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A liberal Chatham Democrat tries to define conservatives

By Jeffrey Starkweather
Posted Friday, June 17, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - Mr. Marley appears to have the history of politics and policy in Chatham a little mixed up in his June 11 Chatham Chatlist post. I have been either covering or participating in politics and policy in Chatham for 39 years. I do not believe there has necessarily been a correlation between a party label and whether an elected official is considered conservative or progressive on any particular issue. In fact, until the approval of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Democratic Party in the south was the home of the most conservative politicians in the country. Remember Jesse Helms started out as a Democrat.

More importantly, when it comes to local issues, such as land use, economic development, education, environmental protection, etc., I do not believe party and ideological labels are relevant. Bunkey Morgan, for example, actually was a life-long Republican when he ran and lost in 2000 to Democratic Commissioner Bob Atwater. Morgan switched party labels and home addresses to run as a Democrat against incumbent Democratic Commissioner Gary Phillips in 2002. When it comes to allowing outside developers to control Chatham land use and environment, I do not see any difference between the Morgan and Bock administrations, regardless of their different party labels.

Local issues should be addressed in a non-ideological, pragmatic manner, involving first finding out the nature and cause of the local problem or issue, developing alternative solutions, and choosing a pragmatic approach by weighing the costs and benefits and possible unintended consequences of each alternative solution. Of course, it is critically important to obtain citizen input and try to match policy approaches with local values.

Secondly, I would like for Mr. Marley to document his unsupported claim concerning out-of-control spending and hiring during the previous four years under Democratic commissioners Lucier, Thompson, Vanderbeck, Kost, Cross and Barnes. The county budget and tax rate actually grew less during their administration than during the four years of the Morgan administration. And the county had fewer employees just before the Bock administration came into office than when the previous board came into office in 2006.

I believe the record also indicates that our public schools performance did increase dramatically during the previous administration, such as the dramatic improvement in the graduation rate. The Bunkey Morgan administration was also more supportive of expanded school funding than the current Bock administration. This was demonstrated last week by the Bock majority in their rejection of the school board's request to maintain the same per pupil funding as they received from the Democratic majority the previous year.

And what happened to the Bock campaign promise to reduce the county's general fund budget and property taxes by 22.5% in over 3 years?. His budget did not reduce taxes at all this year.

Getting back to the main point of my public hearing testimony that true conservatives promote environmental protection, I did not take it upon myself to “tell” conservatives anything. I researched and read conservative publications on environmental protection and then quoted some of the intellectual founders of the conservative movement in the United States. Moreover, I have a considerable personal experience with true conservatives. My entire family in California are true conservative Republicans. When I majored in political science in college in the mid-sixties I started out as a conservative and a Republican. My first professional job was as a legislative aide to United States Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, a Republican from Pennsylvania. Both Scott and Republican President Richard Nixon understood the importance of environmental protection for economic growth. Nixon signed the National Environmental Protection Policy, Clean Air, Marine Animal Protection, Safe Drinking Water, Endangered Species acts and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). My former boss, the GOP minority leader, supported all of these environmental protection initiatives.

Unfortunately, the Tea Party type Republicans or self-described "conservatives" that the Bock majority represents do not come close to meeting the classic definition of a conservative. True conservatives understand that protecting property rights requires sound environmental protections and land use controls. My property rights are damaged when developments pollute a river or stream running through my property, the water my family drinks or the air my grandchildren breathe. It hurts my property rights when I have to pay for more expensive water treatment so we can have safe drinking water. Moreover, it is the opposite of fiscal conservative to allow uncontrolled sprawl development in Chatham, as the Bunkey Morgan administration did in approving 12,000 plus homes in three years, and, as the Bock administration would like to do with their gutting of environmental and land use protections. Residential development does not pay for itself. Nor can we rely on residential developers to voluntarily protect the environment. Experience has disproven that naive assumption.

If we do not start attracting jobs here in Chatham with the type of investments that the Bock board has cut (support for environmental protection, education, recreation activities, and the library), we will be unable to expand our tax base beyond residential property. The inevitable result will be that our residential property taxes will certainly go up regardless of who occupies the county board chairs. That has been the result in every rural area that experienced uncontrolled sprawl development expanding ameba-like from surrounding urban areas.

Finally, to demonstrate that today's Tea Party Republicans have rejected conservatism principles, just look at their hysterical reaction to the cap and trade proposals to deal with costly carbon emissions from industry and business. Cap and trade policies were designed by business-oriented environmentalists as a market friendly alternative to command and control regulations, the latter which Tea Party types label as socialism. This policy tool relies on adjustable mandatory caps on emissions while providing businesses flexibility in how they comply, including the ability to purchase emission credits from other businesses who have met their caps through innovation.

Free market economists like such market friendly approaches because they reward innovation, efficiency and early action and provide strict environmental accountability without inhibiting economic growth. We already know it works without inhibiting growth through the experience of the national Acid Rain cap and trade program, which in a short time period virtually eliminated acid raid through the growth friendly reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. Of course, it you were a true absolutist free market conservative, you would advocate putting a market price on carbon emissions equal to their costs to society so that the market could more efficiently allocate the production and use of energy.

As Bock himself once said, quoting a tale told by Abraham Lincoln, just because you claim your dog has five legs (referring to its four regulars legs and its tail) does not make it so. Just because you claim you are a conservative on every issues does not make it so either. I think the evidence demonstrates that when it comes to environmental protection, the Bock majority on the county board are anything but conservative.

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A liberal Chatham Democrat tries to define conservatives

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