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op frWhen next week’s edition of The Smoky Mountain News hits the streets Wednesday, June 15, my youngest will be a high school graduate and my wife will be gone for a month to walk across Spain with our middle child Hannah.

The fact that those two events are happening at almost the same time is purely coincidence. When Hannah made plans to spend the spring semester of her junior year studying abroad, we didn’t think about how that would coincide with Liam’s graduation. And when we decided it would be a lifetime adventure for Lori and Hannah — both fluent Spanish speakers — to walk part of the Camino de Santiago together, we didn’t really consider that Liam and I would be home for a month, alone, two men.

op frOver this past Memorial Day weekend I found myself reading essays and columns about freedom, about military men and women and their sacrifices, and how those sacrifices and the freedom we take for granted are so infused into the American psyche. 

We do take it for granted, and as the son of a retired serviceman I think freedom is a birthright, or at least it should be. Humans deserve to be free. And although no one would ever describe me as a conservative, I share the belief with my conservative brethren that society generally works better in direct relationship to how much freedom we provide. Break the shackles of government and society’s expectations and we are, generally, better off. 

op potThe last couple of years have brought a sea change in attitudes about marijuana. I’m convinced pot will be legal in most of the U.S. within the next decade, and I think it will do a lot more good than harm.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a conservative tribe. Yet its Tribal Council voted two weeks ago to start drafting legislation that would allow marijuana to be produced on tribal land and prescribed for medicinal uses. Such a move would, of course, spawn a whole subset of economic development possibilities for growing and processing cannabis.

op frI’ve been observing something for years — though recently it has snowballed  — and it has always struck me as hypocritical: the intolerance of progressive liberals toward conservatives who hold diametrically opposing political and social views. The hypocrisy, of course, is that progressives espouse a philosophy of tolerance and openness. Bring a climate change denier, an evangelical Christian or a supply side, free market capitalist to the party, however, and many of my liberal friends will write off said individual’s political and social commentary before they’ve tossed back their first IPA.

op frIt’s not the 1960s in terms of political activism, but recent episodes at Western Carolina University and across the country do signal that young people today are willing to engage in important discussions about race and culture.

These are difficult topics that have bedeviled supposedly enlightened societies for centuries. Nearly every student of history has encountered one of those instances where juxtaposing the accepted social mores of an earlier time against today’s standards would have ruined the legacy of an otherwise prominent and honorable figure. Conventional attitudes and behavior change — sometimes at a glacial pace, other times too fast for comfort. This country, I think, is at one of those tipping points.

op fr“I feel like a one-legged man at an ass kicking. They don’t care for me because I call them out. I try to inform the public of the truth, and they don’t like it.”

That’s the colorfully candid state Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who is back in Raleigh this week as the General Assembly kicks off its biennial short session, which is traditionally devoted to making a few budget tweaks and perhaps passing some noncontroversial legislation.

op frWhen we reported that Mountain Discovery Charter School and Swain County commissioners were working together to hopefully build a gymnasium, the symbolism of that relatively small venture almost went unnoticed. 

Mountain Discovery was founded 15 years ago by an independent-thinking and hard-working group of Swain parents who beat the odds and started a school during the era when there was a 100-school cap on charters in North Carolina. Its leaders did not win many friends among Swain’s public school supporters and from county commissioners who provide funding to the school system.

op fr“The arts are so incredibly vital to a quality of life, smart business and the health of a community. The arts teach us to appreciate beauty, to make visible our thoughts, ideas and inspirations and to continually problem solve. These are important life skills that apply to every aspect of community, family and business. The survival of the arts is paramount to our happiness and also our innovation.”

— Kari Rinn, Haywood Community College director of Creative Arts

When regional arts leaders gathered two weeks ago at Western Carolina University for the “LEAD: Arts” summit, comments like those from HCC Creative Arts Director Kari Rinn were coming from the mouths of many in attendance. It was as if a group of under-appreciated creative minds finally got their few minutes in the spotlight, and they were eager to share their views. Not that anyone was whining or walking around with their hats out. Quite the contrary.

op frLet the campaign to unseat Rep. Michele Presnell begin. During her two terms in office Presnell has been an obstructionist and a demagogue who has blocked progress in Haywood County on several fronts.

Presnell, a Republican from Yancey County who represent the 118th District, will face Democratic primary winner and Haywood County School Board member Rhonda Schandevel in the Nov. 8 general election.

op frWhen small towns think and act big, amazing things can happen. Anyone who has traveled has come across communities that have taken risks and been rewarded for it, vibrant small towns that are just fun to visit.

I think the town center plan currently being studied in Maggie Valley fits that description.

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