Some teacher a long time ago explained to my class of intro to political science undergrads the difference between a statesman and a representative. The statesman, once elected, votes his conscience and does not necessarily bend with the whims of voters; the representative votes according to the wishes of their constituency. That’s a notable difference. What’s confusing, though, is when a leader goes both ways, depending on which is most convenient.
As Haywood leaders try to convince Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, to support a hike in the room tax from 4 to 6 percent that almost everyone who holds elected office in the county favors, I was reading what she had said about the tax and trying to figure out where her opposition is coming from.
“The less you know, the more you believe.”
Quality journalism is a powerful force. I’ve been fortunate to be able to witness that truth often during my career in the newspaper business. I’ve seen stories that helped the afflicted, honored the deserving, and brought down the powerful. I’ve been involved in stories that brought tears of joy to a mother’s eyes and tears of regret from an arrogant leader. I’ve held my notebook in hand and listened to someone who asks us for their trust tell such bald-faced lies it shocked even a jaded reporter.
The ramifications of one particularly disturbing directive passed in the last session of the General Assembly is unfolding right now in every county in North Carolina, and it promises to provide some spirited political drama that just about no one saw coming when it passed.
Legislative leaders decided they would provide meager pay raises of $2,000 over four years — yes, a whopping $500 a year — to 25 percent of teachers in each of the state’s school systems. The lawmakers decided it was best to leave it up to each school system to decide how to conjure up a fair formula to decide which teachers would get a raise and which wouldn’t.
We are now — officially — barreling into the holidays. Thanksgiving is already a fading, drowsy memory of turkey carcasses and piles of dirty dishes. As we march onward toward Christmas and the new year, my mind always goes into the same pattern, one I can’t shake: I think of blessings and shortcomings, wondering why the things that aren’t right can’t be righted.
And so a couple of recent articles about opportunity in this country and how those who come from wealth are more likely than ever in recent history to remain in the upper income brackets hit home. In order to change this, we need to do more for children, especially those who haven’t reached what we have traditionally deemed “school age.”
My people are rooted in the South. On both mom’s and dad’s sides of the family, very few have moved far from North and South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. It’s not one town or a single homeplace we embrace, but nearby relatives and their pull, a blood kinship that runs deeper than my understanding of it.
Because of that — or, perhaps, in spite of it — I grew up with a bit of wanderlust. During high school and college, there were summer adventures with friends to the Carolina coast, out west and down to the Gulf of Mexico, trips where I took whatever work I could and used the money to move around a bit more.
From the very first few days I lived in the mountains — as an 18-year-old freshman at Appalachian State University — late-summer days have always gotten my blood pumping. The fresh, cool breezes that suggest the coming fall do battle with the lingering summer heat scream at you to get outside and do something, anything but stay inside and inactive.
Saturday was one of those days. A few clouds punctuating a blue sky, warm in the sun but cool in the shade. By the time noon rolled around the chores were still stacked up like a winter’s worth of cordwood, a neat pile that one could have chosen to keep working on. Or not.
I’ve always loved school. Consequently, I detest what the General Assembly is doing to education.
As a kid, I knew that looking forward to school each day put me in a minority. Maybe it was my parents’ influence. My dad was a high school graduate and the son of a textile mill foreman in Cheraw, S.C. He joined the Navy as soon as he could and got the hell out of Cheraw. My mom quit high school when she got married at 16 but earned her GED when she was in her 40s. I always felt that they both had high expectations for me — the youngest of three boys — from a very early age.
The photo ID requirements included in the new voting law passed by the General Assembly and recently signed by Gov. Pat McCrory are problematic. Still, if it was just a voter ID law there wouldn’t be so much hell being raised about the bill’s ramifications. It’s the other voter suppression measures in this over-reaching bill that have many scratching their heads and wondering just what’s going on.
As most anyone who follows public policy in this country knows, voter ID laws — a requirement that every person have a state-approved photo identification card before being allowed to cast a vote — are being passed in many states and are very controversial.
It’s difficult for me to believe that the new leadership in Raleigh would purposely sacrifice development in the state’s rural areas at the altar of political ideology. On purpose or not, however, that’s the way it looks to many of us who live in places not named Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro or Winston-Salem.
Everyone braced for change when Gov. Pat McCrory and Republicans in both the House and Senate were duly elected to govern North Carolina. That’s the natural order of politics — to the winner goes the spoils. However, even many long-time observers were caught unawares by the speed, the ideological bent, and the reliance on unproven economic principals that infused the legislation passed during the first session in which the GOP had total control of the state.
The General Assembly’s renewal of the specialty license plates for North Carolina drivers surprised many only because it seemed such a no-brainer that it was curious there was even a debate. Thank goodness lawmakers saw the light.
Let’s take a look at what was almost undone by our state legislators: a program that produces — without any extra public spending — millions of dollars for some of North Carolina’s most prominent nonprofits, providing them with money to invest in some of the of the state’s treasures. That list includes coastal estuaries and sea turtles along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.