Monday, February 28, 2022

Salute to a Western NC Republican Moderate


Wendy Nevarez with Adam Kinzinger

Wendy Nevarez has been running the longest to unseat Madison Cawthorn. She filed with the Federal Elections Commission on April 7th last year, the first of a slew of Republicans who subsequently declared they would also challenge Cawthorn in the 11th CD primary. That's how odorous the boy congressman has made himself.

Background: Nevarez spent 2001-2017 as a Petty Officer First Class in the US Navy, works now as a claims specialist for the Social Security Administration. Earned a Master's in public administration. Pulled a Republican ballot in every primary in Buncombe County, except in 2016 when she pulled the Democratic one. Trump turned her stomach.

So can you think of a more improbable Republican candidate? Against Madison Cawthorn? In the R+infinity District 11 of the North Carolina western mountains? Nah. But she's been a bright presence, active on social media as a kind of beacon for other Republican women who couldn't and still can't stand Trump, who want comity and commonsense for problem-solving -- few as that class of Republican woman may be in the western mtns. The votes Nevarez ends up getting on May 17th -- however few -- will be the targets the Democratic standard-bearer will need November 8th. (A possible Democratic flip in the west became a pleasing prospect for awhile, back during the months Watauga got lumped in with Asheville. But no more. It was widely rumored that Cawthorn poached Tim Moore's custom-fit 13th CD next door because he couldn't stand the prospect of all those college students voting against him. Who needs all those smarter-than-Thou teenagers screaming at you?)

So Wendy Nevarez's chances notwithstanding, I can't help being proud of her. I wrote last September that she'd make an excellent conservative Southern Democrat.

She's getting batted around pretty bad right now by the Trumpists because of that photo above. Nevarez attended Rep. Adam Kinzinger's CountryFirst ( convention. You know Kinzinger, the Republican from Illinois who voted to impeach Trump and who is one of the "terrible two" Republicans participating in the January 6th investigation. Going to his convention and getting that photo kind of makes Nevarez a bad-ass to boot.

Tried to count all the Republicans filed in the old/new 11th. Hard to do at the moment, because some candidates filed in what they thought would be the 14th CD, and some (like Josh Remillard) stalked Cawthorn to the new 13th. And some are in the original 11th (along with Virginia Foxx, who thought that was her new bunk). In other words there are candidates filed all over the place. They have until noon on March 4 to sort it out.

Meanwhile, no one knows what Madison Cawthorn will do. He looks blocked every direction. The 13th -- where's he's actually filed currently -- is no longer attractive. Back in the 11th, which he abandoned for greener pastures, he's already endorsed Michele Woodhouse, a marketer of vagina rejuvenation (?) --she billed herself as the "Vagina Road Warrior." Anyway, Cawthorn, a judge of horse flesh, handpicked her to succeed him -- and contributed to her campaign. She might graciously step aside for him, since as of this morning she isn't listed as a candidate on the NCSBE data for candidate filings under the maps ordered by the NC Supremes. But even if she dropped out, that hardly clears the field for Cawthorn.

Comms Dir. Luke Ball

He'll still face current frontrunner Chuck Edwards in the May primary. Edwards is a fast food merchandizer and state senator who represents Buncombe, Henderson, and Transylvania counties. He's said to be a strong contender to win it all. Pisgah Inn host Bruce O'Connell is also running, also essentially as a Trumpist, and he has a shit-ton of personal money he's willing to spend. He's a businessman contemptuous of Cawthorn's juvenile need for constant attention. Rod Honeycutt, an Army colonel, has been actively campaigning, and his military background is going to be attractive to some, though he seems somewhat moderate to me -- no advocate for Trump -- though not as moderate as Wendy Nevarez. 

Both Cawthorn and his Director of Communications (and messaging mastermind) Luke Ball have had no comment about where Cawthorn will land -- which district -- or if he'll land at all. Background on Ball (since he's clearly calling the shots for Cawthorn): He rose in Trumpist campaign ranks to become Matt Gaetz's comms guy until he couldn't take all the sex scandals. He resigned "amid allegations that Gaetz had an inappropriate sexual encounter with a minor and a reported investigation into alleged violations of federal sex trafficking laws." Ball got immediately snatched up by Cawthorn (with his own sexual predator rep), who most certainly is too a great judge of horse flesh. Only question is who's the jockey in this scenario. 

With a team like that, you could sure organize a kegger.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Forsyth County Copying Watauga, In a Bad Way


The disruption that went down at the Valentine Day's meeting of the Watauga County School Board (described by school board member Jay Fenwick here) just got a copycat do-over in front of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board on Tuesday.

One big difference: Whereas the men who rushed the rostrum in Watauga got to stay and dole out their paper accusations to the school board members, the man who "broke the barrier" in Winston-Salem found his face on the floor in a scuffle with security.

On the surface, the commotion was all about mask mandates in public schools (but hold on for the rest of the story):

The tone and tenor of the comments took an unusual, and ultimately disruptive turn, when two speakers, first, Regina Garner and then Deborah Tuttle, began reading from a script that attempted to make a case that the school board has failed to uphold the state and federal constitutions by enforcing a mandate, in this case a mask mandate.

Among other issues, they falsely accused the school board of practicing medicine without a license, committing child abuse because of masking and violating the state’s obscenity law by keeping in school libraries materials “with obscene and inappropriate images.”

Tuttle told the school board that unless these violations were corrected in 72 hours, the school board would be receiving letters of intent to file a claim against the school district’s insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual.

The scene was straight from the playbook of Bonds for the Win, a group that is urging parents and far-right activists to serve claims against school districts, claiming they have broken laws. Bonds for the Win has a website that includes scripts on how to file claims in several states, including North Carolina.

