Monday, December 04, 2023

Say What? Phil Berger Might Get Comeuppance From a Fellow Republican?


The behatted Sheriff Sam Page

Phil Berger, the undisputed boss of the Republican super-majority in the General Assembly, represents the entirety of Rockingham County and part of Guilford. From his perch as president of the NC Senate, Berger pretty much gets what he wants. Except he recently wanted more casino gambling in North Carolina, including a new casino in his own district, from which endeavor he got mainly a black eye and the very live possibility of a credible primary challenger.

Democrats realize that no Democrat is going to beat him. Disgruntled Republicans have realized that only another Republican can beat him, but Berger is both powerful and vindictive, so finding the person who will be foolish brave enough to go up against him seems remote? But the Republicans disgruntled with Berger may have found their potential challenger in Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page. Page is currently one of a host of Republicans who've declared their candidacies for lieutenant governor. But recent secret polling in Berger's district strongly suggests that Sheriff Page might have the juice to take out Berger. And the NandO reported on Nov. 27 that indeed Sam Page is seriously considering switching from the lieutenant governor race to a new status as Phil Berger's worst nightmare (truly!).

Page, who's been in office since 1998, led local opposition to Berger's casino expansion schemes, adding to his brand as a straight-laced moral paragon in contrast to Berger's pay-to-play hint of corruption. Page often wears a big sheriff hat. Big hat, big 'tude. Page directly alluded to potential corruption when he spoke out against the casino deal (but did not criticize Phil Berger directly) at a public hearing, saying he suspected that a deal had been hatched behind closed doors "long before the public was made aware of the proposal."

When he first ran for sheriff in 1998 (actually, his 2nd run for the office), Page, who had once been a Democrat and switched parties to get elected, associated himself with one of the most controversial strong-arm type sheriffs in the state, Gerald Hege of Davidson County. Candidate Page hosted Hege, quite notorious at the time, as his special guest and public endorser at a fundraising dinner that got media coverage.  Hege was an imitator of Joe Arpaio's patented meanness to suspects and arrestees. "Hege ordered all deputies to dress in paramilitary fatigues and combat boots; ... Hege reinstated the use of chain gang prisoner labor. He also removed the television sets and books (except for the Bible) from the county jail. The jail was repainted in pink"... (etc.). Page chose to associate himself with that sort of authoritarian grandstanding while he was running for office, but in office, he's not acted like a Hege (so far as I can find out).

(Hege, incidentally, flamed out in 2003 after he was charged with 15 felonies. He was removed from office and ended up copping a plea that put him on probation until 2007.)

The "secret" poll mentioned above was "requested" by a group calling itself the North Carolina Conservative Project, but secrecy continues to shroud the individuals behind it and the pollster. Here are the bare facts I've seen: "In the poll, asking 300 Republicans to choose between Page and Berger, Page came out 30 points ahead. However, the poll also showed that 30% didn’t know who they’d choose and 8% said someone else." In response, Berger told reporters, “I generally think it’s unwise to put any credence in an anonymous poll, and I certainly have not received a reception in my district that leads me to believe that that poll is in any way accurate.”

Guess we'll find out, and fairly soon. Candidate filing opens today at noon. Closes on December 15, also at noon.

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