EDITORIAL: Whom are our officials serving?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Forgive us for our naivety, but we have long been under the distinct impression that our elected representatives -- at all levels -- are supposed to govern in a manner that is in the constituents' best interest, and, likewise, they are to stand up for what the constituents -- that's us -- believe is right.

We have been (forgive the cliche) shocked and appalled of late as a few of our elected officials have flatly refused to carry out their duty to represent our needs, wishes and, particularly, our best interests.

A few weeks ago, our state Rep. Bob Ballinger, a Republican, said at a public forum on the proposed SWEPCO power line that he "hadn't decided yet" whether to oppose the utility company's plans.

What is there to decide? We elected Ballinger, we overwhelmingly oppose SWEPCO's plans for many solid and verifiable reasons, and yet he sits on the fence? What are we missing here?

Then, last week, at a Berryville town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, the Congressman drew the ire of several attendees when he declined one person's request for help in stopping the utility's plan to build mega-transmission lines across Carroll County.

Yes, that's correct. He declined to help.

Womack, introduced by state Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, also discussed his views on health care, tax reform and government spending, wherein he blasted Obamacare, lamented the national debt, criticized the nation's tax code and called for stricter immigration laws and tighter border security.

Attending the meeting were about two dozen area residents, including a number of members of Save The Ozarks, a local grassroots group working to stop SWEPCO's 345,000 Volt transmission line proposed to run through the western half of Carroll County to a new substation on the Kings River in Berryville.

The SWEPCO opponents carried the focus of the evening as they repeatedly, during the question-and-answer session, offered statements and arguments for their case against the utility's plans to build the mega-line here. A few asked questions related to the controversy, while others seemed to be trying to convince Womack to help the cause.

The most notable moment of the evening was when the Congressman declined to respond directly to a resident's request for his help in stopping the proposed SWEPCO power line routes. Instead of offering whatever help he can to his constituents, Womack dodged the bullet, so to speak, by implying that it is strictly a state issue: "The last thing you want is for the federal government to continue to impose more and more influence on issues that involve primarily our state," he said.

SWEPCO opponents on hand responded by saying they will do whatever it takes to keep the lines out of Carroll County -- and that they want their representative to do the same.

So do we. We find it utterly ridiculous and offensive to the notion of democracy that someone who was elected by us and who purports to represent our best interest is refusing to, at the very least in his words, side with us -- and there is no doubt that the overwhelmingly majority of constituents who care at all are outraged by the utility's plans.

We find it equally ridiculous and offensive that Womack has declared this a state issue alone, when he should know just as well as the rest of us do that the ultimate authority to oversee the nation's electricity transmission grid -- and decide when and where new lines are needed -- comes from the federal government, not the states.

It's time for Womack, Ballinger and every other elected official representing Carroll County to get on board with their constituents, and to get involved in every way they can muster in order to prevent this (and any future) utility disasters from being allowed to occur.

The SWEPCO plans are putting at risk our land, our heritage, and our futures -- and now, our elected officials' futures as well. Because even though their land and their health may not be directly affected by SWEPCO's plans, we are pretty certain that their amount of support here in the next election cycle will be.

Let us not forget.