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The Politics of Business

The Politics of Business

Column written for The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper - November 1, 2023

Tip O’Neil, the 55th Speaker of the House and perhaps one of the most influential members of the United States Congress once said, “All politics is local.”

He coined the phrase in a 1992 Congressional campaign running against an attorney who was heavily financed with out-of-state campaign contributions. What O’Neil was referring to was the principle that a politician’s success is directly linked to his or her ability to understand fully and influence the issues of their constituents.

The last few weeks and the week ahead will see a flurry of campaigning for local office and the at-large school board by both incumbents wishing to hold onto their seats and newcomers looking for an opportunity to serve. This year’s town boards are quite competitive with perhaps the most ever seeking an opportunity to represent our communities.

This election cycle, voters in Mecklenburg County will decide the fate of a $2.5 billion Charlotte Mecklenburg School Bond. The Chamber Board voted to support that Bond as well as a $58 million Huntersville Town Bond, which is designated for Transportation improvements ($50 million), and Parks and Recreation ($8 million).

As business leaders, we understand that education – public and private – is the foundation of our economic and business development. Our schools provide our workforce and the future generation which will inherit our communities tomorrow. Many may say that’s way too big of a number, but the truth is, that amount still does not cover the needs of our growing region.

One of the most compelling reasons many on the Board felt we had to reach deep into our pockets was to create a secure and safe environment for our students. As I write this, the citizens of Maine are reacting to the senseless shooting which left tragedy in its wake. We simply must create schools that are safe and foster an environment where our children can learn.

One of my favorite politicians was Ronald Reagan. I met Reagan when I was National President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). It is well documented that Speaker O’Neil and President Reagan were constantly at odds. O’Neil said Reagan was the most ignorant man who ever occupied the White House and “a cheerleader for selfishness.” In his memoirs, the Speaker was asked about the attacks on the President and how the two seemed to remain friends. O’Neil commented, “Before 6 p.m. it’s all politics.”

Reagan himself once quipped, “If you’re afraid of the future, then get out of the way, stand aside. The people of this country are ready to move again.”

The Lake Norman region has experienced unprecedented growth and our town and county leaders are working hard, preparing for the future as they plan for the education and transportation infrastructure that our citizens and children will need and expect in this next decade.

The businesses of Lake Norman have looked to the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce for 35-plus years to help create jobs and provide an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and business development.

The bottom line is we as business, community and elected leaders cannot go back and change any mistakes that were made yesterday, but we can create a plan for our future and implement a positive change for our region. A change that begins with us, one person and one community at a time. It is the charge we have from our past and the responsibility we owe to the future.


W.E. ”Bill” Russell, is President and CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

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