The man most free to speak his mind is one with nothing to lose. One such man, it seems to us, is Johnston County Commissioners’ Chairman Tony Braswell.
Mr. Braswell, you might recall, lost his bid to be his party’s nominee for a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives. And before that, he said this year would be his last on the Board of Commissioners. If anyone in Johnston County politics can speak his or her mind without fear of political cost, it would be Mr. Braswell.
And yet when given the chance to say whether he supported the use of eminent domain for a CSX hub near Four Oaks, Mr. Braswell declined. Perhaps he was sincere when he said it was pointless for him to comment when no proposal from CSX was before the board, but the excuse no doubt sounded lame to anyone in the room.
And by the way, the Johnston County resident who tried to make Mr. Braswell show his hand on eminent domain was certainly within her rights to put him on the spot. The people who elect county commissioners, town councilmen and other leaders have a right to know what their leaders think, even if their motivation in asking a question is simply to score political points.
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If you follow Johnston County politics, you know that some of our longest-serving leaders are retiring this year. Mr. Braswell is one of them. Others are County Commissioner DeVan Barbour and N.C. Reps. Leo Daughtry and James Langdon. Among those retiring leaders, Mr. Barbour has seldom been shy about his speaking mind, and Mr. Daughtry was fast out of the gate in his support of the CSX hub. But the truth is, all four are free, for the next few months, to speak their minds – Commissioners Braswell and Barbour on CSX, for example; Reps. Daughtry and Langdon on, say, House Bill 2. We might even be surprised by what they say on those controversial subjects.
Ideally, all politicians would always speak their minds. But the reality is that political calculations often trump candor. That might strike some constituents as unseemly, but it has a certain logic. Let’s say a county commissioner cares most about passing bond issues for building new schools. If that county commissioner faced reelection this year, why would he risk losing in November by staking himself out on eminent domain for a CSX hub?
But political calculations mean nothing to a politician with nothing to lose. Mr. Braswell had a chance to say what he really thinks about the use of eminent domain for a job-creating rail project in Johnston County. He passed on that chance. He shouldn’t do so again. The freedom to speak freely is a terrible thing to waste.