The folks in and around Thomson must have been tempted to do cartwheels when U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., brought news that the sale of their state prison was final.|
Heck, if we could, we'd join them. The 1,100 federal jobs that the empty Thomson Correction Center will bring when it reopens as a federal lockup will be good, not only for this Mississippi River town an hour north of the Quad-Cities, but for the entire region. The state prison has sat largely empty since it was built for $140 million in 2001. The wrangling over its sale to the feds has lasted some three years.
The economic impact of opening the state-of-the-art facility for its intended purpose will be huge. Besides construction jobs, the spinoff jobs throughout the region created by the presence of those well-paid federal prison workers will be substantial.
We applaud Sen. Durbin for persuading President Obama to do an end-run around the House subcommittee chaired by a Virginia Republican lawmaker who had been holding up the sale because of differences with the administration about terrorism detainees. U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., insisted on obstructing the deal despite the fact that Congress had barred Guantanamo Bay prisoners from being transferred to U.S. soil, including to Thomson. In short, it couldn't happen. Surely Rep. Wolf knew it.
Still, on Tuesday, he clearly remained unhappy with the deal.
"President Obama's unprecedented directive to Attorney General Holder to circumvent Congress to purchase Thomson prison is deeply troubling," he said.
What we have long found to be "deeply troubling," however, is that the U.S. Congress so easily can be circumvented by the whims of a single member, despite repeated efforts led by a member of his own party, U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, to change his mind.
Indeed, Rep. Schilling probably didn't make himself any new friends among congressional leadership by pushing the sale. We applaud his efforts to keep the sale alive. Certainly the 17th Congressional District lawmaker didn't deserve the poke in the eye delivered by Sen. Durbin during his visit to Thomson on Tuesday, though it probably was not surprising. The Senate majority leader energetically is backing longtime family friend, Cheri Bustos, Rep. Schilling's Democrat opponent in the Nov. 6 election.
But the insertion of politics couldn't spoil the party, nor diminish our gratitude to Sen. Durbin, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for pushing ahead with the "court-guided friendly condemnation" that completed the sale.
Gov. Quinn clearly was happy, and for good reason: His cash-strapped state really could use the money.
Of course, the state having the check in hand doesn't mean the prison will open.
Congress still must appropriate money next year for construction work required to bring it up to federal standards and to hire staff. It won't be easy to get the Thomson prison at the front of the line while other states are awaiting similar funds.
But that is a fight for tomorrow.
For now, let's celebrate this victory and then prepare for the next.
Milan, IL Details
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