Archived Opinion

The race is on to Election Day

As the front page of this week’s paper illustrates, it’s election season. Trouble is, it’s just not feeling much like it yet. U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, R-Brevard, and Heath Shuler, this Democratic challenger from Waynesville, are still mostly preaching to their respective choirs at local party events.

But it is heating up. A recent news article pointed out that the fund raising is going to a new level. Taylor is lending money to his campaign, and Shuler is off to D.C. to attend some fund-raising events. Last night on the tube I saw a Taylor ad that touted his ability to bring money to the region while at the same time showing a fuzzy, unflattering picture of Shuler repeating the line “it’s irresponsible.” This race will get vicious.

Beginning in this week’s edition, we’re going to start trying to sort through some of the issues important to this race. From today onward, we’ll have a story each week on this race. As Election Day nears, stories about the other important races in the region will also begin to appear in our pages.


9/11 and Iraq

We chose to highlight the position of each candidate on Iraq and terrorism this week because, according to national pollsters, it is the defining issue for many in the upcoming election. The fact that this is the anniversary of 9/11 also factored in our decision. Pundits on both sides of the political aisle are saying that the Bush administration’s handling — or mishandling, more correctly — of Iraq could lead to a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Taylor’s seat is one that some think the Democrats can take.

Voters in the mountains face a tough decision. There are many who dislike Taylor, period. Others will never vote for a Democrat. But there is a middle out there that is composed of independents (see Kirkwood Callahan’s article on page 16) and conservative Democrats who have supported Taylor in the last several elections. Many will support Shuler for the very reason national pollsters are saying — they disagree with the administration’s handling of the war, and therefore the Republican Party’s handling of the war. Not only have we lost international prestige, but in the next few years our economy will bear the burden of paying for the war’s cost.

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Party politics

The other side of this election for Western North Carolina voters, though, is about a different kind of strategic planning. What party will control the House? If the Republicans stay in control and Taylor stays in, his powerful position on the Appropriations Committee is intact. If the Democrats come to power, Taylor is stripped of his power.

If that happens, Taylor’s reputation for toeing the party line will cost him dearly. Some Republicans have supported initiatives critical of the their own party’s dealings while in control of Congress. Not Taylor.

If Shuler wins and the Republicans stay in control, his character will be tested. Some of his more conservative stands on issues, though, could help him. It’s not hard to imagine a guy who was raised in Bryson City, went to college in Knoxville and who now lives in Waynesville is probably a lot more down to earth than many Republicans give him credit for.

If Shuler and the Democrats win, then he would have an opportunity to do many good things for the district. Taylor and many other Republicans, of course, have picked Nancy Pelosi as this campaign’s boogeyman and are saying that Shuler would become Pelosi’s lapdog. That is nonsense.

Joe Sam Queen and the GOP

Politics makes great party talk, and this was the topic of conversation at a social event in Waynesville the other night — the need for Haywood Republicans to help get a local guy to the state Senate.

For those who don’t know, Democrat Joe Sam Queen is running against N.C. Sen. Keith Presnell, R-Burnsville, in North Carolina’s 47th Senate District. Queen won the seat four years ago but was beaten two years ago. Now he’s running again. When Presnell won two years ago, it was during a presidential election. Each of the candidates won three of the counties in the six-county district, but Presnell’s GOP majority in Mitchell and Avery counties, in particular, wiped out the support Queen got in his home county from Republicans.

Some are hoping that will change this election. Queen quickly rose to power while in Raleigh, befriending the state’s top leaders and earning a reputation as a smart, hard-working senator who could be counted on to grasp the nuances of complicated issues and work to build consensus between parties and opposing camps.

If folks in Haywood County want a local man they can count on in the Senate, then it’s going to take the support of Republicans. I would encourage those on the right to get to know Queen and realize that he will work for them and the district while in Raleigh. Be vocal about that support, or we will once again end up with a little-known senator from a distant county representing us in Raleigh.

Blue Ridge’s future

A friend who works at Blue Ridge Paper took me to task, albeit politely, for the editorial in last week’s paper. In it, I used the plight of Blue Ridge’s workers as a springboard to discuss the weakening Labor movement in this country and the continued reduction in worker benefits that is becoming commonplace

He said that, considering Blue Ridge’s recent losses, workers were getting a pretty good deal and still had good jobs. He’s right on both counts.

My point was that U.S. workers are competing against Third World sweatshops where workers make pennies a day and European factories where the government picks up the cost of health care and pensions. We are afraid to raise taxes to pay for nationalized health care, so we just let our large companies pay through the nose to the insurance industry. Those costs are helping to break the back of U.S. manufacturing.


The country club set

I don’t often write about country clubs. I’m not a golfer, and I’m certainly not part of the leisure class. But Waynesville has suddenly found itself in an unusual position.

The new owners of Waynesville Country Club have brought back Reimar Steffen, the long-time club manager who is a beloved figure in Haywood County. His work ethic, manners and humor endeared him to many, and his presence alone will mean a lot to the success of the new owners.

At the same time, the management at Laurel Ridge Country Club is doing great things at that facility. From its food services to its golf course and all the other great amenities, the management team has made most people in Haywood County forget the problems that for years plagued the facility.

So, two local country clubs with superb management and great facilities. As a newspaperman, part of my job is to go to a lot of banquets, seminars, speeches, meetings, luncheons, dinners and other events that are part-social, part-work. In Haywood County that means lots of trips to Waynesville Country Club and Laurel Ridge.

Let’s just say things are looking up.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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