Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Boone: Beware of Wall to Wal-Mart

A story developed by The Financial Times says that Wal-Mart, the biggest corporation in America, has also become the biggest buyer of congressmen and -women, stacking them up in Washington like cord-wood. Wal-Mart's political action committee (PAC) is currently the leading U.S. corporate donor to congressional and senatorial campaigns.

What's somewhat surprising is that this buying of legislators by Wal-Mart is just now becoming the case. Following the lead of its country-boy founder, Sam Walton, who never saw much point to the Federal government and never had much truck with it during his lifetime, the corporation he left to his family has traditionally spent very little money trying to influence Washington types. "Wal-Mart's lobbying style still reflects its corporate obsession with keeping costs as low as possible."

But times have changed: "The company is facing dozens of lawsuits over its employment practices, as well as challenges from local governments that have tried to block its expansion as a way to protect smaller retailers. Trade unions that have watched well-paying grocery jobs disappear to non-unionized Wal-Mart stores have launched a series of attacks against the company. And with trade emerging as a hot election year topic, Wal-Mart would be the biggest single loser from any restrictions on imports, particularly from China."

Boone's local Wal-Mart, in fact, is wanting to expand into a "SuperStore" at the expense of the vital small-town retail trade we now have in place. The Watauga Democrat has editorialized against the expansion, saying that "Boone can avoid it." Boone can ONLY avoid it if the Board of Adjustment finds the proposed superstore out of compliance with the Unified Development Ordinance -- you know, "the UDO," which County Commissioner Keith Honeycutt loves to sneer at in front of his good-ole-boy buddies. But the Board of Adjustment has to vote on Wal-Mart's request for expansion, and the same County Commissioners who flock with Keith Honeycutt have been busily stacking that Board for the last year with pro-corporation yes-men (including a major developer and the man who wanted to put an asphalt plant on the New River). If Boone had the right to pick all its own people for the Board of Adjustment, we wouldn't have this situation. And the Watauga Democrat might want to take note of just who is to blame, if and when the vote goes in favor of Wal-Mart.

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