By Verne Strickland
A serious erosion of support for Mike McIntyre is showing up among opinion leaders in the congressman’s home base – Robeson County.
A notable loss for the Democratic incumbent is Burt E. Benson Jr., 70, of Lumberton.
It is telling that Benson, for years an ardent McIntyre supporter and admirer, is not only jumping ship, but talking publicly about it, and urging others to do the same.
He says his switch to the candidacy of Ilario Pantano, GOP nominee for U.S. Congress in the Seventh Congressional District, is for the sake of his children and grandchildren, and his country.
Benson is a prominent businessman in the area – co-founder and CEO of Benson Construction, Inc., a family owned and operated business launched in 1968. His wife, Jan, also a co-founder, is president of the successful and highly-respected grading, paving and site utility operation serving Southeastern North Carolina. Sons Bucky Benson III and Stephen Benson are on the firm’s executive team as vice presidents.
Benson was asked what effects on his family’s future he sees in the country’s lurch to the political left.
“The erosion of our American values and our business climate are foremost on my mind. I have three children and four grandchildren, and I’m very concerned as a business owner that, when it comes time for me to hand over the reins of our family corporation, the high taxes and federal regulations won’t give them a fair chance to continue on with what we’ve built.”
He emphasized that he is not alone in this predicament. “Every business owner in America, large or small, is facing the same dim future,” he said.
The elder Benson is not one to offer his loyalty and his word lightly. He has a rock-solid sense of responsibility and honor, and it permeates his relationship with his family, his business, his country, and his God.
So he realizes that when he has a public break with a man he has trusted and called his friend, it is a matter which he has given serious consideration.
But even this personal belief system could not deter him from splitting politically with Mike McIntyre.
“I had to do it, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t take a stand,” he explained, almost ruefully.
For years, Mr. Benson has seen Mike McIntyre as a kindred soul. And to this day, Benson says he has a high degree of personal affection for this man who has gone so far in Washington. But it is fair to say that he is deeply disappointed in McIntyre’s actions in the U.S. Congress.
“Early on I served with him on a city committee, and I knew him as a very good Christian, good family-oriented gentleman, industrious and a very good representative when he first went to Congress,” said Benson.
“I didn’t pay too much attention to how he was voting up there. I assumed he was voting conservative, in a way that would be helpful for businesses here, and for the most part he did in the early years.”
But Burt Benson III began to realize that things were not what they seemed, and that U.S. Congressman Mike McIntyre, who put on a conservative veneer for the home folks, was betraying them with his loyalties in Washington.
“Recently, we found out, when we got the ratings, Mike is voting with the unions 80 percent of the time, and with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, over 70 percent of the time. That is not Robeson County. That doesn’t reflect our values at all. They are tilting this country toward socialism.
“If you look deep enough, you’ll see what’s happening to the freedoms and opportunities we’ve had. We’ve seen more burdens on the small businesses than ever. We can’t get people to work, although we offer jobs. We have one of the highest unemployment rates (11.6% May 2010), and are one of the poorest counties in the State. There’s no way we can be proud of that, or tolerant of it,” he observed.
There’s another important reason why Benson has stuck with Mike McIntyre. He has had no other choice. Although he could see that the 14-year incumbent was running off the philosophical rails more frequently, McIntyre did have some seniority, and key positions on committees and subcommittees important to Robeson and the Seventh District. But until a viable candidate came along, turning away from his friend Mike McIntyre was a solution of questionable value.
“This is the first time in years we have had a good alternative. Ilario Pantano has his priorities set, he is a patriot, has fought for his country, and he’s a man we can trust and support. When the time comes to say ‘No’ to this outrageous, reckless spending, and all these earmarks, we know that Ilario will get the job done.”
Benson has gotten to know GOP candidate Pantano, and feels this candidate deserves his trust and support. Pantano can win the day, says Benson, if enough voters in the Seventh District get to know him, and perceive his character, moral values, commitment to transparency in government and mission to return America around.
“We know Pantano is the man to carry the banner. He’s a man who has the courage to stand up against the ultra-liberals in Washington. The Democrats are just interested in funding vote-buying programs and trying to get everybody dependent on the government. That way they can count on those votes. But there are more people riding on the wagon now than out there pulling it.
“This has to change. Ilario Pantano will work to change it.”
CHECK THIS COLUMN FOR NEWS OF OTHER DEPARTURES BY FORMER McINTYRE FAITHFUL
**Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County GOP. He writes a hard-hitting blog of his own concentrating on Robeson County politics -- from the inside. See his posts at this Web address: http://www.robesongop.blogspot.com/