You noticed the demand slipped in there -- right? -- that certain books must be removed or censored from school libraries, which is becoming much more the marquee issue among these disruptors as masking mandates are lifted. The ultimatum that the school board must comply with demands within 72 hours is a curious echo of what was demanded of Watauga board members.

It's a movement, all right, the natural evolution of bullying Trumpism.

Maps Are Now Final


This congressional district map stands, and candidate filing opened this morning at 8 a.m. Filing will close on March 4th. Virginia Foxx has already announced that she'll be running again in the 5th CD, which now (once again) has a large chunk of Forsyth.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

BREAKING NEWS: Court Orders New Congressional Map


The court accepted the new NC House and NC Senate maps but ordered the special masters to draw a new US Congressional district map for the state. This apparently is it:

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Watauga School Board Makes Masks Optional


Following the commendation of Governor Roy Cooper, the Watauga County School Board has voted 5-0 to make masks optional for students and teachers in our public schools.

Monday, February 21, 2022

AppState Town Hall: Concern About University’s Direction and Administration

By Mata Hari, guest-posting: 

“Houston, we have a problem.” This is the message about Appalachian State that concerned faculty and students delivered at a town hall held on campus on Sunday evening.

The problem lies not with the university itself, according to town hall participants, but with the administration, and specifically Chancellor Sheri Everts, whose leadership style was characterized by some speakers as “authoritarian.”

Panelists and audience members described a campus climate of “fear,” in which students are “silenced” by the administration and faculty told to “sit down and shut up.” They told stories about an administration that uses Zoom to mute open discussion, that suppresses unfavorable reports on issues like diversity, that press-gangs deans into publicly denouncing faculty views that fail to tow the administration’s line.

The town hall, which was held in Belk Library and on Zoom, was organized by Appalachian’s Student Government Association (SGA), Faculty Senate, and Staff Senate. Its theme was the university’s direction.

The town hall was opened by Faculty Senate Chair Louis Gallien. The first panelist, Richard Rheingans, a professor of Sustainable Development, put the town hall in context. The students and faculty, he observed, are the university. They fulfill the university’s mission. The institution does not exist for the sake of administrators. And yet Appalachian’s administration seems entirely focused on congratulating itself on its own (dubious) accomplishments. It does little to support students and faculty. Rheingans asked: “What do you do when leaders don’t lead?” He noted that when you’re told to “sit down and shut up”—as faculty regularly are—it usually means it’s time “to stand up and speak.”

Bailey Gardin, the current student body president, recalled the administration’s handling of the Black at App State Collective, which issued a series of demands in July 2020. Gardin described the meeting that the Chancellor held with students of color on July 21 to address these demands. He called it “one of the most traumatizing meetings I’ve ever been a part of.” Chancellor Everts packed the meeting with around 40 individuals whose involvement had not been announced to the students (and were loyal to her). The students of color were, moreover, prevented from speaking at the virtual meeting because they were muted by the administration. More recently, the administration has failed to produce a “demand tracker” to monitor its commitment to meet the demands. And last November, the administration suppressed a report by the Faculty/Staff of Color Affinity Working Group, most likely because it included information about negative experiences these faculty and staff had experienced. “Racist tactics of tokenization and gaslighting” were, Gardin stated, a hallmark of Everts’ administration.

Bekah Nielson, an App State student with the Climate Action Collaborative, expressed many students’ frustration with the university’s tepid climate goals. The university has pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, which is no more ambitious than the national goal. The administration has shown, Nielson said, a “lack of sustainability, accountability, [and] transparency.” She emphasized that in fighting for genuine sustainability, students were not “fighting against university, but fighting for our home.”

Stella Anderson, a professor of management, discussed university funding, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that public higher education was appropriately funded by the state. She noted current efforts to change the funding model that determines the allocation of state monies, but observed that this change may only be marginally beneficial to Appalachian. She emphasized the importance of funding the university’s core academic mission. She reminded the audience that Appalachian’s Athletics program is not self-sustaining, as it is funded largely by making students pay an athletics fee—a fee that all students must pay as a condition of attending the university.

Todd Carter, a newly elected member of the Boone Town Council, was the last panelist to speak. He emphasized the importance of cooperation between the town, the county, and the university, while noting the aggressive sustainability measures the town has pursued.

The tone of the meeting was refreshingly optimistic. It was evident that the faculty and students were deeply committed to Appalachian and to its educational mission. But it was equally clear how much they felt the university’s mission was stymied by Chancellor Everts’ administration.

Some faculty recalled, for instance, that they had recently conducted a survey of faculty about the university’s policies regarding the omicron variant. They communicated the results directly to the faculty. But on January 10, all seven of the university’s deans (Michael Madritch, Sandra Vannoy, Melba Spooner, Shannon Campbell, Marie Hoepfl, Marie Huff, Dean, and James Douthit) sent an email to students stating: “It has come to our attention that some faculty might be sharing misinformation about university COVID safety protocols, procedures and decision-making that are inaccurate and potentially harmful.” The deans were ordered to send this email by none other than Chancellor Everts.

More recently, Megan Hayes, the university’s chief communications officer, criticized the press release about the town hall itself. Hayes, who reports directly to Chancellor Everts, wrote the following to the town hall’s organizers (the email was shared at the meeting):

I read a news story in the Watauga Democrat this morning in which Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and SGA are described as “governing bodies” for the university.

I wanted to let you know our team is reaching out to the editor to request a correction, as this is not accurate.

