U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood has been dead just since February. While he is far from forgotten here in his hometown, a vocal protest group from north Georgia would like part of his work to die with him.
And their efforts put a bull's eye squarely on our community's potential for future economic development.
Nearly two years ago, Norwood included a modest $1.32 million line item in a congressional transportation bill to study the feasibility of the Interstate 3 concept.
I-3 would run from Savannah, across the Augusta area, through north Georgia and into North Carolina and Tennessee. It would provide a badly needed north-south interstate highway for the Augusta area, while giving the northern reaches of the interstate direct access to the ocean and the bustling Savannah ports.
However, Norwood's replacement, Paul Broun, opposes I-3. He's a resident of Athens, a left-leaning community with a strong core of environmentalists who reflexively oppose any such development. Broun played to that crowd and campaigned against I-3 when running against Columbia County's Jim Whitehead.
Support and awareness of the I-3 proposal in our area has never been as strong as opposition to the concept in the north Georgia mountains. Those activists are further energized by Broun's recent comments in The Gainesville Times, in which Broun says he wants the Norwood funding spent on another project - in Athens.
Broun told The Times that while he's new to Congress, he's trying to figure out a way to de-fund the I-3 study - which he probably can do by withdrawing support for it as the successor to Norwood, its sponsor.
Such a move might play well in north Georgia. But it will play hell in Charlie Norwood's hometown in next year's election. To Broun's credit, he's spending lots of time lately visiting this end of the district. But it will take a lot more than handshaking receptions to overcome the perception that he's playing the ends of the district against each other.
But there is one bit of good news: A Tennessee congressman is charging forward with another unfinished part of Norwood's legacy: the Clear Law Enforcement for Removal of Criminal Illegal Aliens, or CLEAR Act.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, has reintroduced Norwood's bill. The legislation would give local law enforcement authorities, such as Columbia County's Sheriff's Office, the ability to assist in enforcement of immigration laws.
John Stone, a former Norwood aide and president of the U.S. Freedom Foundation, praises Blackburn for carrying the legislation forward, and acknowledges the pressure she will receive from pro-immigration groups.
"This is strictly about criminals, and anyone opposing this bill is in fact aiding and abetting continued criminal activity," says Stone.
Well said - and well done.
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