Brian Neely is a big man who laughs often and talks passionately about the problems he sees plaguing north Mississippi: inadequate infrastructure, substandard schooling and an uncertain future.

One of four Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives’ 1st District seat, Neely said he’ll fight to remedy these ailments if elected to serve.

And Neely’s resume shows a history of fighting – and winning. The Tupelo native graduated from high school in the racially charged 1970s and went to college at Boston University, where he majored in civil engineering and history.

He then got a law degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas before joining the Marine Corps and serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq. Finally, he returned to Mississippi as an attorney – first in Greenville and then in Tupelo, where he opened his own practice and had a brief stint as Lee County prosecuting attorney.

Neely put his three children through the same school system that educated him, and while he called that system decent, he said that’s not enough.

“I think we’ve got a really good educational system here, but it’s not world-class,” the 46-year-old said. “Every child should get a world-class education, because we live in a world-class society.”

He also vowed to bring more aid to the area’s transportation system, which he said needs a major boost if the 1st District is to compete for jobs.

“It’s ridiculous that you can’t get from Tupelo, where you have a major industrial base, to Jackson, which is the state capital, on a four-lane highway,” he said.

Neely sharply criticized the war in Iraq, saying America has lost its purpose for being there. Instead of spending billions of dollars building that country’s roads and schools, Congress should spend that money on similar efforts here at home, Neely said.

The citizens most in need, Neely said, are the working and middle-class who struggle to pay bills and afford health care. He cited his parents, both in their 70s, who juggle the rising costs of gas and medicine on a fixed income.

“Everybody,” he said, “needs to have insurance.”

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