With apologies to Cool Hand Luke, what we have here is a failure to communicate.
The people of Dalton are sorer than a carbuncle at the perceived lack of interest by elected officials in their time of economic suffering. Metro Dalton, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties, has seen its unemployment rate soar to 11.2 percent, well above the national average of 7.2 percent, due to a severe downturn in the carpet industry.
In fact, the area's unemployment growth rate trails only Indiana's Elkhart-Goshen area, where President Barack Obama showed up in person to plug his stimulus package and then kept referring to the area the next day during his news conference.
Meanwhile, Dalton sits and wonders why no one has visited them and shown some concern.
Brian Anderson, president of the Dalton/Whitfield Chamber of Commerce, says, "Nobody has called us to tell us they understand our plight. Maybe we haven't yelled loud enough."
Anderson notes that, had anyone asked, "We could have gotten them a thousand letters in a heartbeat in support of their efforts to help us."
Adds the chamber president, "We have historically not asked for stuff. We just want to know someone is there looking out for our area."
The Dalton Daily Citizen made its irritation clear in a recent editorial. "It has been months, in some cases years, since the governor, our U.S. senators, congressman, lieutenant governor and speaker of the Statehouse have graced us with their presence. You'd think state officials would be lining up to tell us what they are going to do to help," the newspaper opined, but, "they seem to take the area for granted during good times and ignore it in bad."
William Bronson, the Daily Citizen's publisher, believes the politicians are taking his area for granted because Whitfield County is one of the most reliably Republican counties in the state. Bronson says. "Maybe that is why Republicans don't care. They may think the voters will stand by them no matter what they do or don't do."
Not so, claim the politicians. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson says he has been working closely with the carpet industry attempting to get his proposal for a $15,000 tax credit for home buyers put in the stimulus package. (It was later cut to $8,000, but Isakson says he hasn't given up on raising the number.) The senator pointed out he is meeting this week with members of the Carpet and Rug Institute in Washington along with a delegation from Dalton.
"If we can fix the housing industry," he says, "that would be a big plus for the carpet industry and related businesses."
Saxby Chambliss, Georgia's senior senator, says he, too, is talking to carpet industry representatives. But says the whole state is hurting, and agrees with Isakson that getting the housing industry healthy would help not only the Dalton area but the state as well.
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, who represents the Dalton area in the U.S. House, says there is no "magic wand" to fix problems in the area, and he is trying to help in any way he can.
I don't doubt their sincerity, but somebody has been asleep at the switch. I truly believe our well-meaning public officials have not perceived just how angry the locals are. Both senators and the congressman say they have representatives assigned to the area, but the reps should have alerted their bosses to the mood of the Dalton area before someone else had to.
The lesson here is that while our nation and our state grapple with the worst economic conditions since the 1930s, our politicians need to understand that we are all scared to death and they need to assure us that they hear us and are trying to help. We can't expect them to be everywhere all the time, but they have staff to let them know where the wheel is squeaking.
It can't squeak much louder than Dalton, with the second-highest unemployment growth rate in the nation. If their staff didn't know the people in Dalton are mad as wet hens and want to see their elected officials up close and personal - well, then, what we have here is a serious failure to communicate.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can reach him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; Web site.