By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Well fall is now officially here and that means the big November election is now less than two months away.
Here in the newsroom we have been quietly, behind the scenes, interviewing candidates for a multitude of local, state and federal races. The editorial board session interviews are ongoing, and will continue through mid-to-late October. Things are off to a better start than they were two years ago, but a few trends are already emerging. The ugly political bipartisan divide that has crippled Congress in recent months has been a blunt talking point among candidates — as it should be.
Everyone seems to agree that the ugly impasse between Democrats, Republicans and the Tea Party component in Washington is hurting America. But blame is being assigned in a multitude of directions.
Several candidates have surprisingly blamed the bitter divide on Fox News and CNN. That’s an interesting response. But I don’t believe we can blame Washington’s failings on Fox News and CNN alone.
But I’ll admit that both networks are becoming increasingly polarized in their coverage of the presidential election. It’s gotten to the point that I’m not willing to watch either. When I watch CNN, the on-air anchors and reporters seem downright jovial when there is the mere mention of the name of President Obama. And CNN is much quicker to criticize the campaign of Mitt Romney than that of President Obama. But the situation on Fox News is even worse. Criticism of the president will often reach a level of almost alarming hatred by some of the commentators — and that’s truly sad when meaningful commentary must be replaced by anger. So I can see why some politicians are now attempting to blame CNN and Fox News. Personally, I’m tuning both channels out and reading the newspaper instead. With hope, a growing number of Americans will continue to do the same. For the most part, the Associated Press is still doing a fairly good job of covering both campaigns without showing a lot of political bias in one direction or the other.
Anyhow, other interesting trends have emerged from our meetings with the candidates. Most say they support coal. Most are a little reluctant to express outright support for President Obama, but others are equally loud in expressing opposition to Mitt Romney and Paul Rynan’s plan to overhaul Medicare. They are quick to point out that the plan by Romney and Ryan to turn Medicare into a voucher program for future retirees is a bad idea.
So far, we have mostly met with state and federal candidates. Meetings with local candidates will be getting underway soon. This is where things could get interesting. It goes without saying that our region has hit a period of stagnation. Recent job losses — particularly in the Bluefield area — have captured headlines, while word of new companies and new job announcements have been far and few in between. The lone exception is the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, a local governing body which — while divided by both Democratic and Republican members — seems able to work together for the better good of the county. A county commissioner, or supervisor, is expected to do more than just sign checks for the governing body. The elected board members in Tazewell are doing what they are supposed to do — they are aggressively and actively fighting for jobs. A good example of their forward thinking is the announcement of the new dental school for the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park. The project is a joint partnership between the Board of Supervisors, the county’s Industrial Development Authority and Bluefield College.
But beyond the dental school announcement there hasn’t been much to cheer about locally. Still no Home Depot. Still no Target. Still no Olive Garden. Still no new manufacturing jobs. And we can’t even get a new grocery store for Bluefield. Instead, we now have another empty building — and one that will apparently stay empty for another five years. That’s terrible news.
Clearly, we have much work to be done, and it will start on the local level. It has to, until Congress can get its act together. The ban on federal earmarks in Congress is clearly hurting our region. Remember back in the day when the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, would make regular federal funding announcements for new water, sewer, broadband and road construction projects in the region? Those days are now history without federal earmarks.
So, in a way, we are electing lawmakers, sending them to Washington to make laws, but telling them they can’t allocate federal funds for their individual districts. So how do we build new roads, bridges, broadband systems and water and sewer systems without federal funding? How do we complete the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway without federal earmarks?
Clearly, voters will be facing some difficult decisions this November. We will do our best to profile the candidates, and their plans for job creation in the region. We will start publishing stories profiling the individual candidates and races in the next couple of weeks. It is our hope that the stories will help voters make a more informed decision at the polls on Nov. 6.
After all, the stakes are pretty high. Both on the federal and local level.
Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @BDTOwens.