Thursday, August 09, 2007

New Light on an Old Subject

Guest blogging: Pam Williamson

There has been tremendous back and forth on this blog over the past weeks regarding the formation of a new Political Action Committee (PAC) in Boone called "Citizens for Change" (CFC).

A PAC is a group that organizes to promote candidates who its membership believes will best represent its interests or oppose candidates who don't represent those interests. On June 16, 2007, CFC submitted its statement of organization as a PAC to the North Carolina State Board of Elections:

Within the discussion of CFC on this blog, I was especially impressed and challenged by a comment from "Reader" (08.05.07 -- 8:26 am) that said, "This has been interesting the last couple of days. Why not just call one of the people you are speaking of and just ask them who's in the 'club'?"

I believe Reader is right, so I have been asking questions and getting (some) answers.

As confirmed by some of the candidates in attendance, on the 24th of July, CFC met to interview selected candidates running for Boone municipal seats. Invited candidates were Jeremy Blocker (D), Stephen Phillips (D), Ethan Dodson (R), Tim Wilson (R), and Dempsey Wilcox (R). The PAC decided to endorse all the candidates with the exception of Blocker.

On August 5th, I sent an e-mail to all the CFC endorsed candidates. The e-mail stated that it was my understanding the candidate had been interviewed and endorsed by the PAC, and I asked if the candidate accepted or rejected the endorsement. The e-mail also asked for the names of those who participated in interviewing candidates.

As of this date, I have received no responses from Wilson or Wilcox.

Phillips responded in a series of e-mails and eventually said, in part, "No! I did NOT accept an endorsement from Citizens for Change. Nor did they ask me to accept an endorsement. And if they did ask me to accept an endorsement, I would refuse." He added that Jeff Templeton had invited him to the meeting.

Dodson responded, in part, "I did attend a meeting for a group called Citizens for Change at their invitation after I filed for candidacy. I was asked as a candidate to answer questions regarding development, traffic, and town gown relations. I did meet David Blust there but he did not ask me any questions…. Afterward, the group informed me that they were pleased with my answers and decided to endorse me based on my beliefs. I was honored to receive support from the group, but the only endorsement I am interested in, is that of the Boone voters."

Dodson further stated he did not "feel obligated" to reveal the names of those at the meeting, likening the seeking of such information to McCarthyism.

Not satisfied that I had evidence regarding the interests associated with the PAC, on Sunday, August 5th, I called David Blust on the telephone.

We had a very friendly conversation. I told David that there had been a lot of rumor and speculation about the membership behind a new PAC that he was involved with called "Citizens for Change." I asked him if, in the interest of openness and accountability, he would share with me the names of the people involved in the PAC. He said there was not a membership list, that he did not feel he was at liberty to share names, that he was unsure if there was an upcoming meeting that week, and that most of the people involved in the PAC were those who were opponents of the new steep-slope and viewshed town ordinances. He named Jeff Templeton and Reba Moretz. When I asked if he was at the meeting the night the candidate interviews took place, he responded, "Well, there are many meetings, and I haven't been to all of them. Lots of people show up. There are different people at different meetings." He added a second time that "most of those involved are those who opposed the steep-slope ordinance." I asked again for the names of those involved, and David said he would get back to me and let me know if those involved were willing to have their names provided.

When I did not hear back from David on Monday, I decided to call Reba Moretz, treasurer for the PAC. We likewise had a very pleasant conversation. I asked her if the CFC meeting was open to everyone. She responded that "as far as I know there are no limitations" and that she would call me back with the place and time of the next meeting.

Which she promptly did. Twice. Both times leaving time and place on my answering machine.

So I went.

When I arrived, Phil Templeton greeted me loudly with the comment that I should sit at the front of the room so all could see me. I obliged. I sat next to Ranny Phillips who was very cordial. I sat in front of Reba and Grady Moretz. There were as many as 20 people there, some of whom I recognized. In addition to the Moretzes, Ranny Phillips, and David Blust (who ran the meeting), others included Frank Bolick, Jimmy Hodges, Tim Wilson and his son, and John Tate (of Boone car-booting fame).

David Blust called the meeting to order and told me that I had to leave because "we are opposing what you are doing and we are opposing your candidates." I said I completely understood and thanked Reba Moretz for her hospitality before leaving. The group applauded as I left (and not in a good way).

The day after the PAC meeting, Jim Hastings, on his 9 a.m. WATA radio show, referred to the fact that CFC had had a meeting the night before and that "interesting things" happened at that meeting.

Here's the bottom line:

I believe voters have the right to know whose interests a PAC represents. Any PAC. And I believe all of us should be aware that PACs have only one purpose: to recruit and/or endorse candidates, promote their interests, and raise money for them.

There is nothing at all wrong with organizing a political action committee to find candidates who will represent your interests, but there is, in my opinion, a right for the people to know what those special interests are and whose special interests are represented, so the FACTS in summary are this:

1. The primary interest of Citizens for Change is to oppose the Town of Boone's Steep Slope ordinance. There are secondary interests, to be sure, but that is the primary driving force.

2. The only Democrat the PAC endorsed says he's refused the endorsement.

3. The leaders of the PAC are the Templeton family, David Blust, and Reba Moretz.

4. The Templetons have been the leaders in opposing the town's steep-slope ordinance, and Phil Templeton holds a personal grudge against Loretta Clawson for fighting his attempt to build a medical facility in her neighborhood.

5. David Blust is a conservative Republican activist.

6. Jim Hastings is a conservative Republican activist who calls the Boone Town Council "socialists" on this weekly radio program. He is either a member of CFC or is kept up-to-date on its activities.

7. Reba Moretz, registered Democrat, opposes the steep-slope ordinance, opposed the regulations against billboards on the Doc & Merle Watson Scenic Byway, and is working for Republican candidates.

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