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Area lawmakers committed to moving region forward

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By Holly Audette
Columnist

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The U.S. Congress could take a lesson from North Carolina’s Legislature in many ways. I was recently invited by state Rep. Ed Goodwin, R-Chowan, to attend a meeting on Elizabeth City State University's aviation program and facilities. It was fascinating! The university staff and Chancellor Karrie Dixon were engaged, professional, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the unique opportunities this program affords students. This was not just a gab session or lecture, this involved a hands-on experience to learn about this specialized study and all the diverse ways education in the field is utilized today.

We learned that the program is the only one of its kind in this state’s university system and a rare offering in general on the East Coast. Comparative programs have expensive tuition attached compared to ECSU’s $500-a-semester tuition, and the total costs of the education and training are less than half that of comparable programs. The wide range of commercial applications of the drone technology, for example, includes everything from agricultural crop uses to maintenance requirements for blades on windmills.

I was particularly impressed with the cooperative efforts between members of the legislature from inside the district where ECSU is located and those members outside the district where the effects of higher education and job training have a wider impact. To their credit, this group of legislators included members of both parties as well as the Speaker of the House. The state has invested heavily in renewed opportunity at ECSU — more than $40 million — and it is evident Chancellor Dixon and legislators understand how vital that is to the campus and the region as a whole.

Along with legislators Goodwin, Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck, and Speaker Tim Moore, District Attorney Andrew Womble also attended. Nothing keeps people out of trouble with the law better than relevant educational and career opportunities — except, perhaps, good parenting and a solid foundation of values.

State Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, who represents ECSU’s district, was also in attendance. Chancellor Dixon spoke about the significance of having bi-partisan legislative support for the university. I had a chance to speak to Rep. Hunter about the majority party’s agreement to heavily invest in ECSU and he enthusiastically described the good working relationship he has with all those involved, regardless of party affiliation.

Representative Hunter seems to recognize the value of working in cooperation, as he voted for the state budget that had many benefits for our region. He told me how it is always difficult to not get everything you want in a budget —like an expanded role of government in health care that both he and Gov. Roy Cooper support. But he saw the significance of the raises for state workers and teachers, more money for area schools and classroom supplies, and the profound investment in ECSU as examples of items he believes are desperately needed in our region.

Representative Hunter and other Democrats got a lot of pushback from their party for supporting the budget and now face that kind of pressure to side with Gov. Cooper in not supporting an override of the governor's veto of that budget. The governor holds the budget hostage to his desire to significantly increase government involvement in health care. In the meantime, substantial resources pledged to communities like ours are being held up over the stand- off.

I am hugely impressed with our area legislators and their initiative, innovative thinking and cooperation in moving our poor, rural region forward. Our needs and the obstacles they present are facts anyone serving should recognize and pledge to improve regardless of party. State Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, and Reps. Goodwin and Hanig are completely committed to this team concept and it is inspiring to see Rep. Hunter join forces with them in this goal on our behalf.

The governor has handcuffed communities like ours by vetoing the budget and holding critical funding hostage. Add to that the ineptness in handling hurricane relief funds, and the picture of political ambition and partisanship over meeting community needs is clear. We are fortunate our legislative team in this area is much more interested in working cooperatively on behalf of their constituents. Working as a team wherever and whenever possible is always going to be both more effective and efficient.

North Carolina’s legislature has steered this state to sound success. We are the envy of most states in the nation with our stability and growth. Washington has a lot to learn from the accomplishments here and so does our governor. Thank you to the members of the legislative team in northeastern North Carolina for keeping their eyes on the real prize: moving our region forward toward success for all.

Holly Audette is a small-business owner active in political and civic causes.

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