Sharon is a small business owner and a Republican political activist and marketing/public relations practitioner in North Mecklenburg. Over the years she has been involved in the Young Republicans, the MeckGOP, North Mecklenburg Republican Women, The Frederick Douglas Foundation, Lake Norman Conservatives, Widen I-77 and various campaigns and conservative causes.
She graduated from UNCC with a B.A. in English, and a secondary teaching certification. She enjoys writing about things that interest her. Here is a sampling of three works from the past. There is much more at this web site. https://pundithouse.com/author/Sharon-Hudson/
This was written the day after Obamacare passed. The Midwest had been experiencing weeks of torrential rainfall and flooding. Yes the imagery is a little overboard. (Get it?)
March 29, 2010 | Written by Sharon Hudson
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. For months “Obamacare” loomed on the horizon, a dark storm threatening to erode a huge chunk of my liberty. Still, there was hope. A few bright rays peaking through the gathering tempest.
Against all odds, Scott Brown won the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. Pro-life Democrats vowed to kill the bill because of abortion funding. Blue Dog Democrats said they couldn’t vote for legislation that added millions more to our already exploding debt. The process itself was murky and made some squeamish. There was hope.
Like Minnesotans watching the sky for rain, I watched the Democratic machine use my tax dollars to buy votes. Would all the work of Republicans, tea party activists and other like-minded citizens be enough to change the tide? Could we prevail against a force seemingly willing to do anything to capture one-sixth of our economy?
In the end, the answer was no. Our efforts were titanic, but like that ill-fated ship, could not withstand the perfect storm of a biased media eager to aid Democrats and almost unprecedented arm-twisting on the left. In the end, we lost. The vote last night was a brutal reminder of the 2008 elections. Losing is not fun.
Like watching a loved one lose the battle with a long-standing disease, the end, when it finally comes, is not unexpected. We have had time to prepare. To some, it may even seem a relief. But it still hurts. It knocks us down and steals our breath. It fills us with despair. It causes us to mourn.
And so, today I will mourn. I will take consolation and encouragement from others. I will look for the silver lining. I will gird myself for the fight ahead.
I wrote this after listening to my Republican women friends vent about their displeasure with Senator Richard Burr.
March 18, 2012 | Written by Sharon Hudson
When spies are deemed unreliable, the agency sends out a “burn notice”, terminating their connections and leaving them without cash, influence or a support network. In the popular TV series by that name, ex-spy Michael Weston finds himself blacklisted and stuck in Miami, where he follows a trail hoping to find the people responsible for his being burned, and why.
After a series of disappointing votes in the 2010 lame duck session of Congress, Sen. Richard Burr (R – N.C.) was deemed unreliable by many of the conservatives who worked to put him in office. Unlike Michael, he had only to look in the mirror to find the person responsible. How will this affect his political future? If Burr is named a vice presidential candidate in the 2012 election, will all be forgiven? Will he be an asset or a liability?
Rewind – Cornelius N.C., Election Season 2010
Months of preparation went into securing a visit from the man of the hour, U.S. Sen. and candidate Richard Burr. The weather was perfect and all the right people were there. His speech was just what it should be; patriotic, funny, touching. There was hardly a dry eye in the crowd.
Burr the statesman made his way cordially but steadily past supporters eager for a word and a photo op., past the microphones of the Charlotte media, (who for once had actually found their way north of the city limits), and back to the big black bus that a short time earlier had driven between rows of American flags and dozens of Burr for Senate signs.
The visit was a success. The only thing left to do was win the election, but with such motivated and eager volunteers that was not a problem. What is a little rain if holding Burr’s campaign sign will save our country? Who needs a life outside of politics when a hundred more phone calls can secure our future?
And so the GOP faithful kept their part of the bargain and were rewarded with a victory in November. The win was most satisfying. The celebration was short.
Strike One- DADT
In an October 2010 debate with Democratic opponent N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Burr said, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has worked. Now personally I don’t see a reason to reverse it. But that’s a personal opinion.”
An opinion that evidently changed, because on Saturday afternoon, December 18, 2010 Sen. Richard Burr voted to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. He joined seven other GOP Senators: Scott Brown (Mass.); Susan Collins (Maine); John Ensign (Nev.); Mark Kirk (Ill.) Lisa Murkowski (Alaska); Olympia Snowe (Maine); and George Voinovich (Ohio). The repeal passed the Senate 65-31.
