I was sitting on the porch enjoying one of our early winter afternoons. In the midst of enjoying the trees in the yard and the river in the middle distance, it occurred to me that the bulk of my time in public service has dealt largely with the recurring issue of trust in government.
Early in my 10-plus years as chairman of Beaufort County Council, we struggled with getting things done because the folks just didn’t seem to have confidence in our ability or inclinations as a council.
Only after we invited the electorate to examine our fiscal performance by placing our financials online did we begin to move the needle. We also started televising every meeting of substance on the County Channel.
Not immediately, but soon enough, our invitation to the folks to watch us and see what we were doing led to a dramatic increase in our productivity.
We passed some self-taxing referendums, built essential roads and bridges, and even passed and implemented a far-reaching and very effective stormwater management regime.
On the strength of that progress and in the renewed confidence of the folks that we represented, I now do much of my community service at the statehouse.
At this time, your state government has some pretty daunting tasks ahead of us. We must update our failing transportation infrastructure as well as rebuild that which was damaged or destroyed in the recent flooding.
The courts have also given us a constitutional mandate to provide all our children a decent education.
Once again, we must perform our duties, but seemingly with only tepid support of those who elected us. Even with the very recent disgrace of two of our state’s highest officeholders on corruption charges, it looks as if essential ethics legislation is not in the cards for this session.
Last year, the House overwhelmingly passed a modest ethics measure. When the conference report went to the Senate, it never came out.
Since 2015-2016 was a new session, we started over. Again, the House sent a good bill to the Senate, where it too languished.
My participation in the Transportation Study Committee convinced me that we need more revenue to renew our roads and bridges. But raising the gas tax, a user fee designed to do what we need to do, will just go to a Department of Transportation so badly in need of reform that such a tax hike would be irresponsible.
The same is true for our State Infrastructure Bank. I am optimistic by nature, but without significant ethics reform, my optimistic nature will be challenged as we tackle our “must-do” items.
Reading the daily newspaper editorial page recently, I saw two notable items, one national and one local. David Brooks, the token conservative at the New York Times, bemoaned the future of my party because one faction wants to undermine the government while the other is terrified that they will succeed at it.
Both factions distrust each other and large portions of the electorate trust neither.
The local editorial was regarding a school board governance issue. The last words of that editorial were “the public will not support what it cannot trust.”
There you have it, from local to national. Trust is everything.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.