Photo: Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson (right) makes a point during remarks at Bonne Terre Country Inn Thursday evening. (Bob Bakken/desotocountynews.com)
Mississippi’s Secretary of State encouraged leaders of counties along the northwest corner of the state to find ways to work together and become a stronger force to get the funding it needs.
Michael Watson was the guest speaker at an introductory dinner of the DeSoto Integrity in Government Political Action Committee, or DIG PAC. The dinner and program took place Thursday evening at the Bonne Terre Country Inn in Nesbit.
Watson said what benefits DeSoto County benefits those counties around it and that will benefit the state as a whole. But many outside DeSoto County look at it merely as another part of Memphis. Watson said that belief needs to change.
“When you’ve got important places like DeSoto County, the state should completely invest dollars into these places,” Watson said. “As you see them grow and you invest in them, they’ll keep growing. As that fire spreads, counties near those counties will get spillover. DeSoto County really needs to be one of those places that should be a big focus.”
Watson said he believed investment in DeSoto County brings that spillover effect to its bordering counties and beyond.
“Tate County is going to benefit from DeSoto County doing well,” Watson explained. “If you do well, it’s going to spill down into Tate (County). That will go over to Marshall and eventually to Lafayette.”
The Secretary of State pointed to the growth of his home area along the Gulf Coast, noting the Coastal counties succeeded by combining their efforts.
“The three counties on the Coast working together needs to be the idea here, as well,” said Watson. “If you build your regional team, it can’t be just DeSoto. It needs to be DeSoto, Marshall, Tate, Lafayette, whomever. Then you get stronger.”
Being a bigger, stronger, more influential voice for the growth of DeSoto County is what DIG PAC is all about, according to Jon Stevenson, the president of the newly formed group.
In opening remarks, Stevenson said DeSoto County is projected to pass 250,000 residents during the next decade. At the same time, the area is between $1-1.3 billion short of funding for the infrastructure needs set to accommodate that growth, such as the expansion of I-55, U.S. Highway 51 and state Highway 305.
There’s also now a future need for a sewage treatment plant in the Horn Lake Creek Interceptor District after a federal judge ruled Memphis could set a deadline date to receive Mississippi sewage for treatment in Memphis.
Stevenson said DeSoto County should have more influence and a stronger voice in getting funding to north Mississippi. The PAC wants to work with local leaders and legislators through money and awareness to get what he feels the area needs and deserves.
“We want to be able to affect state and federal policymakers that are in a position to help DeSoto County get our economic development and infrastructure requests satisfied,” Stevenson said. “Right now, DeSoto County has been in a deficit in the last 8-10 years and have not really been able to affect our Jackson policymakers to the extent that we need to. We need to develop the resources to influence these policymakers to help fix these problems.”
DIG PAC aims to assist local state, county, and municipal leaders to guide and direct the committee members in how they can accomplish their goals. Stevenson added that PAC won’t check the political affiliation of the lawmakers they are working with.
“We are nonpartisan. We will take any help we can get as long as you want to see DeSoto County prosper and grow,” Stevenson said.
Watson admonished those attending to hold lawmakers’ “feet to the fire.” When they promise something, he said make sure they follow through on it.
“When you see people give commitments and they don’t hold to them, make them pay,,” Watson said. “And, I say that to myself. If y’all see me say something about DeSoto County and I’m not doing it, don’t ever vote for me again.”
DIG PAC officers, aside from Stevenson, are Michael Hatcher, Vice President; Jeff Norwood, Treasurer; and Carmen Kyle, Secretary. The committee’s board of directors include Stevenson, Hatcher, Norwood, Barry Bridgforth, Cal Wilkins, Jamie Patterson, Bryant Cashion, Mark Utley, Jr., Larry Newsom, and Tony Jones.