Mississippi residents resent New York congressman’s remarks

By Melissa M. Scallan
McClatchy Newspapers

GULFPORT, Miss. – Lisa Balius of Georgia, born and raised in Mississippi, was furious Friday after learning of derogatory comments a New York congressman had made about her native state.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., was quoted in The New York Times as saying that "Mississippi gets more than their fair share back in federal money, but who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?"

The Times story was about how New York’s influence in Congress will grow after Democrats won control of the House and the Senate in Tuesday’s elections. Rangel, 76, said he wants New York to get more money from the federal government, especially considering the amount its residents contribute.

"I just thought that was so pitiful, especially from someone who probably has never even been to Mississippi," said Balius, who now lives in Georgia. "I think he just has a poor image of the South and Mississippi."

Balius found out about Rangel’s remarks Friday morning and immediately wrote a letter to him and pointed out all the good things about the state. She faxed and e-mailed the letter to his office to ensure he received it.

"It just infuriated me," she said. "I hate when people talk about Mississippi when they know nothing about it."

At least one member of Mississippi’s delegation shared Balius’s anger.

But Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who stands to gain from Rangel’s likely appointment as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, stopped just short of defending him.

Some, such as Gov. Haley Barbour, chose not to comment at all.

Taylor was stationed in New York years ago when he served in the Coast Guard. He said he much prefers living in Mississippi over New York but that he wasn’t offended by Rangel’s comments and he thinks the New York congressman was being protective of his home state.

"Everybody brags on their hometown," Taylor said Friday. "Other delegations are jealous because we do get a heck of a lot more money than Mississippi sends to Washington. I’ll say something to (Rangel) when I see him next week, but I’m sure the New York delegation gets grief because New York puts in more money to the federal government than it gets back."

Rangel likely will become the first black leader of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Taylor could be appointed subcommittee chairman of House Armed Forces.

Taylor told The Associated Press that he believes Rangel and other Democratic leaders will treat Mississippi fairly and that Rangel "was particularly helpful in the post-Katrina time" in approving money to help the state rebuild.

Mississippi traditionally has gotten more federal dollars than it puts in, but some don’t believe that’s a good enough excuse for Rangel’s comments.

After the story was published, Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., said Rangel owes the state an apology.

"I hope his remarks are not the kind of insults, slander and defamation that Mississippians will come to expect from the Democrat leadership in Washington, D.C.," Pickering said in a statement.

"I have friends and colleagues from New York that are fine people, and I’ve visited their state and think it is a wonderful place," he said.

"But I love Mississippi. I would rather live in Mississippi, raise my family in Mississippi and serve Mississippi – and there are millions of Mississippians who agree with me."

Elbert Garcia, Rangel’s press secretary in New York, said the congressman had received calls Thursday about his Mississippi comments.

She e-mailed a response to The Associated Press.

"I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone," Rangel said in his statement.

"I just love New York so much that I can’t understand why everyone wouldn’t want to live here."

Pete Smith, a spokesman for Barbour, said the governor was not going to comment on Rangel’s statements. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Lee Youngblood, spokesman for Lott, said Lott has worked for years to ensure Mississippi received money from the federal government but didn’t say much about Rangel’s comments about the state.

"Sen. Lott’s view obviously is opposite of Charlie Rangel’s," Youngblood said. "Sen. Lott has consistently talked about how Mississippi for years has been shortchanged in the federal appropriations process."

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