Monday, September 03, 2012

Who can Stop our State from Killing the Things it Loves?

Thirty years ago, Charlotte, NC, where Democrats will gather this week for their national convention, beautifully landscaped the parkways leading to and from its airport and other parts of the city, in part to ensure a positive first and last impressions for visitors arriving by air.

In 1999, an out-of-state billboard company desecrated that stretch by committing what then-Charlotte Mayor and now-Republican candidate for governor, Pat McCrory termed “an environmental crime” and described as “the worst I have seen in 10 years.”

Today, thanks to a powerful eastern NC Senate Republican from the eastern part of the state, that crime has been legalized while stripping out, during a last minute conference committee, any local say or respect for local values along state roadways including those running through Charlotte.asheville-billboard-7

Decriminalized, those who perpetrated the crime McCrory spoke so passionately about a few years ago are now rapidly clear-cutting huge swaths of trees throughout the state, enabling soil erosion and flooding in places such as Charlotte and scaring the last impressions given visitors as they depart North Carolina via routes such as those shown in the image in this blog taken along I-40 heading west out of Asheville.

McCrory courageously spoke out against the new billboard legislation in his first debate with Democratic opponent Walter Dalton.  These aren’t the only times McCrory has stated his opposition to the desecration wrought by roadside billboards.

Good friends in Charlotte report that, as mayor, he vetoed several measures passed to enable billboards to litter those same roadsides that were violated in 1999. Dalton on the other hand has been an enabler of billboards and, not surprisingly but coincidentally I’m sure, has been one of their largest beneficiaries of campaign contributions.

Even worse, as a legislator, Dalton spearheaded legislation a few years ago to strip away the ability of communities to use a tool called amortization after it had found legal by several courts during long years of struggle by Durham NC, where I live, as a means to remove billboards by giving owners a set number of years to withdraw any value.

Several months ago, Dalton defended billboards in writing to a group in Durham as “good for the economy.”  I’ve only spent 40 years in economic development, but that was certainly news to me and unbelievable by any measure.

As a political Independent, I try not to rely only on specific policies such as this to make a ballot box decision, but I am definitely among unaffiliated voters who by double digits are leaning toward voting for McCrory as are some progressives I know.

I wouldn’t expect him to govern the entire state through a Charlotte lens but this issue definitely gives a sense of his ability to think and act beyond party ideology or politics.

At the very least McCrory would give a “backbone infusion” to several departments and agencies that seem to serve more as billboard sycophants, if not passive enablers, leaving no one to stand up on behalf of a public shown in polls as overwhelmingly in opposition.

He may even inspire or at least give a NCIS-Gibbs-head-slap to some out-of-state tourism beneficiaries of the state’s marketing, such as two restaurant chains, who keep this obsolete form of advertising on “life support” while making a bewildered public wonder why “tourism so often kills the things beloved by tourists.”

I met McCrory and listened to him in person during a meeting with a small handful of other tourism leaders a few years ago.  I got a sense of him as a person and a politician.  He reminds me of Nick Tennyson, a friend and former Mayor of Durham who also happens to be a Republican, and who, like McCrory stands out as far more moderate and pragmatic than those who dominate headlines for that group.

Some who read this blog may think I’m drawn to McCrory who grew up in Guilford County, because I’ve written previously about one of my 4th-great-grandfathers, James McCrory, who initially settled after immigrating here in the hamlet of Guilford Courthouse before enlisting a few months later in the Continental Army and later relocating after the War of Independence across the Blue Ridge Mountains and eventually making his home in Pickens County, Alabama.

But before relocating to Durham, a quarter-century-ago, I was born and raised and lived nearly 40 years in the Pacific Northwest with a stint in south-central Alaska.  Pat McCrory, while now also a long-time North Carolinian, hails from Irish, German and Swiss ancestors who congregated near Milwaukee after immigrating to the United States in the early 1800s.

He was born and spent his early years in Ohio and comes by his pragmatism honestly as his roots reflect the American dream likely inherited from ancestors who worked as farmers, a blacksmith, a pipefitter, a plumber, a high school teacher, an engineer and inventor.

A reader might think that I sound Republican and that I might also vote for presidential candidate Mitt Romney because we were classmates at BYU and members of a small group known as Cougar Club and share some cultural heritage.

But I’m certain that I’ve voted for as many or more Democrats as Republicans during my lifetime beginning with the first presidential election after I became eligible (I just missed benefiting from the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution) when I cast a ballot for former South Dakota Senator George McGovern after swinging from an ultra-conservative upbringing to my left of center of my college years before settling as an Independent moderate except where forced to pick a party in order to vote in some primaries where I have lived.

I probably would have leaned toward voting for the Romney of my college years or even the Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.  But he appears no longer free to be that Romney and I’m just not persuaded that the same ideological rigidness that got us into our current mess is what we need to dig out of it, although some seem to betting a lot on “teflon” memories these days.

Hopefully, McCrory won’t become similarly constrained and his courage in speaking out against a powerful legislator from his party will remain steadfast.

Somehow the mess with billboards tells me he will stand his ground.

1 comment:

Lisa Harris, President said...

I am President of Scenic Alabama, and I have found it interesting that Republicans have been much more friendly to our cause. Our biggest allies in the U.S. Senate were Lamar Alexander and Mel Martinez. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a digital billboard law. On the other hand, Harry Reid is a HUGE fan of billboards. Here in Alabama, our Republican legislators are more in tune with ensuring that local jurisdictions have control.