Lead poisoning. The words strike fear into the hearts of every parent of a young child. Lead poisoning has been linked to not only diminished IQ, but to violence and increased crime rates. In fact, one of the key factors credited with the massive drop in overall violent crime rates in the past quarter century is the elimination of lead additives in house paints and gasoline. Lead poisoning of children in the US in the 21st century is now almost unheard of. Well, except for the thousands of children in Flint, Michigan, who were unwittingly poisoned by drinking the city tap water in the past 2 years.
How did this happen? Before Republican Governor Rick Snyder begged President Obama to declare a state of emergency in Flint (which only came months after local pediatricians raised the alarm that an epidemic of lead poisoning in Flint’s kids was happening), Snyder appointed one of a series of “Emergency Managers” to over-rule Flint’s locally elected municipal government. Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz signed an order on March 29, 2013 to contract with a company that the municipal government never approved, to start using the Flint River as a temporary source of drinking water, until a pipeline to a different water authority that the city council had approved could be completed.
Two subsequent Emergency Managers who followed Kurtz upheld and continued the implementation of the Flint River as a drinking water source. At no point was the elected municipal government ever consulted or given the opportunity to exercise their right to uphold the will of the people of Flint who elected them, not the appointed Emergency Manager, to run the city’s affairs. Now, a generation of helpless children are going to pay the price of a Republican governor’s hubris.
I had lead poisoning as a baby, the result of lead paint dust in the century-old Victorian house which was my birth home. At the time of the results, I was just under the cutoff for treatment. Since then, guidelines have changed and my toddlerhood lead levels are now considered fairly acute. I’m understandably livid about what happened to these children in Flint. For decades, people have been advised against fishing or swimming in that river because it was so polluted. It was painfully obvious from the start this was a bad idea.
The Emergency Managers and Governor Snyder need to be held accountable. If evidence shows that people in his administration knew of the risks and then covered them up, he should resign. The damage done to people he’s charged with helping is irreversible in many cases.
I wish I could say that we don’t have to worry about our state meddling in local government causing disasters here, but, unfortunately, we do. Since the Republican takeover of our state government in 2010, there’s been a litany of examples of state interference in local municipalities on an unprecedented scale. They have not just gerrymandered legislative and Congressional districts; Over and over again, Republicans in Raleigh have targeted local governments across the state to restructure city councils and county commissions to reflect their views, not those of local residents. In virtually every instance, they’ve targeted municipalities where the people have been electing Democrats, or where the seats were run as nonpartisan elections. In virtually every instance, the calculated net effect was to force gerrymandering, punish these elected governments by removing their authority or revenue sources, and reconfigure the rules to favor packing those local governments with Republicans instead.
SB 279, which was a bill about counseling that got a sneaky last minute amendment that sought to strip municipalities of the right to regulate employment, housing and institute nondiscrimination ordinances.
SB 181, which arbitrarily redistricted Wake County’s commissioners to favor Republicans.
HB 263, which gerrymandered the Greensboro city council to favor Republicans and disenfranchise the local black community.
HB 189, which reduced the number of districts and representatives of the Rockingham county Board of Education substantially (and of course, in such a way to favor more Republicans).
Never mind the power play to strip control over the Charlotte airport from the city of Charlotte. At least the FAA was able to step in on that debacle.
Also, scarily reminiscent of Flint, 2013’s HB 488, which effectively stripped Asheville’s rights of authority and ownership over its own water system and handed over administration to an unelected board of appointees. Something tells me this won’t end well.
Finally, 2014’s SB 786 allowed fracking to happen pretty much anywhere in NC. Democrat Gene McLaurin tried in vain to secure an amendment to protect property owners and give local governments some say in how it goes down, but predictably, this failed on a party line vote. Raleigh’s Republicans have little respect for local control.
The party that loves to grandstand about how much they love “freedom” sure doesn’t seem to respect the freedom of the local people to decide much for themselves, especially when those citizens aren’t voting reliably Republican. As Flint has shown, usurping local control can have disastrous consequences. North Carolinians should be warned that voting Republican could be dangerous to our health.
April Bundy lives in Union County, North Carolina