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Editorial: Candidates focus on NC

Now that the North Carolina primary finally means something, state activists should put this opportunity to good use. Get the candidates off their usual stump speeches and steer them toward issues of top concern to North Carolinians.
– Transportation: Paying more than $3 a gallon for gasoline has put a tremendous hardship on families, businesses, truckers and others. But once we pay those outrageous prices, we find ourselves traveling on congested roads and outdated bridges. The condition of this infrastructure is a hazard ó and an embarrassment. With all the money North Carolinians pay in state and federal gasoline taxes, our roads should be better. Part of the problem is the fact that North Carolina is a “donor state” in the federal system. The state receives about 92 cents in federal transportation funds for each dollar North Carolinians pay in federal motor fuel taxes. As one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, North Carolina needs every penny of each dollar and more ó which candidates will realize if they look out their limousine windows at the Yadkin River Bridge. Improving the nation’s infrastructure and bringing about more fairness in federal transportation funding should be on the next president’s agenda.
– Veterans’ benefits: North Carolina also feels like a “donor state” when it comes to the U.S. military. The armed services have a strong, proud presence here, as do veterans. However the Iraq War finally runs itself out, the men and women who have been fighting for the United States deserve a strong helping hand when they get home ó not lip service. Obviously, that means an efficient Department of Veterans Affairs and state-of-the-art medical centers. But it’s also time to expand educational opportunities for returning service members. After World War II, the GI Bill paid the way to make college graduates out of thousands of veterans. Today’s education benefits pale beside those of old. Our returning veterans deserve this kind of opportunity again.
– Economic security: The foreclosure crisis has not hit North Carolina as hard as states like California and Arizona, but it has hurt many families deeply. But there are families in even worse troubles ó the families staying in homeless shelters, standing in line at food closets and scrounging to clothe their children. Sen. John Edwards did not emphasize the need to address poverty because it is trendy; he did so because poverty is real. The number of rural North Carolinians living in poverty increased during the 1990s by nearly 50,000, and the total number of rural people in poverty is now more than 560,000. Yet poverty is invisible to the mainstream and could easily be left off political agendas because the poor have no power. The nation’s leaders have a duty to keep the spotlight on our disturbing poverty rates and the efforts needed to keep so many families from living on the edge, such as health care reform and affordable housing.
These issues are the tip of the iceberg, but they need the next president’s attention. So welcome to North Carolina, Senators Clinton and Obama. Tell us where you stand on these important issues.

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