He explained his vote this way: “This is, I think, a policy that generationally is right. A majority of Americans have grown up at a time that they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do. It is not accepted practice anywhere else in our society, and it only makes sense.”
But what made sense to Burr was a slap in the face to the thousands of social conservatives who worked to put him in office. They felt betrayed. Reaction was swift, prompting angry calls and letters to Burr’s office. The darling of the right was now a pariah. He joined the ranks of politicians who promised one thing during a campaign but voted another way after the election. One blogger wrote: “Another turncoat Republican . . . I guess the senator got a pat on the back and an invitation over to lunch with a “gay pride” group . . .”
Not everyone was outraged. Then Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, was delighted. She suggested sending a letter from the commission thanking Burr and other local members of Congress for backing the repeal. Republican Commissioners Bill James, Karen Bentley and Jim Pendergraph disagreed with the repeal and were not in favor of said letter. James stated he would no longer support Burr and said he suspected the senator would pay a price for the DADT vote in his next election.
Strike Two- The Food Bill
In the same 2010 lame duck session Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–Nev.) pursued a vote on a massive expansion of food regulation, The Food Safety Modernization ACT(S 510), which granted vast new powers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and raised the cost of food but did not increase consumer protection, according to The Heritage Foundation’s Diane Katz. Her November 2010 article called it “The wrong remedy for a phony crisis.” Burr was a cosponsor of the bill.
Spanning 150 pages, it grants the FDA unilateral authority to order recalls. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will require additional spending of $1.4 billion between 2011 and 2015. The costs to the private sector will likely reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
In response to the legislation, N.C. Rep. Glen Bradley, R-Franklin, filed House Bill 65, North Carolina Farmers Freedom Protection Act. The bill is an attempt to exempt farmers from federal regulations as long as their food is produced, sold, and consumed within the borders of the state.
According to Bradley, “It could cost farmers making as little as $50,000 a year as much as $10,000 annually to comply with the new regulations. It’s a cost that puts small farmers, farmers markets, and local restaurants in danger of extinction.”
Karen McMahan, a contributor to Carolina Journal, noted that Burr’s support for the food safety bill seems out of character with his opposition to other costly legislation, including the President’s healthcare reform law.
A Forsyth County online publication, The Conservative Shepherd, requested that Burr “refresh his recollection of Republican principles and ideals concerning limited government and free markets,” because of his sponsorship of S 510. They added: “What better way to control the people than through their food? It’s going to be a long six years.”
Fast Forward – Conservative Burr
On February 23, 2012 National Journal named Burr the 7th most conservative senator in Congress for his 2011 voting record. Is the ever-ambitious Burr positioning himself for higher office?
Burr has shown an interest in moving up in the Senate leadership. In 2007 he lost a bid for Republican Conference Chairman to Lamar Alexander of Tennessee on a 31-16 vote. But in January 2009, he was named Chief Deputy Whip.
In October 2011, Burr announced he is seeking the post of Minority Whip, the number two Republican position in the Senate. If he loses the whip race, some speculate he could end up as the next National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman.
Burr for Veep?
Remember Burr was on the short list of the 2008 vice presidential candidates. Posted the day after his 2010 vote for DADT, Rob Christensen with The (Raleigh) News and Observer suggested that, “Republican Sen. Richard Burr could be a sleeper figure in national politics during the next two years. Given the history of his Senate seat, there would be nothing strange about Burr’s having national ambitions. Two of three predecessors ran for president.” Christensen pointed out that Burr succeeded Democrat John Edwards, who ran for president in 2004 and 2008. Edwards had less experience in politics and government than Burr.
According to Christensen, “Burr could be an attractive vice presidential running mate for the Republican presidential nominee because North Carolina is likely to be a key battleground state.”
In his 2012 annual predictions Christensen guessed that, “After wrapping up the GOP presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney chooses North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr as his vice presidential running mate, helping him carry a must-win state for Republicans.”
A November 2011 post in The Charlotte Observer by Tim Funk, “Five ways to juice up the Democratic Convention,” listed item number two as “Preemptive GOP move: Burr for veep. Meeting in Tampa the week before the Democrats gather in Charlotte, the Republicans up the ante in the battle to win North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes. They do it by nominating Richard Burr, the Tar Heel State’s senior senator, for vice president.”
