WADESBORO — Three Republican lawmakers converged for an “informal” talk with residents at the Hampton B. Allen Library Monday evening with the intention of putting the issues on the table and answering questions from their constituents.
State Rep. Mark Brody, R-Anson, and Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, hosted the conversation that began when U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, briefly addressed the nearly 30 people in attendance.
Local entrepreneur Jeff Boothby, president and CEO of Woodsmen Forestry of Wadesboro, praised all three for their attentive involvement in the communities they represent.
“I think that (Pittenger) took a respectful stance and said things that embodied a lot of what most North Carolinians want in a congressman,” he said. “A man in D.C. has to be careful in what he says, and I understand that. I’m pleased in him coming to little ole’ Wadesboro and taking time out of his day to come here.”
Boothby, who is registered as an unaffiliated voter, said he has interests on “both sides of the table,” but what he looks for when he attends Democratic or Republican meetings are results. He said he feels things are heading in the right direction, adding that he especially admires McInnis and Brody for their ongoing interest in all areas of their districts.
“I was mainly wanting to praise them for being such a visible presence in all of our communities,” Boothby said. “Mark and Tom both have been at county commissioners meetings and town council meetings. It’s nice to know we have people who truly care. I’m a businessman. I like results. They are working toward results in balancing the budget and getting things done. We need significant positive impacts for people needing jobs today, especially our kids.”
In response to the call for jobs, McInnis advocated for the renewal of a program administered by North Carolina Division of Forest Resources which helps landowners reforest their land by cost sharing for site preparation, trees and planting.
“What happened in 2009 was the state appropriation for cost share was totally removed from the budget by (former governor, Bev) Perdue. Because of the Great Recession, it was not started to be put back in until this year. I led the charge on that because the timber industry is the largest export of North Carolina. Our largest export is products that go out of our ports in Wilmington and Morehead City.”
“We have 126,000 (people) who work in the forestry products industry,” Boothby said. “There are a lot of things forestry impacts. What Tom was explaining are some of the ways they are working to reinvigorate that program so many rely on. He also expressed he wanted to do something to include more of the hard wood side into these programs and encourage use of the cost share program to include hardwood growers along with pine growers. It’s not a whole lot but it’s a lot more than we had before, and that’s nice. That’s real nice.”
McInnis said not only would reforestation of hardwoods in the region make a good investment, since harvested trees provide instant liquidation, but the practice would also be good for the environment.
“When we started it back we put emphasis on the reforstion of hardwoods,” he said. “This has always been a predominately pine area because we have the sand shelf and our hardwoods tend to be poplar. The hardwoods produce more oxygen than pines and offset carbon dioxide more than pines. This creates more opportunity for more diversity of plants and animals in the forest, which is good.”
McInnis added that the seed mass different hardwoods produce attract a greater diversity of mammals and birds to feed.
Brian Johnson, at large member of the Anson County Board of Education, asked whether Brody and McInnis were aware of any change in North Carolina’s previous ranking of 49th in the nation in teacher salaries.
“That’s bologna,” McInnis said. “Cost of living and union representation bring those dollar amounts way down in the big places. Union fees are so high. The main thing with teacher salary we need to talk about is total compensation, and we have one of the best pension plans in America and one of the best hospitalization plans.”
Brody admitted the state has lagged behind for several years, but believes the tide has turned.
“It was (49th) at one time,” he said. “We’re about 32nd, somewhere right in the middle now. The cost of living is a lot less than those folks up at the top because it’s strictly a dollar value and doesn’t take any of the other factors into consideration.”
Asked whether retiring teachers retain their insurance benefits, McInnis said yes — for now.
“Teachers still have their insurance for life,” he explained. “At some point in time for new hires, that’s got to be looked at. Because it’s an unfunded mandate for about $25 to $28 billion. I’m not on that committee so I don’t share the depth of knowledge someone who is on it would. But common sense would dictate we can’t continue to pay out when there is no funding.
“And we’re going to have to take a look at the performance of our pension plan. In the last 12 months our pension plan has not grown as much as needed. Maybe only about one third as much. Part of the problem with that is that we’re in a zero percent income economy right now, so it’s very difficult to get significant yields without doing something risky. That’s up to the new treasurer, and that new treasurer is going to have a lot of work to do.”
Brody said being there for community meetings in all corners of the district he represents is one of the most important aspects of his job.
“I’ve been entrusted with a very important position, which is to represent Union and Anson counties, which is my district,” he said.” I can’t imagine someone not doing those things. You learn what is going on by going to those, to economic development meetings, chamber of commerce meetings. I did find it somewhat surprising the people before me didn’t do that.
“You can get caught up in the Raleigh scene pretty quickly and soon forget who you represent. So, I don’t feel that the Raleigh scene, being seen and being heard and being who’s who is important. I’d rather be who’s who in Union and Anson counties, then go to Raleigh and represent them.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.