The Dole visit is expected to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Southeastern Regional Agricultural Center on U.S. 74 south of Lumberton. David Stephenson, who helped organize the event, says that federal recognition and the tobacco buyout are "vital to the county."
Stephenson said he would like to see a broad cross-section of county residents turn out for Dole. U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton also is expected to attend. Free chicken bog will be served.
"It is extremely important that people come out to this event so Sen. Dole understands that this county is behind her," said Steph-enson, a Lumberton businessman. "Both of these issues are of prime importance to our economic situation."
County Commissioner Noah Woods agreed, saying that he hopes the county's strong Democratic Party affiliation will not keep people away from the Republican freshman senator's visit.
"When you get the chance to rub shoulders with the folks in Washington, you need to take it," Woods said. "This is our opportunity to lobby for what we want and bend her ear."
Advertisements promoting the visit include a who's who of county leaders expected to attend. They include, among others: Sheriff Glenn Maynor; District Attorney Johnson Britt; Sen. David Weinstein; County Commissioner E.B. Turner; Reps. Ron Sutton; Donald Bonner and Douglas Yongue; MIlton Hunt, the mayor of Pembroke and the Lumbee tribal chief; Lumberton Mayor Ray Pennington; the Rev. Otis Pelham; and Clerk of Superior Court JoAnn Locklear.
Dole could not be reached.
But during campaign stops in Lumberton last year, she pledged to work for federal recognition for Lumbees. That is a sharp reversal from the position taken by the person she replaced, Sen. Jesse Helms, whom Indian leaders saw as a stumbling block to recognition. Since 1988, the Lumbee Federal Recognition Bill has been introduced in Congress five times. It has passed the House of Representatives twice but has always stalled in the Senate.
Lumbee Tribal Chief Milton Hunt said that, with bipartisan support, the tribe has a better chance of gaining federal recognition. Democratic legislators such as McIntyre and Sen. John Edwards also have expressed support.
"I'm very pleased that she is on board," Hunt said. "We have never had Sen. Helms' support and that has always made a big difference. Now that we have both senators behind it, we hope to be successful."
Hunt said federal recognition would provide much-needed economic and educational benefits and health-care services to the tribe.
The legislation would ask the U.S. government to recognize Lumbees as Indians and to provide Lumbees with the same benefits that other federally recognized tribes in the country receive.
North Carolina recognized Lumbees as an Indian tribe in 1885, when Lumbees were known as Croatan Indians. The state recognized them again in 1953 under the Lumbee name.
In 1956, Congress passed the Lumbee Act, which recognized the Lumbees but withheld the benefits and privileges that other federally recognized tribes receive. The Lumbee tribe, also known as the Lumbee-Cheraw, is the largest federally unrecognized American Indian tribe east of the Mississippi River, with 55,000 members.
"We're hoping the time is right," Hunt said.
Stephenson said federal recognition will help the entire region because of the millions in federal dollars that would come to the county.
"Every business owner in the county would benefit," Stephenson said. "This is probably the most important issue that has come to the forefront in many years."
Dole also is expected to talk about her tobacco quota buyout proposal, which calls for quota owners to receive $8 per pound for a buyout in a lump sum or over five years. Growers who switch to another crop would receive $4 per pound over five years. Dole has said that the buyout should be funded by an existing 15-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes.
For those people who stay in tobacco, Dole called for a "safety net" of a 35-cent-per-pound fixed payment over the cost of production, the base price set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She said those people transitioning to another crop should also have a 23-cent-per-pound payment of historic quotas, over 10 years.