Additionally, you may want to correct the graphic you are using to publicize your upcoming event on Feb. 20, as I am sure it is not your intent to mislead the constituencies you represent, the public or the media that your organizations hold governing authority, or that you represent the university in an official capacity.


In addition to being astonishingly petty, Hayes’ email is simply wrong. The principle of “shared governance” upon which American higher education is founded means, literally, that bodies like Faculty Senate participate in governance. In no way were any of these bodies pretending to be the university’s chief executive officer or governing board. This red herring of an argument simply shows the administration’s churlish need to suppress any voice that might contradict its own.

Of course, as several town hall participants indicated, the core problem is that Chancellor Everts, lacking any support on campus or in Boone, depends entirely on the support she receives from the campus Board of Trustees and the System Board of Governors. Every single member of these bodies (except for the SGA President, who is also a trustee) has been chosen directly or indirectly by North Carolina’s gerrymandered, Republican-controlled legislature. Objectively, Chancellor Everts serves North Carolina’s Republican politicians.

It was clear from Sunday’s meeting that this is not the last time the university’s faculty and students will meet to press for their vision of the university. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Rest of the Story -- The Watauga School Board Meeting on Feb. 14


Scare tactics
by Jay Fenwick, 19 Feb 2022

Previously I reported to you about the February 14, 2022, Watauga Board of Education meeting. That report covered one agenda item only, our mask policy. But the February 14th meeting offered much more excitement.

(I repeat the "disclaimer" here that these are my personal opinions and recollections. My purpose is simply to share a fuller description of events to keep you informed of what is happening at YOUR school board meetings.) 

The public comment portion of the meeting always begins with the board chair reminding speakers of the rules of etiquette that are typical at public meetings. Speakers are allowed 3 minutes, are expected to be courteous in their language, are to speak to the board as a whole, and should not expect back-and-forth conversation with the board. 

Six persons signed up to speak to the board, but Jennifer Hanifan (who has filed to run for the Board of Education) declined when her name was called. The first four speakers all asked to end the mask mandate and provided their unique personal perspectives. I carefully listen to all of our public speakers. I often take notes on what they say. Some people think the board is being disrespectful or ignoring the voices of the speakers. It is unfortunate that they just can not accept that one can truly listen to them but then choose not to do what they ask. Maybe they haven't raised teenagers yet?

Michael Ackerman,
Candidate for Congress

But the drama was yet to come. The last speaker, Mr. Michael Ackerman, has addressed the board each month since September. In addition, there has been voluminous communication with him via email between meetings. And it should be noted that Mr. Ackerman has organized a campaign for U.S. Congress that hosts frequent Facebook Live events, often referring to the Watauga School Board.

Both Superintendent Scott Elliott and the board attorney have previously addressed the meeting about a recent conspiracy theory surrounding "surety bonds," involving a website called They both explained that NC law does not require surety bonds for school board members. And they encouraged school board members not to be swayed by tactics akin to bullying.

Mr. Ackerman again chastised the board for what he sees as its disrespect for the voices wanting an end to the mask mandate. He also again chastised the board for not altering the format of its public comment. He then quoted from the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence. I do agree with him that this is amazing and powerful language: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Ackerman then said, "With great sadness and resolve I do stand before you tonight and inform you that you have left us with no other option but to serve each of you with letters of intent to file claims against your surety bonds.”

On that choreographed cue, two men stood up in the audience, flanked Mr. Ackerman at the podium, and then walked toward the board members with stacks of large manilla envelopes. Superintendent Elliott, the board attorney, and two deputies began to loudly request that the men halt. It's not a large room. The men ignored the admonitions and were already in front of the board members. They began rifling through their packets of envelopes trying to match up the board member nameplates with the labels on the envelopes they had. In the end, they "served" 8 persons: each board member, the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent, and the Finance Director. Board members did not open the envelopes and simply handed them to the attorney.

Mr. Ackerman concluded his remarks stating that this was not a legal action but an insurance claim action, and that we had 72 hours to comply.

What exactly was in the envelopes? I can only tell you what was in the packet that I received but am confident that the others were identical. My packet contained three bundles of documents. Each bundle was from a different person making a claim, and each claim consisted of two parts, an 8-page "Declaration of Fact" and about 40 pages of materials that Superintendent Elliott had submitted in response to a public information request for surety bonds, policies related to insurance and bonding, and oaths of office.

The language in the "Declaration" is legal-sounding:
  • "...expressed in the form of an obligation containing my wet ink autograph that I have personal knowledge of and asseverate the following...."
  • "...I, a man, ------------- claim ------------------ as my offspring.
    I, a man, ------------- claim my body, information, and genetic material, including my offspring, are my Property."
  • "...I, a man, ---------------- retain my right to decline all attempts to access, influence, and or otherwise alter any of my Property, my God given biological material, my biological systems, and or that of my minor offspring."
A section boldly labeled "Direct and Constructive Notice" contains numerous legal citations that supposedly demonstrate that school board members have stepped outside their oaths and responsibilities, violated state and federal law and the Constitution itself with our mask policy. 

It demands that the school board cease and desist within 72 hours forced mask wearing, social distancing, COVID testing. It also includes a clause demanding the immediate removal of all materials (books, media, lesson plans, etc.) that promote a variety of things like "tribalism within our nation" and "deconstruction of the nuclear family," among others. 

It then says that each board member must rebut these claims within 10 days. (What happened to 72 hours?) And it concludes with a reminder of my obligation to a timely response: "Silence will result in your acquiescence and tacit agreement."

All three claims are signed and then notarized by school board candidate Jennifer Hanifan.

NC DHHS has announced a big change in their COVID guidance, and the CDC has hinted at some big changes coming in their guidance. I see another school board meeting already on the calendar.

