Sunday, August 20, 2006

Work to clean up North Carolina politics

As published in the Chapel Hill Herald on July 29th, 2006

Folks are taught from an early age that if they have a problem with something that a governmental body is doing, they should contact their representative. It's safe to say a lot of progressives in Orange and northern Chatham counties have had a lot of problems with the actions, or lack thereof, taken by the North Carolina General Assembly during this year's session.

The most glaring disappointment is the lack of meaningful ethics/lobbying reform.

It's clear many legislators want to get as much out of their status as they possibly can and are not committed to making the real changes that could help North Carolina residents better trust their elected officials.

But this is by far not the only failed opportunity to make the state better during this session.

A full slate of good environmental bills have been killed by the moneyed interests around the General Assembly, ranging from strong standards to create cleaner cars to the common-sense issue of electronics recycling, for which the Orange County Commissioners have provided a great model.

Another session will pass without a death penalty moratorium. The bigwigs in the Ram's Club at UNC are still saving money by giving star athletes from outside North Carolina in-state tuition, and the list goes on and on.

The blame can't be placed on the Democratic or Republican parties alone -- they're both complicit in the culture that has been created in Raleigh, and it means local residents of all affiliations should be concerned and should feel compelled to take action to change it.

We could all contact our own legislators to express our displeasure about these issues, as we're taught to do in school. But it's not their fault. In state Sens. Ellie Kinnaird and Bob Atwater, and Reps. Verla Insko and Joe Hackney, we have as progressive and proactive a delegation in Raleigh as we possibly could.

Voters in Orange and Chatham have consistently elected the good guys, and the result is that it is our elected officials on the front lines fighting to change the way the system works to put the balance of power back in the hands of the common man.

For that we should commend them, and we should also commend ourselves for putting the right kind of people in power.

But obviously the four of them are not enough to enact an agenda that improves the daily lives of North Carolinians.

That doesn't mean local residents have an excuse to just sit on their hands and talk about how it's not our fault.

It means we need to take our involvement to another level and engage our friends, family and neighbors across the state in the political process. We need to show them the important things that aren't happening in the General Assembly, and we need to get them contacting their representatives, who more than often will need a little more prodding than the people in our delegation.

It's no secret that folks in our area are among the most involved and knowledgeable in the state. It's also no secret that usually the most important thing to politicians is getting reelected.

When representatives from places like Bertie and Scotland and Gaston counties start hearing as much from their constituents about the need for substantive ethics reform and other components of a progressive agenda as our representatives do here in Orange and Chatham, then we will start seeing some change.

It means putting more time in. It means e-mailing friends in other counties, calling them and telling them what's happening. It means looking up their home legislators' names and giving them their contact info so it's as easy as possible for them to make their voices heard.

But if we can help to create a stronger voice from the grassroots across the states that makes legislators realize they need to shape up or move out, it will be time well spent.

Of course, for some folks in the General Assembly no amount of lobbying is going to change the way they are, and they just need to be defeated for re-election.

Local residents can spend their time this fall volunteering in other districts to elect the sorts of candidates that are committed to a more transparent and constituent-responsive government.

Within less than an hour's driving distance there are several highly competitive House races where there are opportunities to replace legislators who have been roadblocks to change.

It's been another disappointing session, but instead of complaining about it, it's time for us as individual citizens to take a wider interest in the actions of our politicians across the state instead of focusing solely on what's happening in our own backyards.

If we start working now, maybe this time next year we'll have a better feeling about our Legislature.

Tom Jensen is a local political activist

and a recent graduate of UNC.

Readers can contact him at or

c/o The Chapel Hill Herald,

106 Mallette Street, Chapel Hill NC 27516.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home