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By Connie Leinbach
Kelley Shinn returned victorious on Thursday to Ocracoke Island after she and a handful of others lobbied the N.C. General assembly to approve disaster relief aid to Ocracoke, but it’s up to Gov. Roy Cooper to sign the bill despite his objection to a controversial part of it.
The N.C. House and Senate almost unanimously (100-1 in the House and 45-0 in the Senate) passed House Bill 200, which appropriates $1.7 million for repairs to the Ocracoke School and $5 million specifically for Hurricane Dorian recovery grants to local governments, with an additional $10 million grant program intended to aid in recovery from named storms since 2016’s Matthew.
Cooper, who visited Ocracoke twice since Dorian inundated the island on Sept. 6, objects to Section 5.7 of the bill–an added clause that states that any donation or gift received by North Carolina’s government will be appropriated by the legislature. This would put programs for education and the environment at risk, including Volkswagen diesel settlement funds, opioid settlements, and even private gifts to universities and community colleges, Cooper’s office said in a press release Thursday.
Cooper and Republican leaders of the General Assembly have been engaged in a lengthy battle over who should control the $92 million North Carolina received as part of a national settlement with Volkswagen over the company’s cheating on vehicle-emissions tests.
“Republicans should be ashamed for using storm survivors as political pawns in their latest power grab. These families deserve help, and Governor Cooper realizes the critical importance of the disaster funding portion of this bill,” said Cooper’s spokesperson Megan Thorpe in the press release.
With all of this going on, Shinn, part-time islanders Candice Cobb, Martha McMillan and Allison Serafin, former islander Sarah Johnson and several other island friends spent Wednesday traversing the legislative halls in Raleigh promoting Ocracoke Island’s plight on the day before a legislative session break that is planned to last until January.
“We need to do this now before they break because winter is coming,” Shinn said prior to her departure for the capital.
Shinn decided to go to Raleigh on Tuesday where she and her daughter Cecilia Carter, made posters quoting letters from island school children pleading for help. They stood outside the capital building in the cold before someone told them they were indeed allowed to go inside and visit their elected officials in their offices.
“It was like Harry Potter and the Ministry of Magic,” she exulted after she debarked the Swan Quarter ferry Thursday afternoon to a small gathering in the ferry parking lot.
Shinn rattled off her initiation into bearding legislators.
“I passed out 220 letters, and then all of a sudden, like, a lobbyist from the North Carolina Coastal Federation found me on the sixth floor of one building. He’s like, ‘Here let me tell you what I know.’ And then it was like Dobby appeared around the corner and Sirius Black appeared in the fireplace and if you go to this room… ‘They weren’t even supposed to discuss this bill today, but they found out you were here they’re having a secret sub-caucus meeting. Find this person; do this.’ I mean, I was like it was like a nut-shell game.”
She went to Sen. Bob Steinburg’s office. Although Steinburg wasn’t there, his aide was and told Shinn that the island has been through a lot and then gave her a bag of peanuts.
Shinn said, “I told him, ‘Quite frankly, sir, with all due respect, we need a helluva lot more than peanuts.’”
A contingent of Democrat women legislators were happy to see her and took dozens of her letter detailing how the island has suffered and will further suffer without the aid in HB 200.
“…It seems for every home that has already been raised since Hurricane Dorian devastated us on Sept. 6, another two have been razed,” Shinn wrote in her letter.
She sees “telltale signs of PTSD: the fear, the inability to focus, the anger, the dark irreverent humor, the disbelief.”
Shinn was surprised at the political action spurred by her physical presence in Raleigh.
“It blew my mind,” she said. “We could have so much power if we just come together.”
Shinn’s letter included excerpts from letters written by 60 of the 173 school children, grades pre-K to 12.
Below is Shinn’s letter.