The Washington Post reports that Burr is a Mitt Romney supporter. Romney is from the North and Burr is from the South; Romney is a Mormon while Burr is a Methodist; Romney has had difficulty convincing the Tea Party that he is a conservative, while Burr has a strong conservative voting record that will energize Tea Partiers . . . oh, wait.
Once Burrned, Twice Shy?
For Burr 2011 was a rebuilding year. He ventured cautiously into the public eye; visits with school children, awards ceremonies, and restricted interviews were all acceptable.
More recently Burr has started a slow and measured reentry into the political spotlight: an editorial in The Charlotte Observer in February; a political dinner in Lincoln County in March; a comment on an editorial in The Wall Street Journal last week.
Politics is a gamble. Strategies are planned with cunning and precision. Will conservative voters rally behind him if Burr lands a spot on the GOP ticket? Will they have a choice?
The only sure thing about politics, and espionage, is that anything can happen. Stay tuned for the next episode.
At the North Carolina Republican Party Convention in Charlotte in June of 2013 we were working very hard to stop the toll lane project.
I was able to propose an amendment which added a plank to the Republican Party Platform that opposed adding toll lanes to existing highways. We also had a resolution to pass that opposed the project.
As too often happens, the Friday business meeting was taken up with endless stalling, and our resolution was scheduled to be heard by the Executive Committee at the Sunday afternoon meeting.
Many of us attended the meeting and just happened to have our phones in the "record" mode. We watched as then Speaker of the House Thom Tillis vigorously opposed the resolution.
When he saw it was going to pass anyway, he signaled several of his friends and they all left the room together, which broke the quorum and ended all of the business.
The Executive Committee Members from all across the state who had been looking forward to addressing their own issues, and who had stayed just for that purpose, were outraged.
Here is our take on the meeting. McCrory was the Governor, FYI.
This article was written jointly by Kurt Naas and Sharon Hudson of WidenI77
For months the citizen’s group WidenI77 has been trying to have a conversation with our N.C. House Representative, Thom Tillis, regarding plans to build HOT lanes on I-77. During that time we heard from a number of surrogates, but never from the Speaker himself. So it was interesting to hear his comments in front of the N.C. Republican Party Executive Committee last month concerning a resolution we submitted regarding HOT lanes.
In the tradition of “Eastwooding” President Obama at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last summer, here is our imagined conversation with Speaker Tillis taken from an actual transcript of his speech:
Speaker Tillis: “Members of the body I just want to make you aware of something that’s going through the Legislature right now, you may or may not be aware of. Yesterday when we had two, three or four standing ovations for our Governor. One of the things he talked about was his transportation plan, something that went to the front of the House and then the Senate. It provides a framework for identifying areas where you may want to use tolls to advance road projects that otherwise could be ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road sooner. And that framework has been passed over to the Senate.”
WidenI77: While tolling works for focused projects like tunnels and bridges, it has been a historically poor way to pay for roads. For instance, in Orange County, CA, the tolling authority built over $2B worth of toll roads in the 1990’s. Toll revenues consistently failed to meet debt obligations, and that debt has swollen to over $4B. Now teetering on junk bond status, the tolling authority refinanced at a cost of $6.5B.
North Carolina’s sole toll road, the Triangle Expressway, cost $1B. Revenues there are not expected to cover debt service for another decade, so in the meantime the General Assembly authorized $25M/yr for the next 30 years to cover anticipated shortfalls. The road carries as much traffic in a day as a single interstate lane carries in about three hours. In twenty years, it’s projected to carry half the traffic I-77 does today.
We could go on, but suffice it to say we have real concerns regarding toll roads in general and the I-77 HOT lanes specifically.
Speaker Tillis: “And that framework actually requires the DOT to go down to the local governing bodies, local elected officials to ultimately decide if they want to authorize their project, through a deliberative, public, well-vetted representative process.”
WidenI77: The process we just witnessed firsthand was one of closed meetings and elected leaders being pressured into accepting the HOT Lane plan. Citizens were summarily ignored and shut out of the discussion. We can only infer that plenty of arm-twisting also went on in the House and the Senate. This was the opposite of a fair process.
Speaker Tillis: “The effect of this resolution will basically be, and any Senator who is in the room today, to kill the Governor’s transportation plan, which he’s held out as one of his first (gifts?) because it’s actually in the plan, I mean, it’s in the bill that this is a mechanism, this is an option. So to do this, the net effect is you telling your duly elected Senators and the House members who are here who voted for the transportation plan that you’re going to hold them accountable for something that the Governor wanted, that he firmly believes with the DOT it is an essential option, it’s only an option. It still requires local elected officials to vote for it.
