Editor’s Desk

Newcomers reshaping N.C.

March 7, 2014 

Many North Carolina natives express disdain for the state’s newcomers, be they Latinos or Northern transplants. I’m not one of them.

I get where these wary Tar Heels are coming from: They fear the loss of the distinct cultures that make North Carolina unique. I would regret that too, though it seems to me that Tar Heel culture will die only if we native North Carolinians stop practicing it.

I worry more about what North Carolina would look like without all of its newcomers.

Surely newcomers are among the shoppers supporting the many Johnston County farmers at the state farmers’ market in Raleigh. And surely newcomers provide labor on those Johnston County farms.

It seems certain too that newcomers, because they are so large in number, are making it financially viable for entrepreneurs to breathe new life into once-moribund downtowns across North Carolina. At the state farmers’ market last Sunday, my wife and I spoke to a German baker who plans to open shop in downtown Cary, where a revitalization push has begun. And in Fuquay-Varina, we had lunch in an old storefront turned into a restaurant by the folks at Aviator Brewing Co.

Elsewhere in North Carolina, in communities where newcomers have yet to settle, economies are languishing and downtowns are drying up. Ask mayors in those towns if they’d liked to see new families settle in their communities.

Personally, I welcome newcomers and their cultures. The German baker was a pleasure to talk to, and his baked goods were delicious. Closer to home, the Bolejacks recently ate dinner at San Marco’s, a new Mexican restaurant in Smithfield, and the place was packed with families that looked a lot like us. In other words, it appears other longtime Johnstonians are enjoying new cultural experiences too.

I like variety and fear stagnation, which is why I like the cultural diversity and economic vitality newcomers are bringing to North Carolina. And if they want to learn about North Carolina culture – barbecue and beach music, tobacco farming and bluegrass – well, I’ll be happy to point them in the right direction.

Is the (Democratic) party over?

Twenty-five years ago, Johnston voters chose their county leaders and state lawmakers in the May Democratic Party primary. Democrats held every countywide office, and their primary ballot was often robust. Republicans, meanwhile, never had a primary, and the party fielded few candidates in the November general election.

Twenty-five years later, the tables are turned. No fewer than three Republicans are running for clerk of court, and two Republican county commissioners, Chad Stewart and Cookie Pope, face primary challengers. So does state Rep. Leo Daughtry, also a Republican. Meanwhile, no Democrats are running for county commissioner, sheriff, registrar of deeds or district attorney.

Only one Democrat, Michelle Denning, is running for an office elected entirely within Johnston County, while two other Democrats, Walter Martin and Don Rains, are running for offices elected by voters in Johnston and other counties. These filings suggest to me that no Democrat wants to take on a Republican on solely Johnston County turf.

That was the case with Republicans 25 years ago.

For Johnston’s GOP, the tide really changed with the election of Republican County Commissioner Cookie Pope, who beat Democrat Frank Holding, who had held office for three decades. Pope essentially had just one plank in her platform – that Johnston County could borrow money to build schools without raising taxes.

That platform made the GOP the progressive party in Johnston County, and the Democratic Party has not been the same since.

Now the party appears to have conceded defeat without putting up a fight. That’s unfortunate, but I see no issue on the horizon that could help the party stage a comeback in Johnston County.

Another job well done

After snow fell in January, I wrote that Smithfield and Clayton were quick to remove the frozen stuff from their streets.

After sleet fell in Johnston County on Tuesday, I didn’t get a chance to see Smithfield streets on Wednesday; my day started before the sun came up. But Market Street, also known as state-maintained U.S. 70 Business, was an icy mess, and it stayed that way – until I reached the Clayton town limits.

Inside Clayton, I could not tell that it had sleeted at all, and that’s no exaggeration. I sent Clayton Town Manager Steve Biggs an email saying my commute to work had been a slippery, unnerving ride – until I reached his town limits. Mr. Biggs responded by saying, “We deploy a bucket brigade to catch (the sleet and snow) as it falls.”

I got a good chuckle out of that, but the safety of the motoring public is a serious matter, of course, and on Wednesday in Clayton, roads and streets inside the town limits were safe. That was no small matter, and Mr. Biggs and his employees deserve credit for another job well done.

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