Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Elections of March: The Weirdest Democratic Primary

District 56, Orange County
Long-serving Democratic Representative Verla Insko (first elected in 1996) has no Republican opponent this year, but she does have a primary with a 28-year-old, Joe Parrish, who's apparently interesting enough to get his own YouTube interview on Triangle Talk, but he has no website or Facebook page nor discernible biography. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014, and in 2016, as a 24-year-old, he ran for the NC House in District 2 on the coast, got 14,775 votes against Republican Larry Yarborough's 22,760. He came out in 2016 branding himself "asexual." He recently published a less-than-enlightening essay, "Why I Am Running," light on detail but peppered with verbiage that suggests confused thinking. He wants "a bold agenda of progressive reform," yet in defining "progressive Democrat" he falls back on Franklin D. Roosevelt as his model. Elsewhere he says he was a Bernie Sanders voter.

Meanwhile, if you need a handy definition of progressive legislator, you need look no further than Verla Insko.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Correction

I thought my readers should know that I've been sued for defamation by Mr. Don Blankenship, former Chairman and CEO of the Massey Energy Company of West Virginia. It appears Mr. Blankenship thinks I had something to do with his loss in the Republican senatorial primary in West Virginia in 2018.

I am one of what were originally 150 defendants. The top first-named defendant is Judge Andrew Napolitano of the Fox News Network (hence the suit is known as Blankenship v. Napolitano et al.). Others named as defendants include the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, Esquire magazine, Wonkette, the Huffington Post, Breitbart News -- the list runs to several pages. Some of these have now apparently negotiated their way out of the lawsuit.

On April 5, 2010, a huge underground explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., took the lives of 29 miners. As head of the company, Blankenship was subsequently prosecuted by the Federal government for that explosion. In a trial in West Virginia, Blankenship was acquitted by a jury of some charges, found guilty of one charge, and spent approximately a year in Federal prison.

When he left prison, he went into politics and ran for the US Senate in the Republican primary of 2018 with two other candidates who hoped to unseat Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.

According to Blankenship v. Napolitano et al., WataugaWatch referred to Blankenship in a post on April 15, 2018, as a "recent felon … who's notorious in West Virginia without necessarily being electable." On the eve of the primary, May 7, 2018, WataugaWatch again mentioned Blankenship: "Holy crap! Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin has been considered the most endangered Democrat in the US Senate, but the Republican voters in their primary tomorrow may grant him a reprieve … if they choose felon coal baron Don Blankenship to run against him." 

It turns out that although Mr. Blankenship was charged with felonies, he was only convicted of a misdemeanor. By using the word felon, I am blamed for linking to national news sources and for following the language being used at the time in the mainstream press, which some sources later corrected. I was unaware of those corrections, and I was unaware that he had only been convicted of a misdemeanor. I thought my characterization was accurate. Most of the 150 defendants in this lawsuit -- perhaps all of them -- at some point used the word felon or the word felony in the same sentence with the name Don Blankenship, as did I.
Correction: My saying that Don Blankenship was a felon instead of his being convicted of one misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards in relation to the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion -- for which his punishment was a year in jail -- was a mistake and unintentional. He was indeed acquitted of the felony charges. I meant no offense.

Blankenship lost the Republican primary on May 8 to Patrick Morrisey by 20,529 votes, coming in third in the primary out of a total of six candidates. The readership of WataugaWatch is primarily located in North Carolina, and principally in Watauga County of North Carolina. I don't know how many West Virginia voters might be reading a local North Carolina blog, but I don't think it's enough to have caused Don Blankenship to lose his primary race by over 20,000 votes.

Breaking News: On Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 -- yesterday -- a federal judge in West Virginia refused to toss the misdemeanor conviction of Don Blankenship for conspiring to violate mine safety laws.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Threat of White Populism

I'm reading Jill Lepore's "These Truths: A History of the United States," and I'm sort of hoping it never ends. I've read a lot of American history, but nothing I've read previously completely prepared me for the dish that Lepore serves up -- an American pie with a tough crust and ingredients you might just as soon not bite down on. It's essential reading, and such good writing. Her Chapter 8 alone, on the Civil War, moved me to tears in a way I wasn't expecting.

I've often considered myself a populist. If I'd been born in France in the 18th Century, there's not a doubt in my mind that I would have shown up outside Versailles with a pitchfork. In my view, Citizens United v. FEC is just another Versailles of privilege and judicial favoritism. Sure, sure I've read enough to know the dark side of populism, that agitating outside the gilded halls leads to entertainment at the guillotine. But Occupy Wall Street led to nary an execution, so far as I know.

Jill Lepore writes one paragraph that clarifies so much about American populism as variously understood by citizens who look in different directions for their enemies:
Populism entered American politics at the end of the nineteenth century, and it never left. It pitted "the people," meaning everyone but the rich, against corporations, which fought back in the courts by defining themselves as "persons"; and it pitted "the people," meaning white people, against nonwhite people who were fighting for citizenship and whose ability to fight back in the courts was far more limited, since those fights require well-paid lawyers.
The tension between those two vectors defines our Republic, and mars it, and coincidentally catches me in my own contradiction: I always wanted more populism from Barack Obama. And less from Trump (bless his heart).

I'm Counting on You, Gen-Z

The holy hell the student journalists at the Daily Tar Heel have been raising over the so-called "Silent Sam settlement" is just one more indication that the Baby Boomer Generation in North Carolina has become as moldy and full of worm holes as hundred-year-old Stilton and that our young people are our last best hope for saving us from backsliding into Lost Cause nostalgia. Among other things.

[NOTE: I'm not a Boomer, dammit! I'm older than that, born near the end of the Silent Generation's reign of indifference and smug complacency. I have my own demons.]

