Don Swanson is the Director of Macon County’s “Freedom- Works.” If it is, as he says, an “independent” organization, then his other position, as Treasurer to Republican Senator Jim Davis, appears to represent some conflict of interest. I could not tell whether Mr. Swanson’s response to Margery Abel’s March 28 letter to the editor was supposed to have been written to represent FreedomWorks or Senator Davis-as a representative of Senator Davis Mr. Swanson’s view is not independent and unbiased.
Mr. Swanson is correct in clarifying that North Carolina prohibits candidates from receiving financial contributions from corporations and lobbyists. But what he failed to mention is that they can take money from Political Action Committees (PACs). The Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, does indeed retract hundreds of years of campaign finance law and allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts, so long as the money does not go directly to local candidates but goes to PACs, which act as their “front groups.”
I am sure Mr. Swanson is aware of this, as his group has the FreedomWorks PAC. He may recall the $1,537,726 spent by the deceptively named “Real Jobs NC” PAC to attack Davis’s opponent, then-Senator John Snow, and other elected Democrats. While that astronomical amount was spent attacking him, John Snow received 155 donations from individuals, each donating less than $200. Fewer than half that number of individuals sent donations to Davis.
Mr. Swanson’s letter states that when Senator Snow was in office, Mr. Swanson visited his office in Raleigh in search of an answer to the drastic increases in the educational deficit forming within our state, and Senator Snow had no answer. Mr. Swanson fails to mention that while his boss, Senator Davis, has been in office, he has not come up with a reasonable solution either.
Is the response of FreedomWorks and Jim Davis to the rising cost of education a plan to balance the budget on the backs of working poor and middle class students? While Davis has been in office, $682.2 million was cut from the UNC system’s 2012- 2013 budget, and $235 million was cut from community college for the same budget year. On top of these budget cuts, tuitions in the university system were increased on average 23 percent last year alone and by a total of 52 percent since the 2008-2009 academic year. Community college tuition was also increased, by 17.7 percent last year. With more cuts and higher tuition, one would hope that financial aid would at least be working to make up for the shortfall, but instead need-based financial aid for university students was cut by 22 percent this past year. With more cuts, higher tuition, less financial aid, maybe it is not that bad because fewer people are attending college? No. During the recession, enrollment in UNC increased by 14 percent.
Maybe Davis’ and the Republican-led General assume that employers will understand the shortfall and will lower their requirements for potential employees. No again. Studies show that by 2018 60 percent of all jobs will require post-secondary education.
Clay County School Superintendent Scott Penland, a lifelong Republican, took aim at lawmakers in response to the budget handed down by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. “I’ll be honest with you, I was very excited on election night, when I saw that the Republican majority had taken over the House and Senate,” he said. “But with each passing day, and each passing education budget, my euphoria is waning.” Penland said he gets steamed by political sound bites that schools have “administrative bloat.” He said that’s not true in his county in the far west of North Carolina. The county has nearly 1,400 students, many of them poor, he said. “We don’t get to cherrypick our kids,” he said. “We educate them all. This is America.”
Counties across the state have had to make devastating cuts in their districts as a result of “Davis’solution to the educational budget shortfall.” The Union County School Board reluctantly decided to slash more than 400 classroom positions in July, to deal with a $10 million shortfall. In a meeting at Antioch Elementary School, the board voted unanimously to eliminate about 55 teaching positions and more than 350 teacher assistant jobs. The cuts will go into effect at the start of the 2012-13 fiscal year, July 1, and will be felt in classrooms when school starts in August.
Mr. Swanson claims FreedomWorks is an “independent” organization promoting “Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom.” This claim might be more convincing if the Director of the group were not blinded by such an obvious and unfortunate conflict of interest.
Paul Roth — Cashiers, NC