Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Voter Apathy Contributes To Corruption

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

I’ve always wondered why many incumbent politicians fight to keep their legislative seats year after year. One would hope for the purest of motives, but that is not always the case. Given the recent voter apathy in primary and general elections, it’s become easier for incumbents to stay in power. This year may be different.

Being a servant of the people is a great honor and privilege. Folks have placed their confidence and trust in elected officials to spend their hard-earned tax dollars wisely and to maintain the highest degree of ethical standards.

Most legislative salaries are nothing to write home about. Compared to the corporate world they are modest and at the state and local level, these positions are often part time.

But power and influence are bigger prizes than a hefty salary. And their use ultimately will determine whether the elected official is looking after his or her own interest or that of the electorate.

Corruption and misdeeds comes in all shapes and sizes and in as many flavors as Baskin-Robbins ice cream. Some seem more spectacular than others, like the recent fall from grace of former New York Gov. Elliott Spitzer over his alleged involvement with a prostitute.

In North Carolina there have been a rash of government corruption scandals of late -- from the imprisonment of former Democratic state House Speaker Jim Black for accepting funds from chiropractors while their professional group had legislation pending in the General Assembly, to the expulsion from the General Assembly of Democrat Rep. Thomas Wright of Wilmington who was ultimately convicted of fraud. Black served 11 terms in the state house; Wright served eight terms.

In local government, the signs of corruption are often less obvious than bribery, extortion or embezzlement. While county and local legislators may not be caught with their hand in the cookie jar there are still opportunities and temptations for other forms of government corruption. Among those are nepotism and patronage.

Nepotism is the practice of favoring a group or relative when giving jobs, promotions, raises, benefits and the like. It may often have little to do with experience and or qualifications but instead on the idea that the benefactor’s interests will be protected.

Likewise, the patronage system consists in granting favors, contracts or appointments in exchange for political support. Patronage bypasses the formal rules of local government and use personal instead of formalized channels to gain an advantage.

As a result, contracts often are awarded to less qualified individuals and companies and political appointments go to cronies.

While laws may not be actually broken they can be bent to benefit the few and the privileged. This is not the way open, honest and transparent government is supposed to work. Whoever said “to the victor go the spoils” certainly never intended that elected and/or their appointed officials would line their own pockets.

In recent years voter apathy is probably the biggest contributing factor to corruption. By neglecting to vote, the folks are in effect saying, “Yeah, we know things might not be perfect, but what differences can our vote make?” Actually a great deal.

We have a primary election in North Carolina on May 6. Primaries here are notorious for low voter turnouts but with hotly contested races for president and governor, the turnout is expected to be huge. New-voter registrations are at an all- time high and there appears to be a plethora of enthusiasm. Voters in many local races in the primary have a choice for the first time in a long time.

On May 6 “we the people” have a chance to really make a difference from the top of the ticket down. We have an opportunity to elect folks who are committed to making our government work better for us.

Good government requires the participation of everyone, not just at election time but throughout the year. Without increased and consistent citizen involvement we augment the risk of having an ineffective, self- serving government that will take what it can and only give what it must.

Voter apathy is a serious problem. "They all do it" is an attitude of cynacism that has resulted in very low turnout for citizens in our elections. This allows the greedy and those who wish to get something from government to dominate our politics. It is leading us with certainty to a tyranical future of socialism and redistribution of wealth. Loss of individual freedom is the end result. Why do people become so indifferent to the permanent war needed to retain their freedom?

There is a famous quote. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". It has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Wendell Phillips. I believe whoever first said it, they are correct. Another quote along the same lines is "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants". This one is Thomas Jefferson.

Americans appear no longer willing to fight for freedom. Freedom warriors are no where to be found. And with that loss of patriots willing to fight for freedom we all lose our freedom as well.

How sad is that?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- A 100 Year Old’s History Lesson

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

The year was 1907. The Lusitania was the queen of travel between Europe and the U. S. Marconi initiated transatlantic radio communications. The Oklahoma territories became Oklahoma, our 46th state, and Teddy Roosevelt occupied the White House. And just outside Columbia, N.C., on April 23 Henry Bryant was born to a loving black family. Henry had four half brothers and a sister.

I received Mr. Bryant’s name from a friend and was told he was a life-long Republican who would soon be 101 years old. I called and asked if he would be interested in being interviewed. He invited me to his home the next day. I couldn’t wait. I was going to meet a walking, talking 20th century history book.

On my drive to Columbia I thought about all of that has transpired since Mr. Bryant’s birth. The sinking of the Lusitania and the Titanic. World War I through Iraqi Freedom. Inventions from talking movies and television to YouTube. Commercial air travel to space exploration; typewriters to computers. This man has lived through it all.

Being unfamiliar with the area I slowly proceeded up the country road toward his house. Planted firmly in the ground was a “Fred Smith for governor” sign. I rang the bell and was graciously invited inside. I was introduced to his wife of 56 years Nora, who is confined to a wheelchair. Mr. Bryant invited me to sit “in the best seat in the house” and already had a table pushed in front of my chair to use as a desk. The love in this home was everywhere; from the many family photos to the religious symbols of his Christian faith. The home was cozy and welcoming.

Mr. Bryant spoke of his first wife, Polly, who died many years ago and their five daughters. He and Nora had two daughters of their own. One of his girls died from breast cancer in her early ’40s. “Tough to lose a child” he said softly.

Mr. Bryant’s daddy worked in the Roper Lumber Co. where he would camp all week and then walk 20 miles home on weekends to be with his family. “We didn’t have much but we ate well,” he remembered. His daddy also sharecropped. Cotton, soybeans and corn. “In a way we were still slaves,” he said. “We did all the work and the owner got all the money.” “When it came time to settle up it seemed like we always broke even. Life was just basically work,” he told me.

