Democrats Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinnsent letters Friday urging veteran a Republican congressman from Virginia to lift his opposition to the federal purchase of the unused Thomson prison in western Illinois.
Durbin urged Rep. Frank Wolf to approve a renewed Justice Department request to move around $165 million from other programs to purchase Thomson. Quinn noted bipartisan support in Illinois’ congressional delegation for the purchase. “I cannot see any reason for objecting to this sale,” Quinn told Wolf.
But there was no indication that Wolf, a powerful 16-term House member who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the federal Bureau of Prisons, had changed his mind. His office did not respond to a telephone inquiry.
For more than a year, Wolf has opposed the prison purchase fearing the Obama administration would transfer alleged terrorists being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Thomson. That’s despite a federal law against such a move and repeated assurances by the Justice Department that it would not house terrorism detainees.
The Durbin and Quinn letters came a day after freshman Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling, whose district holds the prison, joined with Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack to urge Wolf to come to visit Thomson. Schilling made such a request previously.
The Thomson prison issue involves some intense politics, particularly for Schilling. Facing a difficult re-election battle, Schilling is finding a major jobs and economic project blocked by a Republican colleague.
Moreover, Durbin’s efforts to advance the prison could ostensibly help Schilling, even though the Democrat running against the freshman House member is Cheri Bustos, a former East Moline alderwoman who is the daughter of Gene Callahan, who was a longtime aide to former Illinois Democratic Sens. Paul Simon and Alan Dixon.
“If I were representing the 17th Congressional District, I wouldn't take no for an answer from a Virginia Congressman,” Bustos said in a statement. “This is about jobs here in Illinois, and I would be camped out in Rep. Wolf’s office until the sale of Thomson prison was final.”
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