Shareholders of the Coca Cola Company — check your portfolios, people — surely breathed easier Tuesday morning, knowing that Surry County commissioners, after giving the matter way too much thought, reversed course on their short-lived decision to ban Coke from county buildings.
That extra $40 (in quarters) every week will surely pay huge dividends to a company that reports $33.4 billion in annual sales revenue. Warren Buffett, the largest shareholder, no doubt sweated the ban.
Meanwhile, as the Coke commissioners dithered over a political statement roughly equivalent to blasting an elephant in the hind parts with a pea shooter, Surry County continues to struggle with an opioid epidemic that’s leaving a swath of death and devastation across huge parts of the populace.
Following the whole Coke “controversy” — it could have happened anywhere, such distractions honor no borders — is equal parts stomach-turning and head-scratching.
Word began filtering out Tuesday that the Board of Commissioners had taken a second vote on its Coke ban, which had been approved last month by a weird quirk of parliamentary procedure.
On May 17, the board voted 2-2 on a motion to ban a dozen Coca-Cola vending machines from county buildings. But because one commissioner abstained from voting without stating a reason, his vote counted as a “yes” and the ban passed.
Georgia, like many other states, hit the panic button when too many Black voters showed up to cast ballots in 2020. The GOP-controlled Legislature, despite a mountain of evidence and court rulings to the contrary, cited “fraud” in passing legislation that adds a photo ID requirement for voting by mail; cuts the amount of time to request absentee ballots; limits the where drop boxes can be placed and bans people from handing out food and drink in long voting lines.
“The legislation is wrong and needs to be remedied,” said Coke CEO James Quincey in an interview earlier this year.
That didn’t sit well in Dobson and so the board — Commissioner Eddie Harris in particular — took aim at the elephant.
“It’s a reflection of corporate America trying to affect public policy,” he told the Journal last week. “These unelected CEOs are trying to change the political dynamics of this country.”
Like that’s not happening by funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars politicians through anonymous, untraceable dark money into shady political-action committees?
Or is this a case of telling CEOs who run companies employing thousands — including three dozen in Surry County — that their First Amendment rights don’t matter: “Thanks for the jobs and the sales and property tax revenue. Now shut up.”
“They need to stick to trying to sell their products and be more respectful of their customers,” Harris said.
Odd, but pushing a ban on products because someone said something you don’t like sounds a lot like … cancel culture.
Don’t lose sight of things that matter
The board, as mentioned, opted for a do-over Monday evening in which commissioners voted 3-2 to backtrack.
Commissioner Larry Johnson, the original abstainer, weighed in saying he supports voter ID laws but opposed removing Coke machines. (Maybe he’s got a thing for Mello Yello.)
So here we are back to the start following nearly a month of pointless debate. All the while, an actual problem that commissioners could lead on continues to plague Surry County.
The opioid numbers remain eye-popping.
A database published by The Washington Post in 2019 showed how pervasive it truly was. Some 80.3 OxyContin and oxycodone pills — a gateway to cheaper street heroin — were prescribed per person per year between 2006 and 2012 in Surry, compared to 42.9 statewide and 38.4 in Forsyth County.
Worse, a half-million Americans died of opioid overdoses between 1999-2019. And in Surry County, population 72,000, the death rate between 2014-2018 was 17.1 per 100,000 residents, well above the statewide rate of 13.6.
The number of OD deaths in Surry dropped from 55 in 2017 to 26 in 2019, but that’s attributable to an increase in the use in naloxone (Narcan), an opioid-reversal treatment rather than a dip in drug use.
Nearly a year after that much talked about summit in May 2019, nothing much changed. Attendance at regular follow-up planning meetings dwindled to 10 in a matter of three months.
Talk about creating volunteer support networks turned into hot smoke.
Treatment is expensive and time consuming.
Opioid addiction carries a huge stigma, too, often viewed as some sort of character flaw rather than a medical and psychological problem.
Substantive change takes political will — and money. Taking an attention-getting vote is much easier.
“Millions of Americans believe that the last presidential election was not held in a fair manner and that more voter fraud will occur in the future if elections are not more closely monitored and regulated,” Commissioner Harris wrote in a letter to the Coke CEO.
Millions also believe in a Deep State warrior called Q.
And ignore the suffering of their neighbors.