This local newspaper article captures a good bit of the public comment portion of the Feb 14th meeting.

Jay Fenwick is a member of the Watauga County Board of Education

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Abbie Hoffman Died of a Broken Heart


Whatever happened to Abbie Hoffman? 

"Barry Freed" with Sen. Daniel
Patrick Moynihan, 1978,
at a Save the River event

You know Abbie -- '60s counter-culture celebrity, founder of the Yippies, self-described "action freak and anti-intellectual," jester to the American apocalypse, notorious for smoking dope when and where he shouldn't, and topping it all, he starred as the standout defendant in the trial of the Chicago 7 (particularly celebrated for his uncanny talent for giving a judge also named Hoffman the everlasting purple-faced shakes). Kurt Vonnegut called Abbie "a holy clown." He mobilized thousands -- probably millions -- of anonymous kids by teaching them how to challenge the power structure as a nobody. He also went underground for six years to avoid arrest, had plastic surgery to change his appearance (it didn't work), and yet even then, he couldn't stop himself from stirring the pot. Under the name Barry Freed, he organized Save The River in far upstate New York to stop the Army Corps of Engineers' plan for winter navigation on the St. Lawrence River.

My friend who gives me interesting books that I never got around to reading decades ago in my actual youth when they were published -- he gave me Abbie Hoffman's autobiography. Abbie wrote it while he was hiding out from the authorities, between 1974 and 1980, and published it in 1980 under the title "Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture" (and BTW, why has there never been a movie biography of him? He deserves it as much as Che). The book was subsequently issued under the more mundane title, "The Autobiography of Abbie Hoffman."

What happened to him, you ask? I think he died of a broken heart.

As I started reading "Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture," I was skeptical. How well could this particular celebrity organize a self-examination and execute it with serviceable prose? But I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I became engrossed for the entire 300 pages. Not only did Abbie write well, with wit and insight and a disarming honesty, but he also had a sort of cinematic instinct for painting a scene quickly and indelibly. I was reminded once again that it takes real smarts to play the clown. Abbie could write one-liners that opened universes of thought:

I recognized I had an ability to make outrage contagious. 
The put-on allows you to circumvent the trap.

 Nostalgia is a mild form of depression.

When decorum becomes repression, the only dignity free men have is to speak out.

 Free speech is the right to shout theater in a crowded fire.

When it comes time to clear away the dishes, only cowards stay seated at the table.

He never sold out. He never bent the knee to The Man, never joined the system and made lots of money, like Rubin the stockbroker and Hayden the upstanding young legislator. Abbie always lived on the economic edge. He could have cashed in. He got numerous offers to go the actor route, build a brand name, monetize protest as theater. He refused. He never stopped making speeches, leading protests, visiting college campuses (like AppState, which he did)-- until he went underground.

Never sold out, but did get depressed. The failed presidency of Jimmy Carter and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 got a lot of people depressed. By the time his autobiography was published, Abbie's noggin was going full bipolar, and he experienced wild periods of dissociation from the people who loved him, alternating between manic and immobilized spells. At one point he checked himself into a psychiatric facility under an assumed name. Finally, in 1989 he took 150 phenobarbital tablets and chased it with booze, ending what had been a flashdance of creative disturbance.

He called himself an anarchist, but he was actually always practicing a sly psychology:

I tried never to play on the audience's guilt, and instead appealed to feelings of liberation, a sense of comradeship, and a call to make history. I played all authority as if it were a deranged lumbering bull and I the daring matador. Well versed on the legal limits, I'd plant the sharpest banderillas I could dream up, reaching straight over the horns. I got nicked and whacked a jolly-good number of times but if you saw me, you would have said, There goes someone who loves his work. Impulsive and outrageous, the message was disruption.

But you can see disillusionment growing in him in the last 50 pages:

Fashions were changing. The "New Nostalgia" was in the air. In the introduction to the paperback edition of Woodstock Nation, I wrote (disparagingly) about the fifties revival, the self-analysis, the new religious fervor, body drugs like smack and Quaaludes (which helped you escape it all -- as opposed to the effect of mind drugs), and the absorption of the counterculture into the mainstream. Any call to idealism was greeted with choruses of "We've heard all that," and in a way I had too.

In a chapter titled ominously "Bummed Out on the Movement," Abbie spilled beans about the inherent sexism in a lot of hippie males and the dents they suffered in collisions with the new woman's lib; the neuroses of many a hanger-on who was using the anti-war crusade to work out personal problems; and the fracturing of unity between those who wanted to do bombs and those who wanted to do street theater. Abbie was always a pacifist.

I was still in the movement, but my heart was no longer in the fight. No matter what I did, someone bitched. Nothing I said came out right.

Abbie ended the autobiography with what purports to be a lengthy "confession" of sins. It begins:

On second thoughts....

Maybe I was wrong.

You know, I'm really sorry and I wanna come home. I love the flag. Blue for truth. White for right. Red for blood our boys shed in war....

And concludes:

...I realize I can't repair all the damage to our system I feel responsible for, but I'm willing to roll up my sleeves and give it a try. It's a damp underground.

Now can I come back?

Yes, the whole apparent show of penance is another put-on, at times hilariously so, but it's saturated with a palpable defeat, a consuming melancholy with the knowledge that you can kick a giant machine but the machine is gonna kick back harder. Sometimes things do get worse.

Abbie did come back from self-exile. He turned himself in soon after publishing this book and through a plea deal agreed to a year in prison. He served four months. After he got out, he continued giving speeches and doing some organizing, but the spirit had evaporated. It was the "Me Decade" now, and Abbie wouldn't last.

