Bait-and-switch conservatism changes meaning of the word
This session of the North Carolina General Assembly is supposed to be the most conservative in recent history, with its Republican majorities in both chambers and a Republican governor who ran on a conservative platform.
They have done a dandy job of remaking the word “conservative.”
Conservatives have traditionally believed in a healthy distrust of government and the power of local decision-making. These state lawmakers have apparently perverted that principle to mean a distrust of local government and the power of business at the expense of citizens.
A glaring example is Senate Bill 612, which takes away the power of towns or counties to make environmental rules stricter than state or federal laws. That means Haywood County cannot have mountainside construction rules that are stricter than those of the state – which in this case don’t exist. The bill passed the Senate by a 36 to 11 vote and is now in committee in the state House.
This bill declares that people in Raleigh know more about these mountains than the leaders who live here. If the bill passes the House and is signed into law, developers can build on the slopes with little concern for the people below them.
Elected people right here at home should have the right to make decisions on what is best for their citizens. It’s a conservative principle based on the idea that local leaders are more accessible and easier to sway than people at more distant levels of government.
Some Republicans argue this law removes what they see as regulation, another principle of conservatism. But this bill violates two conservative ideals in favor of the one: it takes away local authority and it violates the founding goal of government, that of protection of life and property. The property rights of the mountainside owner are protected while the property rights of everyone who had sense enough to build on more stable ground below are violated when those disturbed soils come surging down to destroy lives and years of labor and love.
This is not the only instance of so-called conservatives wielding the power of big state government. The state is in the process of taking a water system away from the city of Asheville and handing it over to a water authority.
How many towns and local governments will be willing to spend money on water, sewer and other improvements if they know the state can take them away?
And rather than getting rid of another law that usurps local control, the state is mired in bills asking for exceptions to the state school calendar. Ten years ago, the state passed a law limiting when local school boards could begin and end the academic year. Thanks to the weather, that law has been impossible to keep. So it’s been ensnared in formulas designed to dictate when and how exceptions could be made. This session, 26 bills requesting exemptions to the state law are languishing in one of two House committees, either Education or Commerce and Job Development. Shoot, just trash the law and put school scheduling back where it belongs, at the local level.
It’s time North Carolinians decide whether they are conservative in the traditional sense, believing in local decisions, or whether they are redefining the word to mean that anything goes when it comes to meeting a specific political agenda.
We’d better start hollering about this bait-and-switch game before it costs us more than we can stand, not only in terms of money but in local say-so, property protection and perhaps, in the case of environmental deregulation, even our lives.
Kathy M.N. Ross is a former Mountaineer reporter and news editor who lives in Crabtree with her farmer husband and three sons.