In case you don't follow the news out of Orange County, the UNC Board of Governors -- every last one of them a Republican Boomer appointed by the Republican bosses in the General Assembly -- did a secret deal with a white supremacist neo-Confederate group to accept $2.6 million to take the Silent Sam statue off the university's hands.

The Gen-Z journalists at the Daily Tar Heel began looking into that deal and completely scooped all the regular news outlets. What the reporters uncovered is plenty problematic, smelly enough that the Daily Tar Heel is also suing the Board of Governors for violating the state's open meetings law while arriving at their deal with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The 18-to-20 year olds now populating our university campuses were born when I was reaching retirement age, and the ones I've known and worked with -- several, and more all the time, because Gen-Z is nothing if it's not politically motivated to pay attention and do something -- give me inordinate hope. They say they are motivated by fear, and I can appreciate that. They've been watching the mess the Boomers created, and they can recognize a tipping point even if their elders can't.

I hear just this morning that more university campuses in this state will have on-campus polling stations this year, just like AppState fought so hard to preserve. That gladdens my heart. Just like the spectacle of the Daily Tar Heel suing the Board of Governors over violating the open meetings law brightens my gloomy day.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Elections of March: US House NC6

A First Look at what is likely a Democratic pickup next November. The winner of this Dems primary will likely be the next congressperson in DeeCee, representing all of Guilford and the most urban part of Forsyth. Greensboro and Winston-Salem -- together at last!

Democrats on the ballot March 3rd:

Bruce Davis, High Point, 62 years old, born in 1957, Baby Boomer, African-American. Perennial candidate: Going back to 2010 and 2012, he tried twice to oust Democratic NC Senator Gladys Robinson from her seat in NCS28. In 2014, he ran unsuccessfully in the primary for the old 6th Congressional District. But in 2016, Davis finally won a race -- in a crowded Democratic primary in the old CD13, he won the privilege to go up against newcomer Republican Ted Budd. Davis lost to Budd in the General, while taking a respectable 156,000 votes to Budd's 199,000. Then in 2019, he ran third in the non-partisan 2019 primary for mayor of High Point.
Rhonda Foxx, Greensboro, 37 years old, born in 1983, Millennial, African-American. First-time candidate. 2008 graduate of George Washington University Law School. Subsequently a rising attorney and congressional staffer in Washington, D.C. Until recently chief of staff to Congresswoman Alma Adams. The founder of the Black Women’s Congressional Alliance, a caucus of 175 black women working on Capitol Hill. BA from UNC-Chapel Hill. (Curiously, for such a political professional, Foxx's web presence is next to nil. An underdeveloped Facebook page. An underdeveloped Twitter account. That's all I find.)
Ed Hanes Jr., Winston-Salem, 47 years old, born in 1973, Gen-X-er, African-American. Represented District 72 in the NCHouse, 2013 to August 2018, when he resigned suddenly while under a cloud for campaign finance violations. He insisted that Winston-Salem city councilman Derwin L. Montgomery be appointed to his unexpired term in the NCHouse.
Kathy Manning, Greensboro, 63 years old, born in 1956, Baby Boomer. Ran unsuccessfully in 2018 against incumbent Republican Ted Budd in the old 13th Congressional District. Philantrophist. Self-described "business-oriented moderate." Demonstrated champion fundraiser.
Derwin L. Montgomery, Winston-Salem, 32 years old, born in 1988, Millennial, African-American. Long-serving member of the Winston-Salem city council (first elected 2009), representing the East Ward. Appointed August 2018 to Ed Hanes' unexpired term in NCHouse (Dist. 72). Won reelection in his own right to the seat in November 2018.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Elections of March: Can an Insurgent African-American Man Take Out a 9-Term White Woman in NCH102?

The Carney-Peebles Primary in NC House District 102

Becky Carney
Dist. 102 in north Charlotte is considered "Likely Democratic." No lie. Expected Democratic performance in a general election -- 79% of the vote (Bitzer).

Democrat Becky Carney has represented the district since 2002. She's a classic. Liberal Democrat, 75 years old, born in 1944, which makes her late-stage Silent Generation (same as me). I've seen Carney's employment listed as "homemaker." She's proud to be the mother of six and the grandmother of 14. And guess what? She represents a majority black district. She's a political power with an impeccable image and reputation.

She's also a survivor in the rawest, realest sense of that word. She suffered something called "sudden cardiac death" in 2009, the abrupt loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness (according to the Mayo Clinic), and had successful open heart surgery in 2015. "Doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device. The LVAD is a mechanical pump that delivers blood from the left ventricle to the aorta and on to the rest of the body." (Charlotte Observer) Then she had a lumpectomy in June of 2018 and went on to win reelection to her seat that fall with 83% of the vote.

She's always mainly won reelection without any primary opposition (and with only spotty Republican opposition). She did have a primary opponent (weak ) in 2018 who got less than 19% against her. She seems invincible, especially considering that she was once also Outstanding Public Servant of the Year for the Charlotte NAACP, and a 2005 inductee into the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Inc., Charlotte Club Women’s History Hall of Fame, and she served as a legislator on the founding board of the Minority Golf Museum and Hall of Fame (which maybe didn't pan out). And hey you hipsters, she's for the legalization of marijuana.

2020 Is Gonna Be Different
She has a formidable primary challenger this year in African-American Democrat Jonathan Peebles (and still more primary challengers in the margins who don't seem very significant, unless one of them splits the black vote -- see below). Peebles is a 32-year-old Millennial, and does he ever look ready for a campaign! With all the bells and social media whistles in place, including a useful introductory video for getting to know the guy (I'm including the 2 minute-plus version below, which contains more biography; there's a shorter 40-second version too):

Peebles has only been in Charlotte since 2012, but he's broken out as a community leader and organizer. He works in the world of non-profits, for the Latin American Coalition as its development and operations director. Bio from the Charlotte Post:

"A native of Springfield, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C., Peebles graduated Old Dominion University in Norfolk and ... he decided to pursue a master’s degree in public administration at UNC Charlotte, where he gained experience working in areas of nonprofit services, equity, and economic development."

