Monday, June 12, 2023

The Valorizing of Paul Newton


"Dreamy" Paul Newton, looking all
visionary and non-ideological.
Photo Cornell Watson, for The Assembly

I just got a dose of learning from Tim Funk, who has published a lengthy profile of Paul Newton, Majority Leader of the NC Senate, and the man who has his hand in a lot of bad legislation, though (duly noted) Tim Funk really wants to believe that Newton is basically a good guy trapped in a morality play that emphasizes punishment more than charity. According to Funk, Newton "can seem uncomfortable" with hardball partisanship. In other words, he's a conflicted basic good guy -- competent, talented at leadership, and sincerely religious while not partisan about it, a sometime closet moderate in a Party that doesn't tolerate moderation. 

It's all interesting, and I'm pleased to know something about an important NC politician, though I'm not buying. I'm not buying that goodguyism compensates anywhere near enough for the accompanying oppression.

I didn't know a thing about Paul Newton, had never written about him or bothered to look into his career (which, according to Funk) has been an ascendant rocket, especially since 2016.

The Paul Newton Story

He had a privileged childhood in Eden, N.C. (significantly, the home also of President Pro Tem Phil Berger). Paul was the son of a Fieldcrest fabric company executive and an artist mother ... who divorced when Paul was 10. Paul stayed with his mother and sisters in Greensboro, but Newton told Funk that in the eighth grade, he announced to his mother: “I love you, Mom. [But] I’m a boy. I feel like I should grow up with my dad.” 

"So he returned to Eden," Tim Funk writes, and that's the last we learn about Newton's growing up. Funk leaves questions hanging, like bait in the forest. What was life with Dad like? Funk won't say or doesn't know. Where did Newton's antipathy toward public schools come from? He and his wife homeschooled all four of their children. Was Newton himself ever homeschooled?

Paul Newton is a lawyer, trained at UNC-Chapel Hill. Hired by Duke Energy in 1990 to manage the company’s largest lawsuit up to that time, against Westinghouse Electric for the cracking of steam-generator tubing in its nuclear plants. Westinghouse agreed to a big settlement with Duke, but Paul Newton's skill as a lawyer went unknown except among insiders.

By early 2014, when Duke spilled about a billion tons of coal ash into the Dan River, Newton had risen at Duke to president of North Carolina operations, and he took charge of managing the Dan River crisis -- and largely defused it -- and earned the respect and admiration of Phil Berger, who eventually urged Newton to run for the NC Senate (in Dist. 36, Cabarrus County), for the seat being vacated by the disgraced Fletcher Hartsell. That was 2016. Newton won the seat easily (propelled generously by Duke Energy money) and has won reelection three times more, never with less than 56% of the vote, and he steadily rose in party leadership to his current job as majority leader.

Paul Newton as majority leader
He rose in GOP leadership despite what Funk paints as a lack of strong ideology. Here's a memory told about Newton while he was in law school:

Newton would buy a copy of the Raleigh News & Observer every day from a rack near the law school, pull out the sports section, and toss the rest in the trash. [Newton's friend who retold this anecdote], now a retired attorney in Spartanburg, South Carolina, would retrieve the other sections and say, “Paul, would you at least read the headlines?”

Jim Blaine, Phil Berger's chief of staff and a smart political cookie, told Funk that Newton "is not a political operator. Arguably, if he has a weakness, it’s his political instincts.” An example of those poor instincts: Blaine says that Newton hatched a nutty plan to run against Mark Robinson in the 2024 primary for governor -- not to beat him but to "steel him," give Robinson real campaign experience before the big contest against Josh Stein in the fall. So Newton wanted to throw himself on a sword in order to prepare a man who's clearly unqualified. Interesting. But duly noted: Newton really does have his eye on the governorship.

In addition to his majority leader role, Newton also chairs the Senate's Redistricting and Elections Committee, which means his fingerprints are all over the current pending legislation to suppress and disallow certain voters. Newton has the gall to say he only wants to strengthen "election integrity without constraining the freedom to vote."

For a Republican who's supposedly non-ideological, that dunderheadedness certainly serves the ideology of his pals.

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