Archived Opinion

Florida’s loss likely means our gain – and challenge

It’s always a little embarrassing to look on another’s misfortune and discover that you may be the beneficiary of their problems, but it does happen.

And so I read a story about Florida’s economic woes and couldn’t help but see a bit of a silver lining for us in North Carolina and in the mountains.

Here are a few lines from that article:

“Already, (Florida’s) hold on retirees is weakening, with thousands of disenchanted ‘halfbacks’ moving to Georgia and the Carolinas in recent years ....

“Choked by a record level of foreclosures and unemployment, along with a helping of disillusionment, the state’s population declined by 58,000 people from April 2008 to April 2009, according to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Except for the years around World Wars I and II, it was the state’s first population loss since at least 1900.”

Now most of us who live in the mountains don’t want a huge influx of new retirees or even young families. In fact there are many who say there is nothing positive about our region becoming the “New Florida.”

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The point is we don’t want to become the new Florida. This recent economic slowdown has provided time to re-assess the dangers of unchecked growth. Many of us, this newspaper included, are committed to fighting for progressive planning measures so that when growth comes we can protect the landscapes, mountain ridges, streams and small towns from losing those qualities that make this area so special. We don’t want the crime and sprawl that make it so easy for Floridians to run from.

That said, there is certainly the reality that our economy here in Western North Carolina has gone stagnant. Too many of our residents are worried about their jobs and their families.

So if Florida’s allure as “the” retirement and relocation spot in the East is fading, there’s little doubt the coastal areas of Georgia, South and North Carolina, along with the mountains of WNC, stand to take its place. There really is no other place in the eastern part of the country that has the amenities to fill that role. It won’t happen overnight, but I suspect the next 10 to 20 years will see change in this region that many of us could never have imagined. On the one hand, it is exciting to live in what promises to be a vibrant region for the next couple of decades, while on the other hand this prospect should put us on guard.

Those of us in the media have an obligation to our communities to keep the growth issues out in the public arena. Striking a balance between inevitable growth while nurturing and improving the wonderful lifestyle we now enjoy won’t be easy, but it can be done.


I’ve been reading some essays by William F. Buckley Jr. — who died in 2008 and is generally regarded as the godfather of the modern American conservative movement — and was left bemoaning how political discourse has withered to such a state of pathetic, inane screeching and labeling.

It also left me pondering another more important question: is it possible to combine some of the tenets of conservatism and progressivism into one coherent political philosophy? That’s something I want to explore in some columns in a few upcoming issues.

Many of my liberal friends and many of my Republican friends are likely foaming at the mouth at such a proposition. But Buckley was a master of big ideas, not small labels, and therefore his conservatism has about as much in common with today’s Republican ideals as night has to day.

Many of the ideas I would associate with the progressive movement — which acknowledges the need to take steps to re-form government (and, therefore, society) in order to deal with today’s realities — can find a home in a school of thought that also cherishes the eternal verities of faith, truth and family, along with a love of country. Such a philosophy must exist without succumbing to the Fox News method of brandishing these verities as weapons against political opponents (especially those who hold dearly to the separation of church and state).

So I’m going to research some of the real-world outcomes that such a school of thought would lead to, and see where it comes out.

Most of those over 40 are probably very familiar with Buckley, though anyone who enjoys political philosophy would do well to read him. My mother-in-law, Lee Sullivan, passed along a memoir written by Buckley’s son about losing his mother and father. That led me to one of Buckley’s books of essays, Let Us Talk of Many Things. Years ago I read a couple of his books about sailing, another area in which he was quite accomplished.

Upon his death in 2008, The New York Times said this: “Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America.”

Aside from starting the influential conservative magazine the National Review and hosting “Firing Line,” an early talk TV show known for its great debate of ideas, he was a prolific writer. As someone who has personally answered the late-night phone calls from irate, sometimes inebriated, readers at the many newspapers I have worked at over the years, I can’t help but have an affinity for a guy who penned a 2007 book called Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription.

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