He's also a member of the Black Political Caucus, president of the Young Democrats of Mecklenburg, and a member of something called the Eastside Education Think Tank Committee. Maybe more important than any of the rest for overtaking Becky Carney is Peebles' visible activism in the Mecklenburg Democratic Party. He's a part of the State Executive Committee, active in his precinct, a leader of other Millennials -- all of which could seriously erode Carney's party base for the first time.

Peebles campaign sites:;;; and

Kyle Kirby
Other Democrats in the Carney-Peebles Primary

Leroy Dean, a 51-year-old African-American who's completely invisible to the searching eyes of Google.

And Anthony E. Forman, a 66-year-old African-American who at least has a Facebook presence. He has no history with the Democratic Party and only started voting after the election of Trump. That's a prevalent sign of the times among some -- many? -- of the sudden candidates for office.

The Eventual Republican Sacrificial Lamb

On the ballot in November for NCH102 will be Republican Kyle Kirby, a 34-year-old Millennial who's running on the slogan "Love Your Neighbor." No kidding. That's a local Republican slogan in the Age of Trump. Kirby's also gay-friendly, says he's for LGBTQ+ rights, and he's also for legalizing recreational marijuana (while also taxing it, for revenue, and who says Republicans can't see clearly on a Wednesday?).

Hardly a Republican in the mold of Trump -- let alone the Berger-Moore type currently serving in the General Assembly.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

The Elections of March: Democrat Aimy Steele Has This, But Which Republican Will She Face in November?

NC House District 82 -- Cabarrus County

Republican incumbent Linda P. Johnson was first elected to the NC House District 83 in 2000 and was reelected in that district until redistricting turned it into District 82, and she was reelected in that district until she decided to retire ahead of the 2020 elections. She didn't publicly announce her decision to retire until December 19, though she had let her chosen successor know. Ultimately, three Republicans filed to replace her. Two Democrats also want the seat, which is now rated "Lean Republican" with a predicted Republican vote-share of 55.70% (even though the most recent redistricting removed 1.60% of that Republican base).

The Democrats

Aimy Steele ran for this seat against Linda Johnson in 2018 and did not stop running for a re-match throughout 2019 and into 2020. She's a 40-year-old Gen-X-er born in 1970. In 2018, Steele left her job as principal of Beverly Hills STEM Elementary School in Concord, N.C., to run unencumbered for the NC House. She out-performed Democratic expectations, earning 47.25% of the vote and losing to incumbent Johnson by 1,978 votes out of almost 36,000 total votes cast. (As of January 2018 there were 62,444 registered voters in the district. More on that number below.)
Steele announced way back in January of 2019 year that she "wouldn't be returning to the school house" because she intended to try again in 2020, "buoyed by her experience as a candidate and what she learned along the way." I went back to read what I wrote about Aimy Steele in 2018. Based on her personal history, I called her a "wonder woman," but I also acknowledged the giant windmill that an entrenched incumbent like Linda Johnson was going to represent. I titled the piece "Donna Quixote."
FlipNC rated the 82nd in its second tier of 2020 most flippable districts, saying they expect Democratic prospects to improve there by 3 points in 2020. I dunno. Michael Bitzer's calculation about the new district is included above in the headnote in the last sentence. Still a big windmill for Aimy Steele to tilt against.
But lookee here: In the 2018 election, some 26,484 registered voters didn't bother to show up in District 82. A total of only 35,960 votes were cast, out of 62,444 registered voters. Wow. That's an untapped source for any candidate who can stir some enthusiasm among the disaffected, the uninterested, the turned-off voters of Cabarrus. That poor voter turnout in 2018 appears to be not just typical of off-year elections in the 82nd, but plain typical. Turnout was higher in 2016, a presidential year, but not that much higher -- 42,636 total votes cast. Still a lot of disengaged votes left on the table (though clearly, from her losing margin in 2018, Aimy Steele got to some of them).
When Steele launched in January last year, she told Education Week that she would be using "two of the biggest lessons from the 2018 campaign to guide her this time around: start fundraising early and have a better ground game, with early organization and door-knocking in neighborhoods and precincts." With reference to the first, I intend to contribute to her campaign. (She's incidentally also been endorsed by Lillian's List and by the new Long Leaf Pine Slate.) With reference to the 2nd, "better ground game" is music to my ears. Retail politics. Knock on those doors of voters who aren't typically voting.
But first, you've got to find them. I hope Steele has a talented computerized data operative as well as a finance director.

William F. Pilkington is a 68-year-old Baby Boomer and retired CEO and Public Health Director of the Cabarrus Health Alliance, a 38-year job experience that's impressive on the face of it and under normal circumstances might look like a good foundation on which to build a political campaign. But considering Aimy Steele's commitment and past performance, I can't help thinking of Mr. Pilkington's entry into the primary as something akin to a "spoiler" candidacy. 
Because he seems utterly unprepared for a campaign. I haven't found a scrap of campaign infrastructure -- no website, not even a Facebook page. He's the invisible man, and white to boot, which suggests a certain assumption of privilege which I hope I'm completely wrong about.

The Republicans

Here's where it gets interesting, because there's an "anointed one" and a couple of insurgents who evidently didn't get the memo.

