Thursday, July 11, 2024

Joe Biden Has Less Than a Month To Drop Out


Once President Biden is nominated for the presidency by the National Democratic Convention, replacing him on the ballot will be fraught. The delegates will actually vote virtually on his nomination on August 5th, two weeks before the August 19 Convention in Chicago. The WashPost reports that election law experts say that if Biden drops out before he's officially nominated by the party, "replacing him on the ballot would be relatively straightforward." If he waited until after the delegates vote, then all hell could and would break loose.

If Biden were to drop out before delegates vote, then a legal challenge by Republicans to his replacement -- whoever that turned out to be -- would lack standing in the courts, because the decision on who the Democrats choose to run is their decision, not the Republican Party's.

The real problem for Democrats if Biden should wait to drop out until after he's officially nominated are the various ballot deadlines in different states -- the date when ballots have to start being printed. We don't want to go there.

Immediately following the Debate From Hell, I wrote that I wanted an open nominating convention -- let 'er rip and we could count the corpses later. I've changed my mind. Thomas Mills wrote on July 5th a compelling rationale for why Biden's replacement would have to be -- needs to be -- Kamala Harris. And I agree with him. She would strengthen several factions of the Democratic and progressive alliance, especially women and Black voters, and I believe she would help energize the most seriously unenergized portion of our coalition -- young voters.

Mainly, I think, with Kamala we would experience a great surge of relief that we were not doomed -- irrevocably doomed -- to another Trump presidency and that we at least have a fighting chance.

Friday, July 05, 2024

Rep. Ray Pickett Shouldn't Brag


So NC House Rep. Ray Pickett (R-Watauga) sent out a newsletter dated July 2nd in which he bragged that he helped pass the local bill, S 912, spinning that it's a great plan for enhanced democracy -- "ensure[s] that every resident's voice is heard in the election of local officials." S 912 is the attempt by Senator Ralph Hise to keep the voters of Watauga from rejecting by referendum his new gerrymander of both the County Commish and the Watauga School Board.

Pickett's bragging may be a trifle misplaced, since the destruction of the current non-partisan School Board by a gerrymander that will ensure it will become much more partisan and divided is widely hated by both Republicans and Democrats. The current School Board, which was not consulted nor warned that Hise was about to upend it, is composed of two Republicans, two Democrats, and one Unaffiliated member, and that body unanimously opposed the change.

Pickett doesn't vote in the best interests of the people of Watauga. He votes like Senator Hise tells him.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

I've Stopped Going to Tractor Supply


I was pleased when a brand new Tractor Supply store got built about a mile from my garden, which saved me a much longer trip to the garden center at the local Lowe's, and I spent a lot of money there on everything from a new manure fork to dog food. If I wanted to mingle with rural folks, Sunday just after noon was the time to visit, because lots of church-goers in their Sunday clothes made a stop there on their way home from church.

During the height of COVID, you never saw anyone in masks, including the cashiers, so I tended to stand out as maybe the only liberal in the store. I got a few side-eyes, but at my age the stinkeye doesn't much faze me.

The company had a good reputation nationally, especially for its diversity programs that encouraged voter registration and PRIDE festivals. Bloomberg praised it for promoting gender equality, while Newsweek called it one of the best U.S. companies for diversity.

But the current reign of MAGA hatefulness was bound to notice. So a conservative podcaster with a big following in Tennessee, where Tractor Supply is headquartered, posted a denunciation of the company because it supports queers. An employee had messaged the podcaster the inside poop that Tractor Supply was way too woke for his taste. “Start buying what you can from other places until Tractor Supply makes REAL changes,” the podcaster wrote on X on June 6. Other MAGA soldiers joined the boycott, and the company’s share price fell by 5 percent in the past month, according to the Financial Times.

So Tractor Supply caved to the bigots, issued a public letter recanting all its diversity efforts, and why on earth would I want to give any more money to a company with that little courage of conviction?

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Chief Justice Paul Newby's Flag Merely Confirms What We Already Knew About Him

Paul Newby, Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court, waited just hours (it seems) after the 2022 elections gave him his conservative majority to reverse the Court's previous ruling that gerrymandering of legislative districts violates the equal rights of citizens. Newby's newspeak: It's perfectly all right for the Republican majority in the General Assembly to stack the deck however it damn well pleases. Short version: Newby is an enemy of democracy.

So it came as no great surprise that the same Christian nationalist/MAGA escutcheon, the "Appeal to Heaven” or Pine Tree flag, that got Samuel Alito into hot water, was flying over Newby's beach property in Cartaret County (a house technically owned by Newby's wife, so there's another "my wife did it" excuse in the making) as recently as May 23rd.

Picture and story, NewsAndObserver, June 27

Newby told the N&O in a statement that he was given the flag as a gift before Jan. 6, 2021, and flies it during national holidays such as Memorial Day. 

“Until recently, we had no idea of the association of the ‘An Appeal to Heaven’ flag with anything other than its actual history — a history that reminds us to pray for our nation,” he said. “At no point did we intend the display of the flag to be a political statement, only a statement of our faith.”

Uh-huh. So Newby -- wholly innocent of political intent -- runs a flag up his pole, the sign-of-the-times meaning of which is totally mysterious to him. May 23rd, just incidentally, is the day after the New York Times ran its story on Alito's flag, which became the news of the nation.

