The race for the 11th Congressional District truly has been one of the most costly and acrimonious confrontations in recent memory. At the finish line, the facts and the will of the people must prevail. The 11th Congressional District stretches from McDowell County to the state's western end in Cherokee County. As Western North Carolinians seek a representative who can and will deliver the level of service they should expect from their public servant in Washington, the question to be answered remains: Do we have the kind of representation we deserve, or can we do better?
In 1998 incumbent Rep. Charles Taylor, a tree farmer, lawyer and banker, promised to bring leadership and federal funds to the region. He ran on a list of accomplishments that included his role in expanding the VA Medical Center, his Magnet Triangle program and his push to keep the Blue Ridge Parkway's headquarters in Buncombe County.
In this year's race, Taylor's new programs and initiatives read more like a wish list, a to-do list rather than actual accomplishments that have dramatically benefited the region over the past two years. Although he has continued to cite his increasing clout in Washington, Taylor spent his fifth term being largely out of touch with many of the people of the 11th District. Only in the past few months has he really begun to work for the region. And word of his works in progress have only recently begun to trickle out of campaign headquarters.
n It was not until Sept. 29, 2000, that Taylor announced he is "close to obtaining the millions of dollars necessary to bring high-speed, lower-cost Internet access to WNC." According to Taylor, "it is like not having access to electricity and trying to attract industry." And it was not until Oct. 3 that Taylor announced, pending Senate approval and the President's signature, he "was successful in securing funding for numerous projects to enhance and protect WNC's natural resources." Yet Congressman Taylor refers to this as his "highest duty."
n It was not until Oct. 4 that Taylor announced "secured funding for a General Accounting Office study to analyze the data on air pollutants affecting our WNC mountains." Taylor did introduce a bill to force the Tennessee Valley Authority to reduce the air pollutants that its coal-fired power plants emit. These federal resources should have been flowing into our region years ago with at least the frequency and intensity that WNC has experienced hazardous-breathing days. For example, in 1999 in WNC there were 68 days of unhealthy ozone levels in the Smokies Ð up from the previous record of 44 days in 1998. Among the 50 states, N.C. had the 5th-highest number of code-red days during which at least one of 45 monitoring stations exceeded federal limits for ozone pollution. This travesty represents irreparable damage to trees and crops and compromises our economy and quality of life. It's way past time for substantive study and decisive action Ð no time at all for election-year smoke and mirrors.
Taylor favors private school vouchers, although private schools are not always accessible to children in rural areas of the district.
Yet taxpayer money will be taken from the public schools attended by some lower-income children.
As taxpayers are calling for more accountability, Taylor is suggesting giving their money to schools not answerable to taxpayers. This is a major flaw in his conservative platform. Taylor also has consistently declined to take any active role in reducing the K-3 class size. On the other hand, his opponent Sam Neill pledges to work to reduce public school class size and to increase funding for higher education needs as well.
Neill wants to endorse the passage of a House bill to close the loopholes that allow coal-fired plants in the region to operate below emissions standards and pollute the air in our region. For some time now he has stressed support for such legislation and pledges to vote for it in Congress. The bill Taylor introduced does nothing to address in-state polluters.
Sam Neill also favors reform of the tax code and debt reduction and agrees to push for a balanced approach to logging in the National Forests. He opposes gun control and is direct about his aims to work as a fiscal conservative and to listen to all WNC constituents with opposing views Ð rather than just party loyalists. Though Neill tends to veer away from the liberal line on some issues Ð vowing to vote against partial-birth abortions and in favor of the Boy Scout's ban on homosexual Scout leaders Ð he solidly supports the state's condemnation of private property if it's purchased fairly by eminent domain.
Neill lists as his primary issues of importance leadership, improved schools, healthier environment, stronger economy, prescription drug benefits and Medicare. He cites as his strengths consensus-building and expertise working with budgets, policy and law.
In endorsing Congressman Charles Taylor in his bid for reelection in 1998, this newspaper also issued a challenge to Taylor: To look beyond the marbled walls of wealth and consider the issues affecting the common worker; balance concern for business and industry with that of preserving the environment, and work more effectively in a bipartisan manner.
Added to that list this year must be: Communicate effectively and respond quickly to questions about the ever-graying line between obeying the tax laws and skirting them, between personal business ventures and political deal-making.
These challenges came about as a result of Taylor's voting record that included votes against initiatives that would benefit low-income workers and prescription price reform. Taylor also came down against a teacher empowerment act, OSHA ergonomics regulations and background checks at gun shows. Rather than going to the people as an elected official or a candidate seeking support, Congressman Taylor has exhibited a bunker mentality - refusing to debate the issues, deflecting criticism and pointing fingers at all who oppose him.
n After settling tax disputes in three counties, Taylor blamed the controversy on his political enemies.
n When the League of Conservation Voters rated Taylor a 4 out of a possible 100 for failure to support meaningful environmental legislation, Taylor answered questions about his voting record by referring to environmentalists as "scare-mongers."
n During his past two campaigns, Taylor has refused to debate or even appear at a forum with his opponents, although he's had offers from numerous civic organizations. His campaign has misrepresented the facts about opponent Sam Neill's non-resident, out-of-state financial support. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Taylor has raised twice as much out-of-state money, $24,700, as Neill's $11,250 Ð a pittance given that each candidate will spend tens of thousands.
In addition, Rep. Taylor refused numerous offers to meet or even speak with the editorial board of the Asheville Citizen-Times, an invitation extended to the candidates in all WNC-relevant races. Taylor did offer to have board members visit his home Ð an offer which is out of the bounds of propriety, fairness and ethics.
Sam Neill, a long-time Hendersonville resident, has been willing not only to debate but to meet face-to-face with civic and political groups Ð whether they favor his candidacy or that of his opponent.
Neill is a law degree graduate of Wake Forest University who has practiced law locally for 24 years, specializing in real estate and estate planning.
He was elected and served the maximum term of 12 years on the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina, including a term as chairman.
He is a member of Advantage West, the Board of Directors of the Hometown Bank (Clyde Savings), Folkmoot USA and N.C. School of the Arts.
Neill has years of education and public and professional service to draw on if elected.
And Taylor has enjoyed tremendous support from his constituents in WNC, although a close examination of his record over the past two years shows flagging support coming from Taylor to the people of Western North Carolina.
The voters of this district should assess the critical issues facing WNC and not allow any aspect of the environment, education, health-care, technology and the economy to languish under a congressman's personal-financial pall.
Our representative in Congress should be a leader who wants to improve quality of life for all the people in the 11th Congressional District.
The time is now, the choice is clear: Sam Neill.
In Thursday's endorsement for the Buncombe County Board of Education's Owen District seat candidate Mark Crawford's position with regard to expenditures for association fees was misrepresented. Crawford objected to money from the county school budget being used to pay for association memberships for school board members only. That misunderstanding on the part of the editorial staff led to an incorrect characterization of Crawford as "disingenuous." We apologize to the candidate and to our readers for misleading them.
Also in that endorsement, the Owen District seat was incorrectly identified as an endorsement for "Board Chair." Begley has previously served as chair, but the new board will elect its chair when it convenes.
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