Parish Moffitt, the "anointed one," is a 45-year-old Gen-X-er born in 1974 who's been incumbent Linda Johnson's Cabarrus "liaison," which seems to mean that he represented her at meetings she didn't want to attend. He says that Johnson recruited him to run in her place, and she put out an endorsement message for him on the same day that she announced her retirement -- Dec. 18, near the close of candidate filing. If that late announcement was meant to keep down the competition, the plan didn't work.
Moffitt says he's an American Airlines pilot who also owns Aero Crews LLC, which appears to be mainly a pilot employment agency. His website is de minimis on content, so if you're looking for his political philosophy, the plastering of the word conservative will have to do as answer to all your questions. Oh, okay, say no more.
He has a Facebook page where he wears "Endorsed by Rep. Linda Johnson" like a beauty pageant sash.
I reckon this Republican primary will be a test of the power and influence of Linda P. Johnson, because Parish Moffitt hasn't offered much on his own.

Kristin Baker is a 56-year-old Baby Boomer born in 1963 and a psychiatrist with impressive credentials. She was Morehead Scholar who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Chapel Hill and went on to earn her medical degree from the UNC School of Medicine. She's been practicing for over 20 years and has served as medical director for Hospice of Cabarrus County. On her Facebook page, she wants you to know that she's a "Pro-Life Psychiatrist," which conjures for me certain memes that fill me with hilarity. Also fun: her campaign slogan of "Rooted. Ready. Real." Those periods are like thunderclaps, aren't they? 
She also parades the word conservative even more than does Parish Moffitt. "Conservative, conservative, conservative." But she throws in, for good measure, "political outsider," perhaps in reaction to the political annointment of Parish Moffitt for the seat by an incumbent who's perhaps been incumbent for too long.

Judge Hamby in 2012, with Marco Rubio
William G. Hamby Jr. is a 63-year-old retired chief district judge (first elected in 1993) and a boomer. He's been an attorney in Cabarrus County since 1983 and is perhaps resting on the laurels of a long legal career because he hasn't bothered to establish any campaign infrastructure for inquiring political minds -- no website, no Facebook page, no nuttin. If he offers any contrast to the above two, it's impossible to know it.
His retirement in 2018 occasioned a thumbnail biographical sketch about him in the Concord Independent Tribune:
"Judge Hamby has dedicated his entire adult life to public service. After Graduating from UNC- Chapel Hill, he began his career as a middle school teacher until he was called for jury duty for a second degree murder trial. This piqued his interest in the judicial system and led him to alter dramatically his life’s plans. He applied and was accepted to Wake Forest University Law School, where he graduated in 1983.
"After graduation, Judge Hamby moved to Cabarrus County and opened a thriving law firm. He then ran and was elected as a Cabarrus County Commissioner, where some of his most notable successes included improving the tourism industry, creating the Concord Regional Airport and building water supply stations throughout the county."
Sounds like a reasonable guy. The NCGOP could use more judicial temperaments.
Hamby served as a North Carolina delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2012 and helped nominate Mitt Romney for the presidency. He doesn't look like a Trumper. But is his mojo distinguished enough in Cabarrus to overcome the anointed one and the pro-life psychiatrist? 

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Elections of March: Brian Farkas v. Jake Hochard in Pitt County

NC House District 9 -- Pitt County

Former incumbent Republican NC House member Greg Murphy ran successfully last year for the US Congress in NC-3 in a special election. Republican Perrin Jones was appointed to his empty seat in the NC House and is running for election. Two Democrats have also filed and will face one another in the March 3rd primary. Following the most recent remapping of General Assembly districts, NCH9 lost over 6% of its likely Republican vote, so the district is now rated "Competitive -- Lean Democratic." This district ought to be one of the easier "flips" this year, but everything depends on whom the Democrats nominate.

Democrat Brian Farkas is a 32-year-old millennial born in 1987, raised in Pitt County, and he's running an energetic campaign and attracting some significant support. Freshman Rep. Zack Hawkins of Durham County gave the keynote at the Farkas launch party (Rep. Joe Sam Queen of western NC also attended along with Jenna Wadsworth, who is making some waves herself as a new kind of candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture). Farkas has been endorsed by Now Or Never NC, an organization that backs candidates who support public education, redistricting reform, voter access, and local governance, and by the Long Leaf Pine Slate, a project by Blair Reeves to help favored Democratic candidates raise money.
Four years ago, while he was still in his 20s, Farkas challenged Greg Murphy for this seat. Farkas understood the importance of a good ground game for an under-funded campaign, and he got 17,000 votes to Murphy's almost 23,000 -- a loss, yes, but a loss that showed some promise for the future, especially considering Farkas's age at the time.
He's a graduate of UNC-Charlotte and earned a Master's of Public Administration at Chapel Hill. He interned with Congressman Brad Miller in DeeCee in 2007, worked almost three years in the US Attorney's office in Charlotte, spent ten months as a graduate assistant in the School of Government at UNC, worked 20 months as a program specialist with the National Institute of Environmental Health at Research Triangle Park before joining the JKF Architecture firm in Greenville as Director of Client Relations and Development, where he's been since 2013. A man on the move, picking up experience in all sorts of real world arenas.
He's also been very active as a volunteer with many local development and eleemosynary orgs including the Greenville Museum of Art, the Rocking Horse Therapeutic Riding Program, and the Greenville-Eastern North Carolina Alliance for economic empowerment.