WidenI77: Regarding the Governor’s new transportation plan, our understanding is it has three tiers. 40% of funding would be at the state level, 40% at the regional level, and the remaining 20% at the division level.
The state level would be based 100% on merit- i.e. a “data-driven” approach, the regional level 70/30 state/local consideration, and the divisional level 50/50 state/local.
So it appears to us that projects of statewide and regional interest, like tolls, would have limited local input. If it’s a great plan, then let’s wait for it to be implemented before we sign a 50 year contract to toll I-77.
Speaker Tillis: “If you don’t want it, vote out the local elected officials who support the tolls and put people in who don’t and then figure out how to pay for the roads if it happens to be something that makes sense.”
WidenI77: Are you suggesting we “primary” the elected officials who were told by you that there is no other way to widen the road except by HOT lanes for at least 20 years?
Speaker Tillis: “But the net effect of this resolution is sending a message to the Governor that you want to kill one of his three major initiatives that have come out this year.”
WidenI77: Our understanding is the Governor’s transportation initiative is about using our limited transportation funds more effectively. Privately operated toll lanes incur expenses for advertising, toll billing, toll collection, credit card fees, toll enforcement, occupancy enforcement, administration of the tolling authority, insurance claims and premiums, and ROI to private equity and debt investors. These expenses significantly decrease the amount left over to cover capital costs and additional transportation improvements.
Also, toll lane projects, because of their scope, often require improvements that are otherwise unnecessary. For instance, the I-77 HOT Lane project requires the replacement and/or construction of 9 bridges. According to the NCDOT none of these existing bridges require replacement otherwise. So taxpayer money that could be spent elsewhere would instead pay for replacing structurally sound bridges. A road widening project that should cost less than $100 million instead becomes bloated to $550 million, including $170 million in taxpayer funds.
Transportation officials at all levels of government have said toll lanes offer an alternative to congestion, not a solution. Toll lanes will only be used when the general purpose lanes are congested. Therefore, toll lanes ensure congestion instead of relieving it.
Toll lanes are in direct opposition to the spirit of the Governor’s initiative: they are bloated, put the taxpayer at risk of a bailout and do not solve the problem for which they were considered in the first place. Rather than killing the Governor’s initiative, this resolution reinforces it.
Speaker Tillis: “It’s not like he’s going to put HOT lanes all over the place. We’ve got a resol, we’ve already passed a bill that will not allow tolls to be put on existing roads. In other words the lanes that are already there that have already been paid for by taxpayer dollars and gas taxes cannot be tolled. It’s against the law. I also supported that bill I believe it’s House Bill 267. They cannot be tolled.”
WidenI77: Yes, but HB 267 does not prohibit tolls from being put up on existing roads if there are new lanes. That’s exactly the plan with I-77- and every other toll lane now or in the future. That list includes I-40, I-85, I-95, I-485, and Hwy. 74. HB 267 has a loophole you could literally drive a truck through.
Speaker Tillis: “That the house and the Senate cut the gas tax. You wanted it cut, we cut it.”
WidenI77: The N.C. gas tax increased from 37.5 cents to 37.6 cents on July 1, 2013. When combined with the federal tax of 18.4 cents, N.C. has the highest gas tax in the Southeast and the sixth highest nationwide.
Speaker Tillis: “The effect of that is hundreds of millions of dollars over time that we’ve got to make up somehow. As we move forward, as the state grows, as we add another million people over the next ten years, we’ve got to find a way to have infrastructure that allows businesses and industry and everybody else to grow. Without that this state will not grow. (Moot only?)”
WidenI77: NC’s gas tax historically had a fixed component of 17.5 cpg plus a percentage based on the wholesale price of gas. In 2012 House Bill 950 capped the gas tax at 37.5 cpg, effective through June 30, 2013, at which point the tax returned to the fixed/variable formula. We do not see how this short-term freeze translates into hundreds of millions in lost revenue.
Speaker Tillis: “The HOT lanes, the proposal in the Governor’s budget is to consider corridors where they believe the economics are right to enter into private public partnerships to build roads. And then after the debt is retired over a forty or fifty year period, which is roughly the period of time the bonding would occur, that asset becomes the state’s. Although the majority of the cost and the risk associated with building the road was incurred by a consortium who won’t actually issue the bonds to do it.”
