by Jim Kasparzak
- Republicans have opposed commonsense measures to prevent hurricane damage in North Carolina.
- North Carolina has been seriously damaged by hurricanes, partly because of the GOP politics of greed.
- We must elect more Democratic legislators to restore political sanity.
North Carolina has just suffered through “Florence,” a hurricane 500 miles across, with winds up to 110 miles per hour. It ran the length of the state, flooding many communities, knocking out power and inflicting great property damage. It was not as bad as weather forecasters first feared, but bad enough, especially for the nearly two million Carolinians who had to evacuate their homes, and more than thirty who died in the storm. The damages have been in the billions, with 3.5 million farm animals killed, communities without power, and 2,200 roads closed, some perhaps for weeks. This was the second monster storm to hit our state in two years, but it was only to be expected. North Carolina is the state most often struck by hurricanes, after Florida and Texas – and both of those states are larger and located near warmer waters. North Carolina’s unique topography and location have made our state especially vulnerable to such storms. Yet Republican politicians, both in Washington and in Raleigh, have opposed efforts to protect North Carolina from future hurricanes. What could possess North Carolina legislators to vote against the interests of their own state? In a word, Greed. Legislators have chosen to protect business lobbies rather than adopt sensible solutions to the problem.
Violent hurricanes have been a historic fact of life in North Carolina, from the deadly Independence Hurricane of 1775 to Hurricane Matthew in 2016. But such storms have been growing larger and stronger, lasting longer and with more rainfall than before. The reason can be summed up as “Climate Change.” Simply stated, as the oceans grow warmer, more water evaporates. What goes up must come down in the form of rain and storms. There are other factors involved, but all historical and scientific evidence indicates that North Carolina will have to cope with increasing risk from hurricane storms in the future.
But the Republican Party seems blind to any fact that conflicts with its established ideology. At the Federal level, Republican President Trump took disaster money from FEMA to fund his own pet projects and turned his back on the victims of Hurricane Maria. The Republican-dominated Congress voted a huge tax cut for the wealthy, ballooning the deficit and lowering resources available for weather emergencies. They approved lower budgets for emergency planning, provided large increases to flood insurance rates, and proposed greater use of fossil fuels – which increase global warming. These actions seem to indicate that Republicans at the Federal level give no priority to a serious problem affecting North Carolina. Even our own Republican representatives in the Congress and Senate supported these measures!
But what of the North Carolina legislature? Surely they must have the interests of North Carolinians at heart. Since taking over the reins of our state government in 2010 with a supermajority in the legislature, Republicans have indulged every desire for immediate profits by protecting established interests. They have enacted massive tax cuts for the wealthy and large business interests. They have declared that heavy metal-laced ash pits near rivers are not a problem. They have relaxed pollution controls. If the situation were not so serious, it would be comic how clumsily and crudely they have indulged lobbies at the expense of citizens.
In 2010 a blue ribbon North Carolina science panel recommended that our state take action against increasing threats of flooding and storm surge. Panel members suggested a return to the practice of creating buffer zones on the coasts, prohibiting development in known flood zones, and preventing property damage and loss of life. In response, Republican Rep. Pat McElraft sponsored a bill forbidding state agencies from using panel recommendations in policies or planning because it would “affect property values.” Her largest campaign donors at the time were the North Carolina Association of Realtors and The North Carolina Builders Association. The resulting law was ridiculed throughout the United States. As one television comedian said, “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.” McElraft’s support of her campaign donors has brought her to a position of Republican leadership in the legislature, but tragically for her constituents and the rest of North Carolina, our state was damaged seriously by Hurricane Florence.
So how does this affect the residents of Chatham county? After all, we are far from the coast and are not directly subject to the most serious threats of hurricanes, storm surges and flooding. While we suffered some power outages and flooding during Florence, we experienced nothing like the pain of New Bern and Lumberton. The real problem is broader than this one incident: North Carolina’s Republican representatives in Congress and in our state legislature seem incapable of dealing with reality. In areas such as tax reform, immigration reform, voter identification and support for education, the Republican Party in North Carolina has indulged its whims without check or balance and has felt free to ignore many real problems. Floods and hurricanes are not political statements to be debated, but genuine dangers which must be dealt with. We might overlook some Republican actions as due to differences in political opinion, but the failure to deal with the real world is a danger to us all. Any political group that spends more time and energy prescribing where children may use public bathrooms than preparing for hurricanes and extreme weather has clearly lost its compass. In the seven years since the Republicans took over North Carolina government, they have become increasingly irrational in their policy decisions are clearly not concerned about what is in the best interests of the state. It is time to restore sanity to our political system and end the Republican supermajority.
In November, vote to restore sanity to government. Vote for Democratic candidates. Vote “no” to all GOP proposed amendments to the NC Constitution.