I wrote this in October, 2015 about something that impacted my home county. This still pisses me off to be blunt about it. Never forget what politicians are capable of doing — ever.
In Stokes County, where I was born and raised, a lot of good people I know very well fought the good fight because they have legitimate concerns about fracking.
They did it the old-fashioned way by calling the local newspaper and then the largest newspaper closest to them and both responded with several stories. They did it the new-fangled way by creating a Facebook page called “No Fracking in Stokes County” then proceeded to post on it regularly for its 1,336 members.
And if you know Stokes County you know that’s a lot of members.
Then they did what they were supposed to do, appealed to the local leaders they put in office to intercede on their behalf.
The group, a diverse amalgamation of the county’s residents — young, old, black, white, Democrat, Republican, environmentalists, and just flat freaked out landowners — appeared multiple times before the Stokes County Board of Commissioners. They made passionate, tearful and sometimes strident appeals. They did so for months.
Less than two weeks ago, that county board, made up of a Republican majority, adhered to their pleas because that’s what good elected leaders do. The commissioners put a three-year moratorium in place on hydraulic fracking.
And all was hunky-dory until . . .
Last week, in the wee small hours of the morning, state lawmakers discretely tucked legislation amid 41 pages of something called “technical corrections” stating that local governments could not enact moratoriums on fracking. The updated law now says all provisions of local ordinances that “regulate or have the effect of regulating” oil and gas exploration “are invalidated and unenforceable,” according to the Associated Press.
It was the last thing passed before the 4 a.m. adjournment. Then the Senate applauded itself.
How utterly convenient.
IN THE INTEREST of full disclosure, and just in case anyone missed the obvious clues already, to me this particular piece of General Assembly “business” is more personal than most. Usually I try to compartmentalize what elected people do because, let’s face it, they’re elected. Nearly all owe something to somebody. And I’ve said many times before that anytime elected people do business after midnight it’s usually very funny business. In this case change funny to funky. There’s just not much to laugh about anymore.
So yeah, I’m mad.
This, folks, is not what legislators are sent to Raleigh to do. Above all else, they should be representatives of people, all people, and this objective supersedes whatever special interest a lawmaker might have, or the campaign donations he or she receives from business or political interests. We all know it doesn’t really work that way, but still . . .
Worse, apparently there’s also no honor among fellow legislators, even of the same party. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Republican Bryan Holloway, who represents Stokes County in the General Assembly, was told the technical changes were merely that, general housekeeping and nothing controversial. That’s why he voted for the thing without reading it too closely, because, well, 4 a.m.
My hunch is he wasn’t the only one.
According to the Associated Press, the root of this debacle is a big fracking supporter in the state Senate. Republican Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County, where no fracking is being considered at the moment, by the way, felt it his calling to correct what he calls a misunderstanding. Local governments apparently harbored a weird belief that they had some say over how land is used in their communities. Silly local governments. So Rucho wanted to re-emphasize that the state runs roughshod over counties, cities, towns, any and all unincorporated areas or extraterritorial jurisdictions up to and including extraterrestrial property on Mars that once contained water — or not.
WHAT THIS all means, of course, is that in the eyes of the General Assembly, local governments no longer matter. Neither, it seems, do people. To many, such news isn’t shocking. The state has been moving in this direction over the last couple of years. Apparently the goal of one-time small government Republican lawmakers is to minimize all governments except the one they operate.
Really, though, the opposite should be true. It’s actually the local governments most in need of being left alone by the state because commissioners, councils and boards are the most accountable to the people they directly represent. That’s how the system is supposed to work. By the same reasoning, federal government should let states do their jobs, too.
This particular version of the state General Assembly can’t seem to butt out where it doesn’t really belong. It might be wise in the future to ask politicians to take an oath much like that of physicians to “do no harm.”
But in this case, the harm has already been done. Even if there is no fracking currently on the horizon the people in communities where moratoriums were put in place like Stokes and Chatham counties have suffered collateral damage from this avalanche of callous politics.
They deserved better. We all do.