Mr. Bryant lost his father when he was just 15 years old. He said he had no more than six months education so nothing much would change for him. He would continue doing the only thing he knew – work.

Mr. Bryant discussed economics. For a man with no formal schooling, he is articulate and knowledgeable. He discussed the events leading up to the banking crisis that preceded the Great Depression. “Mr. Hoover got all the blame” he said, “but it was really the Democrats who controlled Congress who were at fault.” He then laid out the intricacies of the interest differential between what Europeans were paying for our money, which was near 10 percent, while the U. S. government paid much less. All the money was going to Europe, which he said forced many smaller U. S. banks out of business and helped create panic and ultimately the run on the banks.

Mr. Bryant recalled it was in 1938 and part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that changed the length of the average workday from 10 hours to eight hours for most Americans. He recalled the Adamson Act of 1916, which initially proposed the change but said it wasn’t broadly used back then. “Workers were being paid $1.92 per day and we were grateful to get it,” according to Mr. Bryant.

In 1942 Mr. Bryant bought his first home. He had been traveling around the country working construction jobs here and there. He wanted to come home to Columbia. “White folks wouldn’t rent to you unless you worked on their farm. I hadn’t farmed since 1936 so I decided I’d buy my own home and work at what I pleased.”

Mr. Bryant says he continued to labor at many different jobs through his 80s. “I’ve never been on welfare and have worked for everything I have,” he said – in the defense industry and in ship yards. He first became a foreman in 1942. “They knew I was a good hard worker,” he said.

I asked Mr. Henry Bryant why he was a Republican. “Better for the economy” he said. “They know how to create jobs. I know handouts are necessary from time to time but accepting them as a continuous way of life is bad.”

“Who do you like for president this year,” I asked. “Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama don’t have the experience,” he said. I’ll probably be voting for Mr. McCain. I’ll vote for Mr. Smith for governor.”

Mr. Bryant is concerned about the future for his grandchildren. “Never should have taken prayer out of schools,” he told me as he gazed upon the cross that adorned the wall. “Kids are no longer taught morals at home or in school. They’ve been turned loose and have no value system. Dope and immorality are the result. Bring back God front and center and you’ll turn this country around.”

Amen Mr. Bryant. Amen.

I too say Amen. And Happy Birthday Mr. Bryant.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Local Politics Not Just For The Chosen Few

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, the late former Speaker of the House of Representatives, once said that “all politics is local.” By that he meant that elected officials in Washington or at the state level are beholden to the concerns of voters at the local level.

Our government should be running from the ground up. Our elected officials should be servants of the people. Unfortunately personal interests, greed, indifference, cronyism and even corruption often inhibit the transparency needed to monitor elected officials, including how they spend our tax dollars.

Our founding fathers eliminated elements of tyranny and injustice that often permeated the walls of government in their native lands. They incorporated what was good and decent, while eliminating many of the infringements on personal freedoms and liberty they had experienced.

Our forefathers were visionaries. They arrived in America with a common goal that can best be described in the poignant words of President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address – “a government of the people, by the people, for the people, that shall not perish from the earth.”

The strength of America’s government is derived from its people. This melting pot of humanity has brought to our shores a never-ending supply of creativeness and ingenuity that has benefited our nation, our states and our communities.

But many localities are not taking full advantage of this invaluable resource. There is often a fear among the old guard that the “come-heres” want to change everything instead of accepting the status-quo. While in some cases their fears could be warranted, in most cases newcomers want to add, not detract, to their new communities.

People who move to an area become a part of their church, job or school. Many do volunteer work, often providing hours of community service that many organizations could never afford to support through staffing. Many volunteers are retirees who lend their valuable expertise. Most also are taxpayers and property owners.

Just as America is often referred to as a melting pot, to a lesser degree our communities also are an amalgam of folks from all over this great nation. And just as our nation derived its greatness from this endless supply of new energy, so too should each community recognize and encourage the participation of newcomers.

While they are often welcomed in our towns and cities, especially as community volunteers, there often is a reluctance to integrate newcomers into the political process. This can mean that the same people are involved in local politics for generations because the folks who have control want to keep it. In other words “we know what’s best for our community.”

Some incumbents don’t like being challenged in a primary or a general election. But it is vital to the preservation of democracy at every level of government for voters to have choices-of both candidates and political parties.

Many of our communities are not growing. Their citizens suffer fiscal hardships as jobs become scarcer and taxes keep increasing. And oftentimes, the same politicians who have been in office year after year see tax increases as the only answer.

The remedy might very well be increased public scrutiny, an effective two or more party system, competitive elections and, hopefully, frequent turnover of seats. Term limits would help too.

All of us need to encourage and support the participation of not only “come-heres”, but locals who have never been a part of the political process. When we do, voters will have a choice. And we will begin to fulfill the promise and reap the rewards our forefathers envisioned for us more than 200 years ago.

It is important to get involved and give back to the community that has allowed most of us to accomplish the American dream. I learned that lesson late in life from an immigrant. His love for our nation, and his insistence that everyone owed this country for it's freedom changed my life.

I agree with almost everything that Bob says except the term limits. Term limits have been a disaster for anti-government free-enterprise people wherever they have been tried. Bob, please talk to me about term limits before you ever propose those again. Term limits don't fix the problem.

They merely replace entrenched people with some concern for stability of our culture with a constant changing group of young eager incompetents who are in a hurry to sell out America before they are term limited out. The idea always sound good, but in practice it replaces good conservatives and some bad liberals with naive well intentioned eager young liberals who drive our nation downhill even faster. This is not an improvement.