Democrat Jake Hochard is also a 32-year-old millennial born in 1988 and an economics professor at East Carolina University. He earned his bachelor's degrees in economics and environmental studies from Gettysburg College in 2011, and a doctoral degree in economics from the University of Wyoming in 2015. He did not start voting in North Carolina until the 2018 mid-terms, and he's never run for office before. 
Hochard's career experience includes working as a poverty and environmental economist, and he served as a technical and scientific expert for the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuarine Partnership, and as a research fellow with the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute and the Center for Natural Hazards Research. 
He wrote about himself for a Ballotpedia candidate survey: "Like many ECU students, Jake is from a blue-collar family, is a first-generation college student and self-financed his education. Jake specializes in the study of economic conditions that alleviate poverty while promoting growth and has brought nearly $1 million in research funding to ECU, taught 800+ students and employed 30+ students to better understand conditions of poverty, healthcare and natural disasters in eastern North Carolina."
Hochard offers a contrast to Farkas, certainly in style and image in not in basic democratic beliefs. Both, we suspect, will be trying to mobilize student voters at East Carolina University. Hochard may have the edge there, but Farkas has more of the volunteer base of the local Democratic Party.

Republican incumbent (since October 2019) Perrin Jones has the advantage of incumbency. Plus perhaps an advantage of status as a respected anesthesiologist and some might say an advantage of age -- he's a 47-year-old Gen-X-er born in 1972 in Charlotte. He was educated at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest. He also has the advantage of serving such a short time in the NC House that he doesn't have his name on any controversial legislation and is virtually a blank slate.
As far as I can tell, he has no campaign website and only a Facebook page, to which he's posted infrequently and certainly nothing controversial. That lack of campaign infrastructure will likely change after the Democratic primary, along with his image as a "soft Republican."
How Trumpy will be go? 

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The Elections of March: Why a Democratic Primary in NCS38?

NC Senate District 38 -- Mecklenburg County

Primary challengers have popped up in some unlikely races this year, none perhaps more surprising than the two Democratic challengers to the incumbent Democratic senator in this Mecklenburg district. The winner of the primary is almost guaranteed to take the seat against weak Republican opposition next November.

Incumbent Democrat Mujtaba Mohammed is a 35-year-old millennial (born in 1985 in Toledo, Ohio, to immigrant parents from India) who earned his law degree from NC Central and who works primarily as a public defender. He took over 81% of the vote for the seat in 2018, which is why this district is rated "Likely Democratic." But before he got to the fall election in 2018, he had taken out three-term incumbent Democrat Joel Ford, who had regularly inserted his thumb in his caucus's eye by voting repeatedly with the Senate Republicans.
Mohammed has been active in the Senate as primary sponsor for bills relating especially to the welfare of children and to education. Never mind that the Republican overlords often maroon those bills in the Rules Committee. He was primary sponsor for bills to restore a child care tax credit, restore a bump in teacher salaries for a Master's degree, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill to Reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit, a bill to raise the minimum wage in North Carolina, a bill to fully fund school counselors and psychologists, and a full repeal of HB2 (among others).

Democrat Laura Anthony is a 50-year-old Gen-X-er born in 1970 who appears to have been spurred to political activity by the Rise of Trump. As far as I can tell, she voted for the first time ever in 2016 and then again in 2018, but her Twitter feed strikes resonate progressive themes. She wrote on December 12, "Going into politics was not my plan. But our democracy is at risk. Access to healthcare is at risk. Women Rights are at risk. Free and Fair elections are at risk And that’s why I’m asking you to join me." Her first run for any public office.

Democrat Roderick Davis is a 36-year-old millennial born in 1984 and a perennial candidate. He ran for mayor of Charlotte in 2015, for the NC Senate seat in both 2016 and 2018, and for an at-large seat on the Charlotte City Council in 2017. In the 2018 primary for the senate seat, he got 631 votes out of 13,284 total votes cast. 

Republican Jack Brosch is a 61-year-old baby boomer born in 1958. He previously ran for Congress against Mel Watt in 2012, so self-immolation is sort of his MO.

Monday, January 06, 2020

The Body Count -- Eric Chewning, Chief of Staff to SecDef

A Reoccurring Feature on Who's Jumping Off Luxury Liner Trump

Eric Chewning, chief of staff to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, will step down at the end of this month, his exit apparently accelerated by Trump's latest wild swings against Iran. 

Chewning, a former Army intelligence officer and combat veteran, joined the Pentagon in 2017 and was later promoted to chief of staff by then-Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan.

Chewning will return to the private sector where rational decision-making is still practiced.

The Elections of March: This "Safe" Democratic Seat in Buncombe Will Likely Be Decided in the Primary

NC Senate District 49 -- Buncombe County

Incumbent Democrat Terry Van Duyn is stepping down to run in the March primary for lieutenant governor. The most recent redistricting reduced Republican voting strength in District 49 even more than it was already, so it's rated "Likely Democratic." The primary between three Democratic contenders will likely decide who ultimately takes the seat, though there is a Republican in the race (see below).

Democrat Julie Mayfield might justifiably take the honors of "frontrunner." She declared her candidacy almost a year ago -- last March. She's a 53-year-old Gen-X-er born in 1967 and since 2015 a member of the Asheville City Council and one of the foremost leaders of MountainTrue, an environmental advocacy nonprofit. She helped co-found MountainTrue in 2015, the same year she made it to the city council. MountainTrue was a merger of environmental advocacy groups in Henderson, Jackson, and Macon counties and has become the official home for both the French Broad Riverkeeper and the Watauga Riverkeeper.
Julie Mayfield got her law degree from Emory University in 1996, which apparently fueled an inherent gene for pro bono and public good advocacy. She directed the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law where she represented environmental groups, civic associations, and individuals in public interest environmental law cases. From 2003 to early 2008, she was Vice President and General Counsel for the Georgia Conservancy. She arrived in Asheville in 2008 and by 2011 she was appointed by Governor Bev Perdue to the Mountain Resources Commission, where she served until the legislature dissolved the Commission in 2013. She also served on the North Carolina Conservation Network board for six years, chairing it for two.
On the Asheville City Council, she's pushed a new program for down-payment assistance for prospective homeowners and she's shown a commendible curiosity about how the Tourism Development Authority spends tourism tax revenues. Prior to MountainTrue, Mayfield worked for Amnesty International USA and for the Atlanta Community Food Bank and for the Georgia Justice Project. She advocated for people caught up sometimes in a meat-grinder of law enforcement, which accounts for Mayfield's active participation in rewriting the use-of-force rules for the Asheville City Police, a policy-rewrite that Mayfield says has led to a 61% reduction in use-of-force incidents.
She's been endorsed, incidentally, by Terry Van Duyn.

