Our D.C. delegates stay busy

Staff WriterNovember 21, 2003 

You might think Congress, shuddering with the effort to push massive energy and Medicare bills through before the holidays, wouldn't have time for the little things.

Not so. At least, not some members of the North Carolina delegation, who still found time amid worrying about prescription drugs and energy and spending bills and everything else, plus arm-twisting, hand-wringing, eye-rolling and coming up with last-ditch efforts for tobacco buyout legislation, to:

* Sponsor a briefing on climate change. Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole invited experts from the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University to talk carbon dioxide with Senate staffers. Dole favors aggressive research to find new ways to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

* Go to the funeral of North Carolina's oldest veteran, Robert Hodges, who died last week at the age of 115 or so, depending on whom you ask. Rep. Walter Jones, a Farmville Republican, went to the service in Pamlico County last weekend. Hodges, a farmer whose grandparents were slaves, served in World War I.

* Object to ads on buses in Washington, D.C. U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, a Charlotte Republican, signed a letter this month questioning why the Metro system had allowed free ad space on buses and shelters for a nonprofit pro-marijuana group called Change the Climate. The ads showed a man holding a woman, leg kicked up, with the slogan: "Enjoy better sex. Legalize and tax marijuana."

Myrick and others questioned -- just as a start -- why taxpayer-funded buses rolling past schools would promote such things.

* Make sure people can get prescriptions for contact lenses. U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, Republican of Winston-Salem, sponsored a bill to ensure that people who need lenses could get a prescription -- just as people with glasses have been able to do since 1978 -- that could be filled at an eye doctor's, on the Internet, anywhere. The "Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act" passed the House this week.

* Rename a post office -- or at least get the ball rolling. Rep. Frank Ballance, Democrat of Warrenton, sponsored a bill to name a post office in Tarboro after George Henry White. White, who was born a slave, grew up in a sharecropper family to become a teacher and a lawyer, and was elected to Congress in 1897. He was only the fourth African-American to represent North Carolina in Congress.

Ballance said on the House floor: "In January of 1901, his last year in office, Congressman White proposed a bill that would make the lynching of American citizens a federal crime. ... Knowing full well his outspoken and unconventional stance on civil rights would cost him his seat in Congress, Congressman White ... pushed on with his legislation. Despite Congressman White's passionate plea, the bill was easily defeated," and White was not re-elected.

White was the last African-American in the entire country to be elected to the U.S. House until 1928, and the last in North Carolina until 1992, when Rep. Eva Clayton, Ballance's predecessor, and Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, were elected.

The House unanimously passed the post-office-naming bill this week, and it headed to to the Senate.

The post office in question, on Main Street in Tarboro, is now known, less evocatively, as the Tarboro Main Office.

By staff writer Susan Kinzie, who can be reached at (202) 383-0001 or skinzie@newsobserver.com.

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