In the Future, We'll All Be Abbie Hoffman

I wasn't by any stretch a rep for the "counter-culture" in the '60s. I was straight as an arrow, trying to join the establishment as some sort of scholar/teacher of culture and history, but I was also draft-age and imbued as anyone with impulses for self-preservation, so I was "anti-war" and became an activist, though within the very political structures that Abbie was trying to demolish -- working inside the Democratic Party at the time, attending my first precinct meeting (of a legion still stretching to an unseen horizon) as a Gene McCarthy delegate. I dropped a seminar on Faulkner so I could volunteer full time for the McCarthy campaign, grew bitter when he lost but kept a toe in partisan political organizing, still believing that positive change was possible through the political process. Don't laugh. Abbie himself referred to the Gene McCarthy campaign as "a crusade of virtuous irrelevance." Ouch.

Sasha Baron Cohen
I didn't believe it at the time. But look where we've landed since 2016. The beast wants blood and is getting it, and I am sometimes at the threshold of a door that does on strange geometrical hinges. I feel for Abbie. I feel for all of us.

Abbie Makes the Movies Finally

Other than a cameo in Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July," Abbie had never been a character in any movie on the period -- let alone the center of his own story -- until Aaron Sorkin cast Sasha Baron Cohen to play Abbie in "The Trial of the Chicago 7." Cohen pretty much stole that movie from Eddie Redmayne, who played Abbie's nemesis Tom Hayden. Hayden was guilty in Abbie's eyes of being "absolutely without humor." According to Abbie, Hayden liked to stir things up and then take a quick exit before any shit hit the fan. In Chicago, Hayden didn't make his exit quick enough.

I think Sorkin's script captured both Abbie's talent for satire and his underlying whip-smart intelligence, his successful one-upmanship with Judge Hoffman, his actual maturity when compared to the arrested development of Jerry Rubin.

It's a pretty damn good movie.

Friday, February 18, 2022


New Maps Now in the Hands of the Courts


Tim Moore

The new maps for the NC House got bipartisan support. The new maps for US congressional seats and NC Senate didn't.

The Republican map-drawers in Raleigh took Watauga out of what was to be the new 14th CD, thus making it more attractive for Madison Cawthorn to stay home and run again in what is still (for the moment) the 11th CD. That edit also made it possible for House Speaker Tim Moore to reconsider whether he might run in the new district that covers his home county of Cleveland. Bottomline: He's back in, you bet, if Cawthorn stays home.

Oh the times! Oh the customs!

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Watauga School Board Member Fenwick Defends His Vote on Masking Policy


The Rationale Behind My February Masking Vote
by Jay Fenwick, 17 Feb 2022

It’s been my honor to serve Watauga County as a member of its Board of Education for 7 years. Over the past 7 months or so there have been several passionate speeches made to the board during its monthly meeting public comment. More recently, a group of community members focused on eliminating the school mask mandate has become larger and more vocal, even at times needing to be gaveled to order by the board chair.

I have been asked by several people over the past few months to share what is happening in our meetings. Of course the meetings are open to the public, but I realize that many people will be unable to attend. The local newspaper often reports on key decisions but has certain space and word count limitations. So, I have decided to simply share some of what has been happening in recent meetings along with a fuller context.

All of these words are my sole, individual opinion based on my own personal recollection, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of other board members or the board as a whole.

There is a lot going on with these decisions, folks. Perhaps I am a pedantic professor, but I want to share a fuller context. You can skim or skip as you wish but I will endeavor to provide a thorough summary. And yes, even this long report, is still just a summary; and furthermore, this is just one issue with other issues to be reported in upcoming letters.

“I Vote No”
The NC Legislature passed a law at the end of the summer requiring local boards of education to act each month on their masking policy. A quick recap of how we got here. At its July 2021 meeting the board voted 3-2 to make masks optional in our schools (I was in the minority). Within two weeks the Delta variant had begun ravaging our local community; and, I received well over 100 emails from both sides of the issue although a large majority were in favor of masking. At its August meeting just prior to the opening of school for the year, the board voted unanimously to require mask wearing indoors. And each month from September to January we have voted unanimously to reaffirm that policy. Also during this time we have heard from an increasing number of persons during the public comment portion of our meetings, and most of these are speaking against the masking requirement.

Our February meeting was this past Monday evening, February 14th. Of course, at this moment the Omicron surge is falling fast and several governors around the country have announced ends to statewide mask mandates. In addition, the NC DHHS updated their guidance to effectively end contact tracing and quarantines of any close contacts on Feb 21. With these shifts in the news there was great anticipation for an elimination of our school mask mandate from the about two dozen attendees. After the usual thorough Covid update from Superintendent Scott Elliott, a motion was made and seconded to end our mask mandate policy on Monday Feb 21. 

In the board’s discussion of this motion, I announced that I would vote no and provided my reasons. Likewise, other board members provided justifications for their votes. The motion ultimately did not pass. Satisfying our legal obligation to act on our current policy, the board then discussed a number of options of metric levels and/or dates that might be appropriate for a change. Ultimately we decided, wisely in my opinion, to let changing local conditions dictate our next action and not some a priori date on the calendar. We ensured that the board could legally meet in an “emergency meeting” at any time.

Expectedly, I was swamped with dozens of emails expressing displeasure with my vote (and a few thankful emails). In response I tried to provide insight to the root of my decision making. Below is reproduced the core of my response.
Good evening,
I hear your disappointment with my vote last night. I do understand your frustration with the continued mask mandates. As a teacher at App State I also am required to wear a mask many hours each day. 

