Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Status Quo Not Good Enough

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

Last week the U. S. Department of Labor reported that the nation’s unemployment rate now stands at 10.2 percent. It’s a tough time to be out of work. There are 6.1 unemployed workers competing for the few job openings nationwide that become available. Unemployment is expected to remain high throughout next year.

Nowhere are unemployment and the lack of economic opportunity more visible than in northeastern North Carolina. Sadly, this is a bad situation that has been made worse by the recession.

Economic depravation has become the norm in the Albemarle, instead of the exception. Unfortunately, there are those self-serving and in some cases impotent “follow the leader” legislators, that contribute to our economic morass. Legislators throwing the dog a bone once in a while should no longer be accepted as manna from heaven by any self-respecting, God-fearing, family-loving resident of this region. The continuing absence of meaningful economic opportunity is not just a fiscal issue, but a moral one.

Recently I attended the 2009 Northeast Legislative Summit luncheon in Elizabeth City. It was hosted by the chambers of commerce from Elizabeth City and Pasquotank, Currituck, Edenton-Chowan, Perquimans and Gates counties.

The state legislators in attendance included Rep. Bill Owens (Camden, Currituck, Pasquotank Tyrell), Rep. Tim Spear (Chowan, Hyde, Dare, Washington) and Sen. Ed Jones (Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Perquimans). Sen. Marc Basnight and Rep. Annie Mobley also were invited but unable to attend. All are Democrats.

It became obvious during the question and answer period that Owens was the unofficial spokesperson for the group, with Spear and Jones frequently deferring to him for answers or specifics.

Owens, who is serving his eighth term in the House, is chairman of the powerful rules committee as well as the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Capital. He and Basnight, Speaker of the House Joe Hackney and Sen. Tony Rand not only drive the agenda, but find the means to finance it. The other elected Democrats that serve in the House and in the Senate are mere window dressing; puppets on a string who vote as the puppeteers instruct.

The legislators were upbeat when talking about economic progress beginning to occur in other parts of the state. There were but a few mentions of progress here. Spear even remarked that it would be some time before this region sees any major economic improvement. With all do respect to Mr. Spear; it’s already been decades. How much longer do we have to wait?

Spear cited several accomplishments for the folks in his district: Among them, fulfilling a request from Chowan County farmers requesting legislation to allow sage and cotton to be hauled in the same trucks. Another was a request from Hyde County on behalf of residents and businesses in Ocracoke wanting a unifying of the regulations governing the use of golf carts. I’m not certain how many jobs either of these initiatives created.

Spear also hailed a $26 million renovation of Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head and its temporary marine construction jobs as a sign of economic progress. When completed this pier is certain to be a tourist attraction, especially benefiting those businesses located close by.

The pier is located next to Democratic Nags Head Mayor Renee Cahoon’s rental cottages and within walking distance to a restaurant owned by Democrats R. V. Owens and Bobby Owens (Basnight’s brother-in-law), as well as a newly remodeled and expanded restaurant owned by Sen. Basnight.

The pier is being paid for by legislation that allows the project to use $10.5 million in stormwater funds as well as private donations and state grants.

Throughout the summit, guests heard this team of Democratic legislators tell us how important it is that we allow them to continue working together for us. If their success is to be measured by the regions economic synergy, the numbers reveal a much darker tale.

The N. C. Department of Commerce annually ranks the state’s 100 counties based on economic well being. The most distressed counties are designated as Tier 1, the next Tier 2 and the least distressed Tier 3. Here are our local state legislators and the tiers for the counties they represent:

Sen. Basnight (eight counties):
- Five Tier 1; three Tier 2
Sen. Jones (7 counties):
- Six Tier 1; one Tier 2
Rep. Mobley (4 counties):
- Three Tier 1; one Tier 2
Rep. Owens (4 counties):
- Two Tier 1; two Tier 2
Rep. Spear (4 counties):
- Three Tier 1; 1 Tier 2

If economic report cards were being issued for these legislators on their ability to create jobs and economic opportunity for the regions constituents, Basnight would receive a minus 2; Jones -6; Mobley -3; Owens even and Spear -3. All of the counties these legislators represent are economically distressed, with sixty percent of them among the poorest in the state. This is clearly unacceptable.

The most insightful exchange of the afternoon came when a commissioner from Gates County asked Sen. Jones when the economy might begin to improve in his county. Without batting an eyelash, Jones told the commissioner he really didn’t have to worry, because Gates is a Tier 1 county. That comment, perhaps, said more about the mindset our representatives have of accepting the status quo for northeastern North Carolina better than I ever could have.

What kind of Senator believes that being poor is a good thing because it assures that you will continue to receive government assistance in place of a life affirming job? Does Senator Jones, a former policeman who was always paid by government, really fail to understand the disaster of a region not being able to provide productive wealth creating jobs for its citizens?


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