Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Barack Obama Just Got My Attention

President Obama came out yesterday with a second round of his endorsements, and he included Linda Coleman, running for the US House (2nd District), and three candidates for the NC General Assembly. Two of those have been profiled previously on WataugaWatch: Natasha Marcus (here and here and here) and Brandon Lofton (here and here -- and full disclosure ... I'm a contributor to Lofton's campaign).

The third Obama endorsee running for the General Assembly was new to me -- John Campbell, a preacherman and a two-decade+ public servant on the Robeson County School Board who's running for NC Senate, District 13. (He had a Democratic primary back in May, and that's probably why I overlooked him because I hate Democratic primaries.)

NC Senate District 13 includes Robeson and Columbus counties, and according to Ballopedia, it's minority white with almost 54% of the population classified as either black or native American.

So why is Republican Danny Earl Britt representing the district in Raleigh? Britt only won the seat in 2016, beating incumbent Democrat Jane W. Smith with about 55% of the vote. Jane Smith had only held the seat for two years herself, winning in 2014 with over 60% of the vote. Before Jane Smith, there was a Democrat man who served multiple terms, so ... okay, Senate District 13 looks like a solid Democratic district, and the question remains ... how come Republican Danny Earl Britt?

Here's how:

Danny Earl Britt,
AppState Alumnus
Britt was heavily backed in 2016 by the NC Republican Senate Caucus, so his name was already out there when Hurricane Matthew hit in October 2016. Lumberton, county seat of Robeson, went under water. "The whole town was thrown into absolute chaos real quick. Roads were shut down, and there was no power. Bridges were out all over the place."

Danny Earl Britt, an attorney in Robeson and an active member of the National Guard, became a one-man rescue squad with "skills he'd acquired in relief efforts as a National Guardsman":
He didn't go out of his way to broadcast who he was during the storm. "He never wore a campaign shirt. He never did an interview," Mark Locklear, who works with Britt as a criminal investigator, told me [Daniel Allott]. "He was just busting his ass to help people, and it was being noticed. People saw this. People began to talk about it — the passion that he had to help others."
When calamity strikes, people pay attention to who shows up to help and who doesn't. In this case, one of the people who showed up to help was a local attorney who happened to be the Republican state Senate candidate. "He was going door-to-door helping everyone he could, you know, helping people get out of their houses, doing whatever he could," said Matt Walker, whom I met at his mother's restaurant, Candy Sue's Cafe. "He was rolling up his sleeves and getting dirty, and you just didn't really see that from the Democrats."

So Britt ousted the Democratic incumbent on the strength of his personality and his good deeds. Good for him. Turns out -- and I just this minute learned this -- Britt was the first Republican to take this seat since Reconstruction.

Britt hasn't let up. For Hurricane Florence, he organized a "sandbag marathon" around West Lumberton Baptist Church, and he'll be pushing for quick spending on hurricane recovery by the General Assembly. He'll get that money too, and be a hero for it. He'd already been critical of Governor Roy Cooper for the slow distribution of Matthew recovery money, and he'll make a show of his influence in Raleigh.

He deserves credit for this: Early in 2017, when the Phil Berger/Tim Moore bosses decided to make all judicial races in the state partisan, Britt broke with the brethren and voted to sustain Roy Cooper's veto of the bill.

In his campaign Britt was all about jobs and economic development for a county with a high poverty rate. But while in the General Assembly he's been forced to go along almost completely with a Republican regime that promises all sorts of trickle-down benefits from petting the already rich, while a poor county like Robeson just gets the added misery of more under-funded public education and the ham-stringing of the Affordable Care Act.

RealFactsNC lists District 13 as "Competitive." So does the NC Free Enterprise Foundation. IndivisibleNC listed the district among the "most flippable" this year. I dunno. Britt looks damn strong, plus he's got relative youth on his side.

John Campbell with
his wife, Constance Williams Campbell
Democrat John Campbell is deeply embedded in Robeson County, especially its religious and education communities. He's the Duke-Divinity-School-educated pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and he's served for over 20 years on the Robeson School Board. He's 67 years old.

Considering the General Assembly's record since 2011 -- its budget priorities, with Danny Earl Britt signing onto those priorities since he joined in 2016 -- it makes perfect sense that he's campaigning for Medicaid expansion and to “prioritize classrooms over boardrooms.”

Up Troublesome Creek: A complaint was lodged against Campbell's campaign for failing to file a required First Quarter fundraising and expenditures report with the State Board of Elections, and his campaign got accessed a penalty. Campbell said at the time that his treasurer had quit, and he had trouble finding a replacement. At this moment, he appears to be up to date on his NCSBE filings.
Campbell has complained about what he calls a “dirty” campaign being waged by Britt, who has sent out fliers in the mail showing Campbell has bounced checks in the past, been convicted of mortgage fraud, and once was forced to repay the school system for money he took to attend a conference that he did not attend.
A blue wave might win it for him. Barack Obama's endorsement seems strategic and could undoubtedly help. But I'm not betting any money.

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