Epidemiology, communicable disease, and industrial hygiene are not my areas of expertise. I have read hundreds of articles, many sent to me by parents who spoke against the mask mandate last night. And while I feel well-informed, I am still no expert in these fields. Therefore, I choose to listen to our state’s and country’s top experts in these fields.

This is the link to the CDC’s page for Watauga County.
Our current case rate is 765, which is over 7 times the value to move out of the “high” red level. But, yesterday this rate was 936. So it is dropping very quickly.

This is the link to the NC DHHS schools toolkit.
Page 3 summarizes their recommendations and the 3rd bullet there is very clear in recommending indoor masking as long as our county is in the substantial (orange) or high (red) levels.

Locally, this is a newspaper article from last week.
Cases remain high, hospitals are crowded, and 4 people died in a week including a parent of a school family. And these numbers are also decreasing quickly.

As I said last night when casting my vote, while these metrics are falling fast they remain too high to act at this particular moment. I made sure that the board is willing and able to conduct an emergency meeting as soon as the metrics really do continue to fall to more manageable levels. I am not naive to think that we must get to 0. But 936 (last night) and 765 (today) are still too high. Not by my determination but by the determination of NC DHHS and the CDC experts.

So I hope that this letter catches you up on the public schools masking policy decision of February 14th, and in particular my personal perspective. 

Stay tuned for more background, more context, and other issues happening in our board of education meetings. Feel free to contact me directly at

A Brand New Proposal for US Congressional Districts


Gone is the draft map that would have put AppState and UNC-Chapel Hill in the same district -- drat! -- but this new proposed map puts Watauga back in Virginia Foxx's 5th District -- double drat! -- instead of joining us with Asheville.

Tne New NC House District Maps


The NC House overwhelmingly passed (115-5) this new map for its own House districts after six Democratic amendments were adopted last night. It's likely to stand as the final version once the Senate votes on it.

The new districts, while expected to produce a Republican majority, would make it more difficult for the GOP to achieve a supermajority or 72 seats in the House.

“I will reemphasize nobody came out of this happy,” said Rep. Robert Reives of Chatham County, the Democratic leader. “Nobody came out of this jumping for joy and figuring, ‘we won, we won.’ What we were happy about was that we came to an agreement that both of us could live with.”

Most of Watauga remains in the 93rd House Dist. but loses two precincts (Blue Ridge and Elk) to Caldwell's 87th. Allegheny County has been added to Watauga and Ashe.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

NC Senate's Proposed US Congressional Map


Good God! Look at CD5. They've put AppState and Chapel Hill together for Madam Foxx.

New Proposal for NC House Districts


Another proposed map from the NC House redistricting committee, this one for the 120 NC House seats. Watauga is still chopped up between Dist. 93 and Dist 87 (Rep. Destin Hall's district).

Asher Hildebrand on Twitter:

Quick DRA analysis of the #ncga state House map being discussed at 11 (w/ link below):

55 likely/solid R
9 lean R/toss-up
15 lean D/toss-up
41 likely/solid D

It takes 72 votes in the NC House to override a governor's veto. 

1st (Of Many?) Proposed Congressional Maps for NC


Rep. Destin Hall, head of the Republican NC House redistricting committee, floated this proposed map for congressional districts late yesterday. It puts Watauga back entirely in the 5th.

WRAL reports:

Political scientists Chris Cooper of Western Carolina University, Eric Heberlig of UNC-Charlotte, Michael Bitzer of Catawba College and Asher Hildebrand of Duke University expect Democrats to win the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th and 12th congressional districts under Hall's plan, while Republicans would likely win the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 13th districts.

The redistricting experts are divided on which party might capture the 8th and 14th districts.

Bitzer said those two districts in Hall's plan are likeliest to be the most competitive. It's too early to say which way they lean until Hall provides precinct-level data, Bitzer said.

A highly skeptical chorus greeted Hall's trial balloon on his Twitter feed. Among the more provocative responses was one from Vegan Pythagorean:

So you're going to release intentionally inadequate maps to force the court to draw the maps. Then you'll claim a rigged Dem court unfairly put Dems in power and you'll run on that issue to get GOP judges on the court who will allow partisan gerrymandering and your eternal rule.


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

NC Supremes' Full Opinion in Harper v. Hall


Justice Robin Hudson

Raleigh, N.C. (Feb. 14, 2022) — The North Carolina Supreme Court released its full opinion in the case Harper et al. v. Hall et al. Monday, striking down the state legislature’s discriminatory state and Congressional maps. The court first signaled its 4-3 ruling on Feb. 4 in an abbreviated order setting guidelines and a timeframe for lawmakers to redraw voting maps.

Click here to read the full 217-page opinion.

The landmark opinion, penned by Justice Robin Hudson, and joined by Justices Earls, Ervin, and Morgan, sets a clear precedent that partisan gerrymandering violates North Carolina’s Constitution.

“Partisan gerrymandering creates the same harm as malapportionment, which has previously been held to violate the state constitution: some peoples’ votes have more power than others,” wrote Hudson. “Today, we hold that the enacted maps violate several rights guaranteed to the people by our state Constitution.”

The Court also addressed its role in deciding political questions, noting that, “for a time, federal courts initially forswore virtually any role in the ‘political thicket of apportionment.’ ”

“The Court’s reasons for entering the thicket are relevant today: the Supreme Court recognized that absent its intervention to enforce constitutional rights, our system of self-governance would be representative and responsive to the people’s will in name only.”

