Don’t let a fistful of dollars derail democracy

There is an overly narrow and dangerous proposal working through the U.S. Department of Commerce with a very real potential of making access to your local newspaper and the valuable content more expensive and difficult to gather.

Guest column by Leonard Woolsey
Publisher, Galveston County Daily News

Furthermore, if successful, this could deal a deep and damaging blow to local democracy by placing a severe burden on community newspapers and their readers — the crucial tool many residents use to learn, share and gather trusted local information about their communities.
The commerce department has announced the initiation of “anti-dumping duty and countervailing duty” investigations of Canadian newsprint imports. The sole company seeking protection, North Pacific Paper Company, is owned by a New York-based hedge fund that operates only one mill in Longview, Wash.
The company is pushing for steep import duties in excess of 50 percent, and the petitions do not reflect the views of the paper industry in the United States.
In fact, they are opposed by other U.S. producers of newsprint and the American Forest and Paper Association.
If Canadian imports of uncoated ground-wood paper are subject to duties, prices in the newsprint market will be shocked and the supply chain could be disrupted, endangering the survival of some smaller community newspapers.
We bring this up for several reasons — first to reveal yet another example of the effectiveness of a narrow lobbying group in Washington. While this one hits close to home for you as a reader of The Daily News, it also underscores how a lobbying group representing a very small constituency — in this case one company with a narrow objective to use regulations or legislation to create an investment advantage for its single client — can broadly and negatively affect a wide range of innocent people or businesses.
This is the danger of unchecked lobbying in Washington.
Secondly, government powers should always strive to do good. Providing and protecting a level playing field while balancing the needs of a market is noble. But for government regulations or legislative activities to be used as a tool to serve the financial interests of a very select special interest group and create a severe competitive advantage is irresponsible and dangerous.
And thirdly, this is an example of your local newspaper bringing to light a proposed action about 1,400 miles away that could change your life if quietly implemented. This is what your local newspaper does — roots out events and issues for their communities.
This is a time of great transition in our nation. Democracy is based on a free-flowing exchange of credible and trustworthy information. Local newspapers are not big media companies with overreaching agendas. We walk the same streets as you, shop in the same grocery stores as you, and attend the same houses of worship. We work each day with a goal to earn your trust, provide vetted information, and call out the good, the bad and the ugly. And poll after poll shows the public still considers their local newspapers playing an important role in their gathering of local information. The action presented to the Commerce Department could radically change all of that for you.
Let’s not allow an overly narrow request from a New York-based investment firm to put a reckless and greedy wedge into democracy for the sake of a fistful of dollars.