Democrat Travis Smith is a 36-year-old millennial who was born in Canada, immigrated here 11 years ago, and presumably became a citizen, but I can find no evidence that he's ever voted in any election including in the 2016 presidential year when he said he phonebanked for Bernie Sanders. He works as an IT consultant for
Here's his introductory video message:

Democrat Ben Scales is a 55-year-old baby boomer born in 1964. He also announced his candidacy in March of 2019. Like Mayfield, Scales is also a lawyer and has run unsuccessfully twice for Buncombe district attorney, once as an unaffiliated candidate. Scales came out early for the legalization of marijuana and staked out other progressive positions: "Health care is a right, climate change needs rapid solutions now, education is for everyone, gender is a spectrum, immigrants are welcome, domestic violence won’t be tolerated, women are equal, agriculture and innovation is vital, elections should be fair and voter registration automatic, the cash bail system, mass incarceration and the war on drugs must end."
He says that "As an attorney, he has represented the underrepresented, often pro bono, such as protestors and activists associated with Occupy Asheville, Asheville Black Lives Matter, Southerners On New Ground, and Veterans for Peace." He's been particularly active as an attorney for victims of domestic violence. He's a do-gooder in the venerable Democratic tradition and apparently a pretty decent guitarist.

Republican Bob Penland is a 77-year-old resident of Candler, NC, who was born in 1942 at the tail-end of the Silent Generation. He has no campaign infrastructure whatsoever that we can find, and hence no accessible biography.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

The Elections of March: This Open NC Senate District Earns the Prize -- "Most Interesting DemPrimary of 2020"

NC Senate District 20 -- Durham County

Because incumbent Democratic Senator Floyd McKissick is stepping down to take an appointment on the state's Utilities Commission, several Democratic hopefuls are competing for McKissick's safe seat. (Bitzer rates it "Likely Democratic.") The winner of this primary will be the heavy favorite to take the seat next November, though there is also a Republican in the race.

Democrat Pierce Freelon is a 36-year-old millennial born in 1983, and he's been a rising star in both Durham activism (he ran for mayor in 2017 as a write-in and got 11%) and in the burgeoning black music and arts movement. He has his own YouTube channel, is a musician and a filmmaker, and he wields a pretty irresistible charm (watch his keynote speech, "Speak Your Truth," in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.) that can get him several leagues down the political road before older, duller politicians can get their sneakers tied. He's been an inspirational community activist and organizer. He created Blackspace, a kind of media lab and after-school for black kids in Durham -- "an Afrofuturism digital makerspace .... We offer local teens free WokeShops in the digital and creative arts, including videography, electronic music production, spoken word poetry, puppetry, coding and 3D printing." (Those who know the history and influence of AppalShop in Whitesburg, Ky., will recognize a parallel undertaking in Blackspace. Pierce Freelon is the creative genius and entrepreneur behind it, much like Bill Richardson was the sparkplug that lit AppalShop.) Freelon also started something called "Beat Making Lab," an Emmy Award-winning community music program sponsored by Apple Inc., and another after-school program, Spoken Justice, a hip-hop and spoken word teen workshop that has served both Durham Public Schools and the local crime-prevention council. He's a blessing to the community and he clearly benefited from a blessed upbringing. According to his Wikipedia page, "He is the son of Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon and architect Philip Freelon" (the latter who incidentally designed the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History in DeeCee, among others).
Pierce says he was inspired to run for state office "while he and his mother served as his father’s caregivers before he passed away. He says that although the debilitating illness had paralyzed his father physically, his mind remained sharp. Phil Freelon died at the age of sixty-six on July 9 after a three-year struggle with ALS. His son says he’s also running for State Senate because he promised his father that he would fight to ensure all state residents have access to health care" (Thomasi McDonald).
Much more could be written about Pierce and the Freelon legacy. The Indy Week recently named him one of its "19 People of 2019." Google his name and you'll see more. If he wins this primary, he could become a mover-and-shaker in the General Assembly, if he can stand the tedium of deal-making.

CORRECTION: Pierce Freelon ran on the ballot in the Durham primary in Oct 2017 and got 15% of the vote. In November 2017 he got a few write ins -- 0.11%. Thanks to GC for the correction.

Democrat Natalie Murdock is a year younger than Pierce Freelon and began to get very active with the Durham Democratic Party in the early months of 2018, attending both her precinct meeting and the county convention, where she was elected a delegate to both the district and the state Democratic Party conventions in 2018. She stayed very active into 2019 and was elected a Durham representative on the NCDems State Executive Committee. So she's been building a new base in the Democratic Party power structure. (Freelon's base is less connected to political powerlines. More untacked-down.)
2018 was significant for Murdock in another way. It was her first year on a ballot, and she was noticeably successful. She ran (one of four) in the nonpartisan race for Durham Soil and Water District Supervisor and was the top vote-getter with 84,151 votes. I'll chalk that up to party connections, at least in part, because Murdock's history with and knowledge of farming, which is what the supervisor's role requires, seems tenuous. According to her web biography, "I began my professional career working with Chris Kromm at the Institute for Southern Studies right here in Durham. Then, at the City of Asheville Economic Development Office and Advantage West Economic Development Group" -- a steppingstone to the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, working on urban and rural transportation projects ("Most notably," she says "this includes the I-26 highway project, City of Asheville transit plan, and the local Metropolitan Planning Organization and Rural Planning Organization," which appears to have taken her next to Durham and to GoTriangle Regional Transit Agency, where she worked for Deborah Ross and got her first taste of politics. She says she worked as "traveling press secretary" for Deborah Ross in her US Senate campaign of 2016 and then took a job briefly with Attorney General Josh Stein as a deputy director of communications. From there she started her own consulting group, Murdock and Anderson, which helps design and implement community affairs projects for independent agencies and non-profits.
She may have brushed shoulders at some point with some iteration of "farming" in that job history, but Soil and Water District Supervisor looks mainly effective for quickly getting a local name in order to run for higher office.
She may give Pierce Freelon a real run for his money.

