Wednesday, January 31, 2018

NC House District 83: A Democratic Primary Takes Shape

Larry Pittman, the man to beat
I used to hate Democratic primaries, especially on the local and district level, because they sap resources needed for the General Election and they can be unnecessarily divisive. In this Year Of The Donald, Democrats don't need more division, but "the Trump Effect" means more willing public servants crowding onto primary ballots despite an obvious lack of dollar incentive -- members of the NC General Assembly make less than $14,000 a year.

But primaries can also be opportunities for opposing candidates to sharpen their platforms, polish their presentations, generate volunteer enthusiasm, and deeply learn their districts. Opportunities for Democratic voters too. This year they're fired up to make a difference, and they want winners. Voters will be watching with keener eyes.

Who's the Republican incumbent in House District 83? Just one of the most extreme Republican members of the NC General Assembly, Preacherman Larry Pittman, who last year wanted to repeal a provision in the state's constitution so that North Carolina could secede from the Union. No, really. Pittman fancies himself the Scourge of God, and he has certainly proven to be made of rawhide. Pittman also introduced a bill last year that would end North Carolina's recognition of same sex marriage in defiance of the US Supreme Court, citing the Bible as the legal authority. Speaker of the House Tim Moore scuttled that plan, for which I think Pittman may have called down fire from heaven on Tim Moore's head.

That's the guy to beat, and it won't be easy for a Democrat. Except ... the Republican leadership might just as soon see Pittman gone. In the last round of court-ordered Republican redistricting, Pittman was double-bunked with another Republican (who opted to run for a NC Senate seat instead), and now the special master's redrawn districts makes Pittman's 83rd a little friendlier for Democrats, taking in more urban and suburban areas of Kannapolis and Concord.

Gail Young
There's going to be a Democratic primary for the opportunity to take on Pittman, and two women have stepped forward. The first was Gail Young, a Cabarrus County social activist who I wrote about earlier. The second, Senah Andrews of Concord, announced on Monday.

Andrews is a mental health specialist: "My work has been built on public service in North Carolina. I began in Raleigh at Dorothea Dix Hospital where I served women and men living with severe and persistent mental illness. Later, my husband and I moved to Concord where I have served in several roles including psychologist for group homes, psychology faculty at Rowan Cabarrus Community College and Emergency Behavioral Health Clinician working night shift in the ER of CMC Northeast. Currently I run a small practice in Concord."

In July 2003, the giant Pillowtex plant in Kannapolis closed, putting 4,800 mill workers out of work in a single day, the largest single-day layoff of workers in North Carolina history, so House District 83 had seen the worst of the economic downturn even before the stock market crash of 2008. Senah Andrews saw that devastation from up close:
Senah Andrews (center) and her family
I was teaching at RCCC at the time and was on the front line as we absorbed thousands of displaced workers into the college to build new skills and prepare for a changing labor force. Those were scary times. Fear of change, worry for the future and low morale were daily reminders that our world had shifted. The aftershock throughout our community has been felt for well over a decade. Many folks continue to struggle to earn a living wage after losing their well paying mill jobs. Morale continues to be low as hard working individuals have felt left behind. Many have struggled with substance abuse and mental illness related to extreme stress. As an emergency behavioral health clinician working in the ER at CMC Northeast I have served on the front line witnessing the personal crises that plague so many of our citizens. I have listened to the people who have become addicted to opioids and other substances and have tried to understand their pain. Professionally, I have been forced to deal with the lack of quality community resources to help folks get back on their feet or manage a psychiatric illness or addiction effectively so that they can become productive members of society. I have held mothers who have lost their children to suicide or overdose and know in my heart that the system has failed so many of our own good people.
This is going to be an interesting primary (and a constructive one, we hope), and we want to see a strong General Election candidate emerge against Larry Pittman next November.

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