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op frIt was a great day for a picnic … or a baseball game. The sun hung there above the horizon like a hanging curveball, warm and inviting, and the air was as still as a sleeping cat curled up in a laundry basket of freshly dried towels. A spring day so perfectly placid often portends a storm, and in this case, as I stood there in right-centerfield flanked by my center fielder, Andy, and my right fielder, Rees, I was afraid the storm was just about ready to rage in the form of a furious rally by the Braves, the leaders of the Mountaineer Little League Farm League and proud owners of a 7-2 league record.

Our team, the Cubs, had jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, but the Braves had the bases loaded with two outs. A base hit here would plate at least two, and probably three runs, cutting significantly into our lead.

op frAlice Aumen, one of the owners of Cataloochee Ranch and a longtime tourism booster in Haywood County and Western North Carolina, hit the nail on the head: “It’s a vision problem.”

She was referring to the decision by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, not to support the proposed room tax hike for Haywood County because a small, vocal contingent of lodging owners and two town aldermen in Maggie Valley came out against it. Because everyone in Haywood would not support the hike, Davis allowed it to die in committee. That means hundreds of thousands of dollars for tourism-related capital projects will not find its way to Haywood County.

op frHaywood County commissioners drew a line in the sand. The Haywood County School Board decided not to cross it. In a nutshell, that’s what happened. 

But what was interesting was the spoken and unspoken back and forth between the two elected bodies about taxes and spending in this era of tight budgets and tax-hike phobia.

op frWhen I sat down to write a piece for this week’s paper my topic was already chosen. I was going to criticize the current legislative leadership in Raleigh and what that group is doing to our state. I’ve been following the bills that have been introduced and are moving toward passage, have read about the shenanigans going on concerning committee votes, had made notes and was ready with plenty of fodder. 

I also had my ending already in my head, which is a great start for writing anything: that the GOP leadership was doing absolutely nothing to encourage any shared sense of responsibility among those of us willing to admit that they inherited a mess. Instead of working together to find common ground, however, the super majority is ignoring democratic principles and even its own ideology as it stumbles along like a bull in a china shop. Legislative leaders are pushing unfunded mandates down to counties, usurping powers of local governments, and pushing ahead with measures that will hurt small businesses. 

op frThe “fractured public square” refers to the loss of the place where a community discusses ideas, politics and values. The ideal public square can be both a bonding agent and a place where one draws a line in the sand. It’s not necessarily a physical place, but it might be.

What happens when there is no public square, when it keeps fracturing and breaking into smaller places and smaller forums? I’m afraid we are on the way to finding out.

op frThe defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate wasn’t as much surprising as it was disappointing. This is one of those issues — like gay rights or even limits on tobacco advertising and use — that will eventually gain overwhelming support. Public opinion and a changing electorate will eventually win out. I’d bet the farm on it. Unfortunately, many more tragedies — some preventable — and a few more years will have to pass.

 Sandy Hook is still fresh in our minds. In truth, the Senate legislation would likely not have stopped a mentally unstable son from murdering his mother and taking her guns into an elementary school. But even the utter senselessness of that massacre was not enough to convince politicians who feared voter amnesia and an election backlash. 

op frI cannot credit film critic Roger Ebert, who died just a couple of weeks ago after a lengthy battle with cancer, with instilling in me a lifelong love of movies. I was already in love with movies before I saw Gene Siskel and Ebert’s show “Sneak Previews” in the late 1970s. Growing up in Sparta, I had seen movies in the old Sparta Theater and at Twin Oaks Drive-In. I went every chance I got, loving how the movies transported me from my small town and tightly circumscribed life into places and times and adventures I could have never dreamed of otherwise.

op frThe room tax hike being sought by Haywood leaders needs to pass and deserves the support of the legislative delegation in Raleigh, and we hope that Sen. Jim Davis in particular will get on board and shepherd this bill through the Senate.

The hike, an additional 2 cents on each dollar spent on overnight lodging, would bring the room tax up to 6 cents. It would net about $450,000 each year in additional revenue that could be spent on attracting tourists.

We have been hearing a lot lately about President Barack Obama’s charm offensive. He has been traveling a short distance from the White House to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress, including Republicans. He now seems more interested in developing relationships and a rapport with members on both sides of the aisle whose votes he can use in the days ahead.

op frWhat’s deadlier than a crazed maniac in a kindergarten class with a loaded assault weapon?

In the most horrifying massacre in the history of the United States, a few days before Christmas, 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into a classroom of 5- and 6-year-old children, opened fire and killed them all plus six teachers and staff including the highly respected principal and then himself.

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