Secret Service Takes Over Madison Central High School

While President Bush won't be in Mississippi until Wednesday, White House aides and the Secret Service are already here prepping for the event. Few details about Bush's visit have emerged, but the president is scheduled to make a speech at Madison Central High School on Wednesday morning and attend a $1,000-a-plate fund raising luncheon for Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering.

"It's all very, very classified,'' said Mike Kent, superintendent of Madison schools.

A White House representative arrived in town last week and asked for everything from a faculty head count to blueprints for the high school, Kent said. The Secret Service has "occupied the building'' for the weekend, he added.

"She asked a whole lot of questions, and every time I asked one, she said, 'We'll get back to you on that,''' he said.

Tickets to the Madison Central event are being doled out by the White House, and district officials don't yet know how many places they will be allotted, Kent said.

"I don't even know if I'm going to be there,'' Kent said.

One group that will definitely be there is the Madison Central JROTC squad. The group invited Bush to its banquet last year, but the president did not attend.

"We're just ecstatic,'' said Lt. Col. Michael Gentry. "I think everybody is.''

Gentry said his cadets have been working for more than a week to get ready to perform the flag ceremony during the commander-in-chief's visit.

"They're nervous about it, but we're going to practice ad nauseam so they do it right, even if they're nervous,'' he said.

Officials with Pickering's staff and the Hilton hotel, the site of Wednesday's fund raiser, would not comment on preparations for the event.

Pickering is facing current Fourth District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, in the race for the newly redrawn 3rd Congressional District. Mississippi lost one of its five congressional seats because it grew at a slower pace than many other states during the 1990s. The race is one of about a dozen that could decide whether the Republicans or Democrats control the House. The GOP now holds a six-seat margin.

Sue Richardson, a Ridgeland resident, said she wants to hear Bush talk about health care and issues that affect the elderly while he is in Jackson.

"What is going to happen to senior citizens?'' asked Richardson, 79. "People are living longer, and we've got to make preparations for that. We're important.''