WidenI77: We have only seen one contract for this type of arrangement- the proposed I-77 HOT lanes. The contract contains 18 pages describing how the taxpayer will bailout the private company if the contract is terminated. So the majority of risk is actually borne by the taxpayer. As far as costs, we hope our leaders keep in mind that these are ultimately borne by the people who pay the tolls.
Speaker Tillis: “So then we need to renegotiate with the concessionaire and continue the revenue.
“Now here’s the other thing about HOT lanes, the agreement with these concessionaires is to have a reasonable rate of return, which is (fairly a loan?) for them to pay for the road. If they underachieve, tough luck.”
WidenI77: Like we mentioned earlier, the agreement for I-77 HOT lanes contains 18 pages describing how the taxpayer will bailout the concessionaire. In fact, the bailout happens even if the concessionaire defaults.
Speaker Tillis: If they overachieve a portion of that money stays within the transportation district where the toll is collected and it’s used to improve the general purpose lanes.”
WidenI77: The only toll lanes in the U.S. that generate significant income are located in Southern California, Houston and Miami. All of these have populations exceeding 5 million. Mr. Speaker, we’re not Southern California, Houston or Miami.
Right now, no toll lane in a metropolitan area the size of Mecklenburg-Iredell has ever covered its operating costs, and no toll lane period has ever repaid a debt as large as the one we’re about to incur on I-77.
It’s difficult to see how toll lanes in North Carolina will ever “overachieve.”
Speaker Tillis: “In fact the toll agreement, even for I-77, allows for an additional general purpose lane to be built. You have to renegotiate it with the concessionaire but that’s possible. But only in that corridor are you really limited to building any new capacity.”
WidenI77: Unfortunately the proposed project uses up all of the existing right-of-way for toll lanes. Additional general purpose lanes would therefore be very expensive, and the concessionaire has the right to seek compensation for lost toll revenues if we ever did widen the road and got traffic moving. The contract is for 50 years, which for all intents and purposes means (a) the road would not be improved with anything but more toll lanes until 2065 and (b) we relinquish control of a critical transportation artery for five decades.
Speaker Tillis: “On 21 that runs adjacent to 77 or parallel to it, you could add a seven lane highway there legally by virtue of the contract that we’ve put together. But I’m telling you, until we find another way to fund roads, I hate tolls too.”
WidenI77: Estimates we’ve seen put widening an existing interstate at ~$10M/mile, and widening 21 at $30-40M/mile. Our money would be better spent simply widening the interstate.
Speaker Tillis: “I use them, when I want to get somewhere quick and I don’t when I don’t need to. But if we don’t find another way to fund roads in this state, with energy efficiency with cars that don’t even use gas anymore we’re gonna run out of money to build roads.
“Do we want to increase the personal income tax? Do we want to increase the sales tax? Do we want to do a bunch of pile up push it down on the counties and increase the property tax? Sooner or later we’ve got to figure out how to pay for roads.”
WidenI77: We feel compelled to point out that in 2007 you editorialized in favor of a transportation sales tax for Mecklenburg County.
Speaker Tillis: “It’s not easy, but it’s a – and then – oh wait, wait, how about vehicle miles traveled, that’s a real popular one right?
“So, for those who oppose tolls, please put in the resolution how you’re going to pay for them, because you’re telling legislators what they can’t do, but you’re not telling us how we can do it, and I would oppose the resolution.”
WidenI77: Again, toll lanes lose money and therefore are not a solution to funding. We look to our elected leaders to develop solutions, not vice-versa, but in the spirit of the question:
For this fiscal year the legislature diverted $258 million in gas tax receipts to the General Fund. Our first suggestion: that needs to stop. Use gas taxes for their original purpose- to build roads. Second, stop pursuing bloated $550 million toll projects when viable solutions cost a fifth of that amount.
Third, if efforts at becoming more efficient still fall short, consider a modest vehicle registration increase, indexed to offset the decline in gas tax receipts. For instance, the projected 2% decline in gas tax receipts can be recouped by a vehicle registration increase of around $4. The average driver would still pay the same amount in road taxes, but we replace an obsolete funding source with one reflective of new realities. This begins to decouple road needs with fuel consumption, is broad-based, and is paid for by the people who use and benefit from good roads in North Carolina.
We support the resolution.
Hear Speaker Tillis’s remarks above by clicking here.