(Taken from the press release from the Southern Coalition of Social Justice)

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Hillary Clinton Gets Her Revenge on Trump in a Novel


I just read the totally engrossing political thriller, State of Terror. On the dustjacket Hillary Clinton is listed first, as co-author with Louise Penny (who's a much more famous writer of mystery fiction and a Canadian). Considering the insider knowledge about the US State Department, the White House, and the previous inhabitant of the White House, I'd say Hillary Clinton's top billing as the author of this truly thrilling page-turner is well earned.

Whether Clinton's inside knowledge of international diplomacy, including trips to the "dark web," also accounts for the actual writing, which is clean, efficient, beautifully paced prose -- that's another question entirely. I've never read "It Takes a Village" or anything else with Clinton's name on it, so I can't attribute the style to her. I have read some Louise Penny. I suspect she did the bulk of the word-smithing because she's much more the professional in the genre.

Whatever. It's the plotting that's all Hillary. The main character, the heroine, happens to be an elegant middle-aged blond who's just been appointed the US Secretary of State by a president she doesn't even respect and whose candidacy she had publicly opposed. She's odd-woman-out in a White House where the prez holds an actual grudge against her and is apparently bent on ruining her out of spite and revenge. (This SecState had previously risen as some kind of media baroness -- TV, print, the works -- achieving international fame with a documentary exposing the true dealings of a Pakistani nuclear-physicist, Bashir Shah, secretly one of the biggest black market arms dealers in the world.) The whole plot of State of Terror revolves around three nuclear dirty bombs which Bashir Shah has supplied to Al Qaeda, with the help of the Russian mafia and the complicity of Russian President Ivanov, who's (natch!) a dead-ringer for President Putin, including that stunt of riding a horse bare-chested. See, these three nuclear devices have been planted in three American cities, set to go off at a day and time certain. The race is against mass casualties at the very least if not the destruction of American democracy. Believe me, it's all delicious.

I took particular delight in Clinton & Penny's ex-president Eric Dunn, a bitter one-termer who now lives in Florida on a vast estate ("a monument to overcompensation"), golfs a lot, and continues to rally reactionaries by decrying "fake news" and to meddle in US foreign relations to the detriment of national security. In Chapter 34, SecState Ellen Adams describes the ex-president with some indelible hindsight:

The world ended for Eric Dunn, Ellen suspected, where his own property ended. Nothing mattered beyond his sphere of influence....

He was large. Immense in fact. Ellen had met him many times, though only in passing at social events. She'd found him amusing, charming even. Though uninterested in others and easily bored when the spotlight shifted to anyone else.

She'd had her media outlets do profiles on Eric Dunn as his empire had grown, then crumbled, then rose again. Each time more audacious. More bloated. More fragile.

Like a bubble in the bath, it was ready to burst at any moment and release a stink.

And then unexpectedly, he'd turned to politics and won the highest office in the land. But not, she knew, without help from people and foreign governments who planned to profit from it. And had....

...There was no denying the force of this man. Ellen had never experienced anyone, anything, like it.

Most successful politicians had charisma. But this went way beyond that. To be in his orbit was to experience something extraordinary. There was a pull, a promise of excitement. Of danger. Like juggling grenades. 

It was exhilarating. And terrifying. Even she could feel it.

Ellen Adams was in no way attracted to this; in fact, she was repulsed. But she had to admit that Eric Dunn possessed a powerful magnetism and animal instinct. He had a genius for finding people's weaknesses. For bending them to his will. And if they didn't bend, he would break them.

He was dreadful and dangerous.

That's some efficient sketching of character, of one who actually plays a pivotal role in the plot -- based on a real-life person who'll never be caught reading this novel.

The writing is never less than competent, utilitarian, always forward-plunging, sparking both fits of humor along with the surprise jolts of terror, and what else could I require from my escapist lit? Plus I come up on passages of political insight that cause me to pause, go back, and read again:

"While you were looking outward, scanning the horizon for threats," [the chief villain, the nuclear-bomb merchant] continued, "you missed what was happening in your own backyard. What was taking root right here, on American soil. In your towns, your shops, in your heartland. Among your friends, in your families. The sensible conservatives moving to the right. The right moving far right. The far right becoming alt-right. Becoming, in their rage and frustration, radicalized thanks to an internet filled with crazy theories, false 'facts,' and smug politicians allowed to spew lies."

That piece of observation comes from the mouth of a foreign terrorist who wants devoutly to destroy the United States and realizes ruefully that others are beating him to it.

The Newest Club For Growth Trashing of Pat McCrory

This 30-second ad is scheduled to air on Valentine's Day (tomorrow) during "The Batchelor" in the Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Wilmington, and Greenville-New Bern media markets. It's pretty nasty, linking McCrory's "heart" to Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and even (gasp!) Mitt Romney. The Club for Growth has been pouring on the vitriol against McCrory in an attempt to advance the candidacy of Trump-endorsed Ted Budd.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Pathetic Nancy Mace (R-S.C.)


Rep. Mace in front of Trump
Tower yesterday

Republican Nancy Mace won her Charleston-area US House seat in 2020, defeating Democrat Joe Cunningham, who had won the seat in the blue wave of 2018. Mace, brand new in Washington in other words, got the treat of the January 6th insurrection and riot on practically her first day at work. She said at the time that Trump “put all of our lives at risk.”

“I will tell you for me, as a new member, it was enormously disappointing. I literally had to walk through a crime scene where that young woman was shot and killed to get into the chamber to vote that night to certify what was supposed to be a ceremonial vote to certify the electoral college,” she said. “And yet my colleagues continued to object, and they knew this was a failing motion.”

So Mace immediately got a place of dishonor on Trump's shitlist, and he endorsed her primary opponent.

