Lawmaker adds support to Guantanamo replacement in Illinois

Congressman says move could inject $1 billion into the local economy in four years and create more than 3,000 jobs.

Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., endorsed the controversial proposed maximum-security prison for Illinois, with a snipe at Republican critics and an endorsement of its major job-creation benefits.

"I refuse to be part of the fear factor," Hare said Wednesday. "I prefer that we talk about getting people to work. ... I am afraid of [local home] foreclosure and people leaving the area."

After discussions with Obama administration officials over their plans to move detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Hare said that the new facility could add $1 billion to the local economy in four years and create more than 3,000 jobs -- including indirect slots for individuals serving the prison. The "once in a lifetime opportunity" could reduce unemployment in nearby areas by as much as half, he said.

The prison is now owned and operated by the state, but it is underutilized because of what Hare called "a miserable job of managing the prisons in this state" by former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office January following his indictment on federal corruption charges.

Located in the small town of Thomson in Carroll County, the prison would be one county north of Hare's district in the state's northwest corner. Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., whose district includes Thomson, has opposed a federal takeover of the facility because it would house "really, really mean people whose job it is to kill people."

Hare attacked as "a political ploy" the recent criticism of the proposal by Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is the Republican frontrunner in next year's race for the seat of Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill. In a letter on Sunday, Kirk wrote, "As home to America's tallest building [the Willis Tower in Chicago], we should not invite al-Qaida to make Illinois its number one target."

If Kirk has a better way to get 3,000 jobs for the area, Hare responded, "I would be glad to meet him tomorrow morning."

The Thomson facility has been endorsed by other senior Illinois Democrats, including Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. But Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean, who represents another adjoining district, opposed the plan, pending "substantial assurances regarding potential security threats."