Democrat Gray Ellis is a 47-year-old Gen-Xer who has been willingly singled out for a unique distinction: He was recently front-paged by the Raleigh News and Observer as a state pioneer, as one of two transgender candidates for the NC General Assembly in 2020. (The other, Angela Bridgman of Wake, has also been profiled on this blog.) Ellis is owner and managing partner of Ellis Family Law in Durham. He's board certified in family law by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization, a distinction shared by only 1.1% of the 24,000 attorneys in North Carolina. Educated as a undergraduate at NCSU and through the NC Central School of Law, he has 17 years of practice.
“I’ve lived in Durham for 20 years, and been in a safe environment that’s very accepting of me. ... I’ve been fortunate, but I know that’s not true for most trans people,” he said. “I think it’s right and it’s time for [transgender people] to have a seat at the table. We’re completely unrepresented.” He cited his law career and his desire to serve people directly — rather than being a career politician — as among his strengths. He called the state’s passage of HB2 “horrifying.”
The problems with health-care delivery in North Carolina will animate his campaign: “We must expand Medicaid coverage to cover more people who are uncovered or only have partial coverage for mental health disorders and ensure that insurance carriers in North Carolina are compliant with the law of parity, requiring that mental and physical health be covered in the same way,” Ellis told the News and Observer.
Ellis is so far seriously trailing both Freelon and Murdock with campaign infrastructure. As far as I can find, he only has a (somewhat eccentric) Facebook page, which is more personal blog than campaign site: "The Real Tales of the Campaign Trail -- Gray Ellis for NC Senate." He says that he has "identified his campaign, campaign finance, and social media managers," but so far we're not seeing the full panoply of their work. 

Republican John Tarantino will also be on the ballot in November. He's a 63-year-old Boomer (born in 1957) and a perennial candidate for a variety of offices, including (once before, according to Ballotpedia -- which I haven't been able to independently verify) Senate District 20 when he supposedly ran in the Republican primary for that seat in 2010. Ran again in 2015 and 2017 for seats on the Durham City Council -- all unsuccessful forays. He calls himself a social moderate on his Facebook page

Thursday, January 02, 2020

The Elections of March: Republican Primary in NCS7

North Carolina Senate District 7 (Lenoir and Wayne counties, down east, with Kinston and Goldsboro as the major population centers) was rated by Michael Bitzer as "Competitive" -- the word that always draws my attention -- but also "Republican Favored." Bitzer predicted the Democratic vote share in 2020 at 47.10%, which puts a good Democratic candidate within striking disance, especially if it's a blue year.

Incumbent Republican Senator Louis M. Pate Jr. retired from the District 7 seat in January 2019. James "Jim" Perry, a 46-year-old Kinston businessman, got the votes of his Republican Party leaders in the district to be appointed to Pate's seat. Perry as the incumbent might have an advantage but he has a strong primary opponent, and whoever wins the Republican primary will face a well energized and ready Democratic contender in November.

The Republicans

Jim Perry made his money in the health-care delivery business: "After attending Lenoir Community College, N.C. State University and the University of North Carolina, Perry got a job, with the help of Lenoir County Commissioner Mac Daughety, in the healthcare recruitment industry. He eventually moved on to work for Affordable Care in Kinston. And finally he and a couple of partners started their own business with a small chain of urgent care dental offices. In November he sold his interest in the business..." (

He has seemed to strike a moderate, buttoned-down profile in the state senate. He hasn't signed onto divisive issues for the most part (but see next paragraph) and says he's ready to compromise on sticky wickets, though he published an op-ed in the News and Observer in October arguing against the expansion of Medicaid in NC because the state doesn't have enough primary doctors to treat everyone. That's market-economy Republicanism for you: "You have no right to a doctor until we have more doctors."

Two other sour notes in Mr. Perry's "moderate" image: He's been endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, and Perry frequently retweets Forest. Not exactly on message for a "reasonable Republican." And Perry was a supporter of HB370 which punishes county sheriffs for not kowtowing sufficiently to ICE agents.

Billy Strickland is also 46 years old (same age as Jim Perry) and a Goldsboro defense attorney who presents himself as a scrapper for the underdog: " main focus is on Protecting YOU from THEM! Whether it’s protecting you from an insurance company taking advantage of you when you’re injured, or protecting you from someone who has not kept their word, or protecting you from an over-zealous court system, my desire is to fight for you when you’re unable to do so yourself." He attributes his fighting spirit to a rough childhood on "the wrong side of the tracks." He says that he essentially emancipated himself at the age of 15 to live and work on his own, and he's become a success.

For a graduate of Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach (Pat Robertson's inspiration), Strickland does not fall back on the word conservative every five minutes nor does he beat a bunch of culture war drums. He does come out for school choice ("I also believe in the free market") even though his wife is a member of the school board in Wayne County. He likes getting photographed with dead wildlife and he likes wearing fedoras.

He clearly intends to give Jim Perry the fight of his life and could be a formidable contender next November.

