Friday, December 01, 2023

Self-Sacrifice in the 11th Congressional District


Caleb Rudow

Democrat Caleb Rudow, NC House member from Asheville serving his first full term in the General Assembly, has announced that he'll step down from his super-safe District 116 seat to challenge Rep. Chuck Edwards, the Republican who just last year ousted Madison Cawthorn in Congressional District 11.

Rudow grew up in Buncombe and after high school attended and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in philosophy (yes, there can be life after philosophy), because he was intending to become a rabbi. Instead, he went to the Peace Corps and served in Zambia. Building additional steam for turning his eleemosynary instincts and good heart toward public policy, Rudow did graduate work at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin.

After House Rep. Susan Fisher announced her retirement and stepped down early at the end of 2021, Rudow made it known to Democratic activists in Asheville that he was a candidate for finishing out her term. It was an opportunity, Rudow believed, to put public service together with his best intentions for bettering the lives of people. The Democratic leaders were impressed enough with him to recommend him to Gov. Cooper, who did the appointment in February 2022. Rudow easily won election in his own right that fall.

No one -- including Rudow himself -- thinks he has anywhere approaching even odds to win the 11th Congressional District. After the most recent Republican gerrymander, it's 56% Republican. So he's sacrificing himself for the sake of keeping progressivism alive in a region with growing, vibrant, progressive cities and towns, and rural neighborhoods fuller of out-of-state transplants who think differently.

“I’ve really felt called to work in service my whole life, and this next election is a really historic moment,” Rudow said. Ever since the election of 2016, Rudow said he's been concerned with ministering to "the meanness" lose everywhere in America, not just in politics (but particularly in politics). Meanness certainly comes as a side with the sandwich that Rep. Chuck Edwards serves in Congress (he happens to be "a sandwich vendor" with a string of McDonalds) -- his attempted punishment of the Eastern Band (see below), his indifference trending toward inaction on the shutting down of the Canton paper mill -- the loss of jobs, the economic and psychological wreckage left by a predatory industry -- and his curious deafness to the humans caught in the opioid crisis. 

Edwards' meanness extends very noticeably to the media covering him, especially his animus toward the Smoky Mountain News (SMN), in particular reporter Cory Vaillancourt, who is one of the best political reporters working in the state and whose persistent questioning of Edwards Edwards hasn't much liked. He banned -- cut off -- SMN as a news source, refused to answer or even respond to any question posed by it (detailed below).


If Chuck Edwards isn't currently the worst member of the NC delegation in Congress, he's at least a runner-up. His big legislative achievement of 2023 was the introduction of the Stop Pot Act, an attempt to punish the Eastern Band of Cherokees for voting to legalize recreational marijuana. 

Cory Vaillancourt generously gathered up the rest of Edwards' record:

During his 2022 campaign, Edwards failed to show for a debate hosted by The Smoky Mountain News [SMN] and Blue Ridge Public Radio after criticizing Cawthorn’s debate no-shows, opting instead to appear only on a corporate-owned right-leaning television network with whom he’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising....

In January, Edwards hired Macon County activist/journalist Brittney Lofthouse as an aide, but fired her in short order after complaints from his constituents about her support for the LGBTQ+ community.

In February, SMN informed Edwards of trouble at the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill in Canton, when one of the mill’s four machines was idled by management. Edwards refused to interview with SMN at the time. A month later, the mill announced it would shut down completely, and Edwards refused to tell SMN what, if anything, he’d done in the meantime to prevent the loss of around 1,000 good-paying union jobs.

In March, when decades of inaction by Congress to adequately fund the National Park maintenance backlog resulted in the implementation of a parking fee at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Edwards refused to interview with SMN about what, if anything, he’d done to prevent the cost from being passed on to visitors.

In April, when the “Back off Our Benefits” tour rolled into Asheville and asked Edwards to pledge to protect Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and veterans’ benefits, Edwards ignored them, just as he’d done the previous October.

At a town hall focusing on the impact of the Canton mill closing in June, Edwards again refused to answer questions posed by SMN about what, if anything, he’d done to save the mill after being informed of the situation by SMN a month before the closing was announced. Instead, Edwards responded by saying he’d only speak with media outlets that give him favorable coverage.

“I really reserve the right to respond to those media outlets that I’ve been able to build good relationships with that have reported the news fairly,” Edwards said at the time, without citing any examples of unfair reporting. “I didn’t respond to that question and I’m not gonna respond to this.”

At that same meeting, Edwards heard criticism from constituents when, in response to a question about how Buncombe County could help with the impact of the mill’s closing, Edwards ridiculed Asheville’s problems and refused help....

In September, Edwards threatened to withhold federal highway funding from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a sovereign tribal government, after voters there decided to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. Some, including SMN, decried Edwards’ meddling in tribal affairs. Also in September, Edwards sent a field representative to Murphy to present an award to a fringe law enforcement group that has ties to white supremacy, espouses COVID-19 conspiracy theories, embraces election denialism and advocates the thoroughly debunked “sovereign sheriff” movement....


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