Yesterday -- not making this up -- Mace made a video of herself pledging her fealty to Trumpism and in essence begging forgiveness for her former apostasy. It is sickening to watch a grown person grovel like that, but here it is:

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Another North Carolinian Arrested for His Part in Insurrection


Matthew Beddingfield, 21, was arrested yesterday in Smithfield, charged with multiple crimes, including the felony count of assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers using a dangerous weapon or inflicting bodily injury. Beddingfield is the 18th North Carolinian charged for the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill.

"According to an FBI affidavit filed in his case, Beddingfield jumped a barricade and attacked police at least three times on Jan. 6, 2021. In the first assault, he used the flagpole of an American flag he carried to jab at officers. In the others, which were caught on camera both inside and outside of the Capitol, Beddingfield appears to be throwing a metal rod at police, the affidavit shows. 

"These offenses allegedly occurred while he was freed on bond for a first-degree attempted murder charge in Johnston County. Beddingfield was arrested Dec. 14, 2019, in connection with a shooting outside a Walmart in Smithfield, according to the Johnston County Report. In August 2021, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault with a deadly weapon and received probation, NBC reported" (News & Observer).

Beddingfield was present at the Capitol with his father, but his father has not been charged with a crime.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

When Good News Is Bad News


Since I have a particular grudge against J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, who's also running for the US Senate in Ohio, I'm encouraged by news that his candidacy appears to be sucking wind. He was a Trump critic who remade himself as a Peter Thiel avatar masquerading as a Trump toady, and it ain't working.

The reason it ain't working (the bad news) involves the continuing death-grip Trump has on Republican voters: “Driving [Vance's] negatives is the perception that he is anti-Trump" (Politico). Imagine that. As a Republican politician, you may not utter a peep of criticism about the man whose management of the presidency continues to make appalling headlines more than a year after he left office: "Trump Illegally Ripped Up Hundreds of White House Documents And Many Went in Burn Bags."

It's maybe not so much the Trump endorsement that sways large swaths of Republican voters; it's maybe quotable evidence that you ever said a negative thing about him (like Vance once did, in spades). Maybe that explains why the Trump-endorsed Ted Budd in the North Carolina Senate race hasn't yet put away a paper-tiger like Pat McCrory, who was not endorsed by Trump but who has assiduously avoided being quoted attacking the former president. 

Look at the continuing trouble Nikki Haley blunders into simply because she allows her bad thoughts to get written down and published: "We need to acknowledge he [Trump] let us down," she told Politico magazine. "He went down a path he shouldn't have, and we shouldn't have followed him, and we shouldn't have listened to him. And we can't let that ever happen again." Which is why Nikki Haley will never win another Republican primary, and Pat McCrory might.

Mild sauce usually doesn't cut it anymore for Republican politicians (which is why Vance tried to remold himself, not as a pudgy wonk any longer but a slimmed down assassin of "socialism" who wants to "own the Libs" more than he wants to be an intellectual Libertarian, which he is). Wouldn't it be FUN-nee if Pat McCrory proved there's a winning upside to pouring milk on your toast?

Sunday, February 06, 2022

The Newby Dissent

To say that NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby is pissed about Harper v. Hall would be a considerable understatement. He did a Rumpelstiltskin stomping dance about it in his dissent (which begins on page 10), to which fellow Republican associate justices Phil Berger Jr. and Tamara Barringer signed on. But it's useful for partisans to read, because it's a roadmap to how the GOP and their pals in various 501.c.4s and Super PACs will be campaigning this fall to take over the Supreme Court of North Carolina for the betterment of regressive politicians everywhere.

NEWBY dissenting. I dissent from the decision of the Court which violates separation of powers by effectively placing responsibility for redistricting with the judicial branch, not the legislative branch as expressly provided in our constitution. As predicted by the Supreme Court of the United States, this Courts decision results in an “unprecedented expansion of judicial power.”

I'm struck by the yawning gap between his reality and ours regarding "the rights of others":

Recognizing special rights to one favored person or group invariably diminishes the rights of others.

[What? Does he mean that the order in Harper v. Hall has absolutely trampled on the rights of Berger Moore to create authoritarian government? The right to punish political opponents?]

Newby says a citizen, any citizen or group of critizens, can't challenge partisan gerrymandering through the courts. Simply can't. "[A] claim for partisan gerrymandering presents a nonjusticiable political question." Period. You cannot seek redress from being subjected, say, to seeing your county cut up and parceled out to dilute its political strength. Newby's Valentine message to "Dear Citizens," particularly of the Democratic stripe: You're shit outta luck. 

Which is why the opinion in Corum v. University of North Carolina was so important for the Court's majority. Corum found that any citizen had standing to bring a constitutional claim against a "sovereign actor," despite no specific statute authorizing it. Newby both acknowledges Corum and blows right past its logic to sneer at a supposed "protected class":

[The Court's Democratic majority] seeks to support [statewide political proportionality in redistricting] with various provisions of our Declaration of Rights that are designed to protect individual and personal rights. Corum v. Univ. of N.C., 330 N.C. 761, 782, 413 S.E.2d 276, 289 (1992). In doing so, it magically transforms the protection of individual rights into the creation of a protected class for members of a political party, subjecting a redistricting plan to strict scrutiny review.

The people's interests, the people's rights. Newby throws those terms around like rose petals over a grave: "[L]egislators, as opposed to judges, are in the best position to address the people's interest." 

But by last count, the State Board of Elections reports 2,494,836 registered Democrats in North Carolina, compared to 2,184,696 registered Republicans. It's telling that "the people" for Newby means an actual minority, while the majority are nothing more than a grasping special interest willing to subvert the rule of law, not protect their constitutional rights.