The Democrat -- Donna Lake

Whoever emerges from the Republican primary will have to face a Democrat who's been building her campaign since last summer. Lake is a 64-year-old retired USAF Colonel and health-care professional. She announced her candidacy for the North Carolina Senate on July 29th. She's another of a distinct trend among new, insurgent Democratic candidates in the Age of Trump: A woman combat vet with two Bronze Stars stepping forward to run in a forbidding new combat zone. Donna Lake also holds a freakin' Ph.D. to boot in Health Care Management and works as a clinical nursing professor at the ECU College of Nursing where she says she's taught 450 students, not to mention another 85 faculty, in patient safety principles, leadership, and finance skills. Her expertise in health care management contributed to the awarding of a $5M grant to train and place "advanced practice registered nurses" into primary care facilities in Eastern North Carolina rural communities. A vital and motivating statistic for Donna Lake: Of the 41 Eastern NC counties combined, 28 (68.3%) have fewer than 5 primary care physicians per 10,000 residents. She wants to change that, and her work is an answer to Jim Perry's complaint that there aren't enough primary care providers for the expansion of Medicaid.

Donna Lake has been endorsed by Lillian's List. We hope she'll have lots of boots on the ground knocking doors, come warm weather, because "competitive" means "direct voter contact," especially in a mainly rural district like NCS7.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Elections of March: Democratic Primary in NCS11

NC Senate District 11 includes part of Johnston County (immediately abutting Wake County on the east) and Nash County to the northeast of Wake. The most recent court-ordered redistricting cost the district some 2.60% of its Republicans, and both political scientist Michael Bitzer and FlipNC now rate the district as "Competitive" but "Republican Favored." If the Democrats are fated to take control of the NC Senate, they'll have to win a district like the 11th. Tall order, but doable ... with the right candidate.

Incumbent Republican Senator Rick Horner (first elected in 2016 and reelected in 2018) announced he was retiring, which set off a steeple chase in both parties to replace him.

The Democrats

Allen Wellons, a 70-year-old baby-boomer born in 1949, is a Smithfield lawyer with Wilkins Wellons Coats. He's a 1971 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.A. and a 1975 graduate of NC Central School of Law in 1975. He formerly served three terms in the NC Senate so long ago -- from 1996 to 2002 -- that few voters younger than the boomer class will remember him. He was decisively defeated for reelection to his 4th term in 2002 by Republican Fred Smith, and he's been out of public life ever since.

Perhaps he was recruited as a proven mover-and-shaker whose former service in the senate will impress voters. At the moment, he may be resting on that reputation ... because he has no campaign infrastructure that we can find -- no website, no Facebook presence, no Twitter account. Doesn't inspire confidence that he's ready to make the race. Resting on the past could be a fatal mistake (unless he's the Joe Biden of Johnston County and I'm just completely wrong). Waiting for voters to acknowledge your worthiness may have worked in the past, but sadly in many cases, the past has passed.

Wellons appeared to be taking a cautious approach to hot-button issues, telling the press that his number one concern was helping farmers and the ag industry (but he also said he was in favor of expanding Medicaid coverage). Other than that, he's pretty much a blank slate.

Albert R. Pacer, a 75-year-old boomer born in 1945, presents a decided contrast to Wellons, because he does have a campaign up and running -- a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. That's partly because he's an old hand at running for the District 11 senate seat. He ran against Republican Rick Horner in 2016, losing by over 20,000 votes, and he ran again against Horner in 2018, losing by over 10,000 votes (so his trajectory is upward ... but still).

If Wellons strikes the pose of a conservative Democratic attorney, Pacer is an out liberal: "North Carolina has been known as a Progressive State, but that is no longer the case. Indeed it has become a leader of the forces that are driving us from the possibility of being a New South back to the conditions of the Old South which made it the most backward part of the nation. And it is taking the rest of the country along on that backward slide. As a native North Carolinian, that is maddening. It is absolutely crucial that Democrats wrest control of the NC General Assembly out of the hands of the Republicans and I am running to help make that possible."

Pacer has an undergraduate degree from UNC-Wilmington (American history and poly sci) and a master's from AppState (poly sci). He's clearly the Democratic activist in the race, but his two previous losses are an "ouchie."

The Republicans

Lisa Stone Barnes is the clear frontrunner. She previously served a couple of terms as a Nash County commissioner and then moved up to the NC House (District 7) in the elections of 2018, defeating incumbent Democrat Bobbie Richardson in the rare blue-to-red flip that year. It didn't take her long to opt for further advancement when Rick Horner announced his retirement. She's clearly a rising star for the NCGOP.

She's also clearly somewhat out of step with other North Carolina Republicans because she nowhere plays the Trump card and she doesn't parade the label "conservative." She strikes a much more moderate tone and is clearly more interested in economic development for her rural district than she is in conservative social hot-buttons (she's pushed the expansion of broadband in rural areas). That does not mean, however, that she's ever shown any interest in bucking her Republican caucus in the NC General Assembly.

If she's insufficiently Trumpist, it might hurt her among Republican primary voters, though her primary opponents don't look like serious contenders.

Patrick Harris is a first-term Johnston County commissioner, only just elected in 2018. He told the Johnston County Report that God had encouraged him to seek higher office, just as He had led him onto the county commish. So there's that.

Dennis Neilsen is a retired Air Force colonel and not only a perennial candidate but also a switch-hitter, having run under the banners of both Republican and Democratic parties. He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for both NC Senate and House seats in 2004 and 2006, switched in 2008 to the Democratic Party to challenge Bev Perdue in the primary for governor, then back to Republican and ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the NCS3 seat in 2010, unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the NCS11 seat in 2012, unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the NCH26 seat in 2014, and unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the NCH26 seat in 2016. Looks like he's about to rack up another losing statistic in the Republican primary of 2020.