise Community

First State Bank & Trust, Caruthersville, Missouri

Grambling State University, Louisiana

Murray State University, western Kentucky

AvanTech Services, Marion, Arkansas

The City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas

BGACDC Agency, Marvell, Arkansas

Crossroads Coalition

Delta Grassroots Caucus Partners

Last but not least, we would like to thank the hundreds of people who made contributions in the range of $100, $50 or $25 in the form of annual membership dues, registration fees, and other contributions. For a grassroots regional coalition, we need to have a diversified, broad base of financial support from large numbers of relatively modest contributions. The large number of these contributions really adds up to a major part of our budget, and we could not do our work without these donations.