And please forget any enforcement of judicial ethics in Newby's case. The Judicial Standards Commission is totally under Newby's thumb. He appoints six of the 14 members himself, and another eight are appointed by Berger/Moore in the General Assembly. 

Monday, July 01, 2024

Just Another Day in the Clown Car


Rep. George Cleveland,
cheerleading his H 1071 last Thursday

Let's put election deniers in charge of purging North Carolina's voter rolls! Yeah, baby!

Can't imagine why it's taken this long to think of the next brilliant solution to the greatest problem vexing North Carolina -- too many people voting.

NC House member George Cleveland (R-Onslow) just last Thursday introduced H 1071, a bill that would force all county boards of elections to establish a new system for investigating and correcting data provided by “election integrity” organizations to assist in maintenance of the state’s voter registration lists.

In case you haven't been paying attention, "election integrity" is code among election deniers for using idiotic claims of massive voter fraud to harass as many progressive voters as possible, particularly those with skin pigmentation slightly darker than George Cleveland's. This is merely another attempt to take power away from our State Board of Elections and give the right to vote to partisan manipulators who can, on any given day, find hoards of people who need to be eliminated (and not just from voter rolls).

In a House discussion of Cleveland's proposed legislation (reported on by Clayton Henkel),

“How is a voter integrity group defined?” asked [Democrat] Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons.

“Actually, it’s two or three people who have years of experience in data collection and data usage. There’s two that are prominent here in North Carolina,” Cleveland responded....

“So my question is can you name a group?” asked [Democrat] Rep. Allison Dahle.

“I can name two,” said Cleveland. “I don’t know what the gentleman’s real name is. It’s Totes Legit. He has consistently over the past several years sent voter list problems to the state board. And there’s a Ms. Snow out in Morganton.”

“I didn’t hear the names,” Dahle asked him to repeat himself.

“Totes Legit. That’s what he calls himself. I don’t know what the gentleman’s name is.”

Seriously? Reporter Henkel went looking for Ms. Snow and "Totes Legit" (who sounds totally legit):

In Georgia, anonymous claims of voter fraud from someone going by the name ‘Totes Legit’ were dismissed last October. It’s unclear if that is the same person Cleveland was referencing.

The second person Cleveland mentioned, Carol Snow of the NC Audit Force filed a complaint with the elections board claiming inadequate maintenance of the computerized registered voter list put the state out of compliance with the 2002 federal voting law.

Snow presented examples of what appeared to be duplicate voter registrations. In one example, a son with the same name as his father was mistakenly checked in as his father. The father and son both received ballots and each voted once.

As NC Newline reported in April, the Board of Elections rejected Snow’s complaint about duplicate voter registrations

What is funnier? That this walking joke from Onslow County has introduced his bright new idea for interfering with the work of election officials or that H 1071 by last Friday had been fast-tracked through the House Rules Committee and three subsequent floor votes (66-45) and now heads to the Senate. Though it didn't get there in time for action, as the Senate adjourned sine die. Thank God. But this will come back next term. You can bet on it.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Religion in Schools


By Jack Yordy, guest-posting:

She who would be Superintendent
of all NC Schools -- Michele Morrow

Religious schooling is familiar to me. As a graduate of Christ The King (CTK) Catholic High School in Huntersville, North Carolina, religion wasn’t just in my school. It was the central idea of my schooling. The core tenet of CTK’s teaching philosophy was "faith through reason." 

Teachers and students alike had difficulty grappling with that ideological framework. In my first year at CTK, we learned about the Big Bang and the theory of evolution in history class. The next class of the day was Theology, where our teacher did not just call those ideas into question but claimed that they were unequivocally false. Between claims about homosexuals infiltrating the Church, he also liked to discuss the difference between Christianity and Catholicism, highlighting with vigor the "heresies" of other Christian doctrines and biblical interpretations, and of course, his belief that god put dinosaurs on earth to "test our faith." 

One day in my Junior year, after I had come out and was known to be gay by both my peers and professors, my history teacher decided to spend an entire class session talking about homosexuality. He asked us, “Well, why would gays want to get married? What’s the point other than getting government benefits?” and claimed that gay people knew they weren’t truly married if they weren’t married in the church. He finished this diatribe with a point directed at me and my mother, who was also the biology teacher at the school, saying in front of my classmates, “If you let your son be homosexual, it’s the same as letting him jump off a bridge." One of my classmates brought this to the administration, who decided that my history teacher was speaking within Catholic doctrine and therefore was not in the wrong. 

On Thursday, June 27th, the Oklahoma State Superintendent mandated that the Bible be taught in Oklahoma public schools. As a person who went to a Catholic school, these are some of the questions that I believe must be asked when we’re thinking about teaching religious doctrine in schools: 

  • Which doctrines and interpretations of the Bible are we going to teach?

  • Will we allow or encourage teachers to contradict scientific claims that are universally accepted but are in conflict with the Bible?

  • Does it mean vilifying queer students and students of other religious and cultural backgrounds who don’t fit into a teacher’s interpretation of the Bible? 

  • If a student disagrees with a teacher’s Biblical interpretation, will their grades be affected? 

These are not rhetorical questions. When voters go to vote in North Carolina’s state superintendent election this year, they should be asking these questions because the Republican candidate Michele Morrow is not thinking of them at all. She will likely try to implement the Oklahoma state policy in tandem with other Republican states regardless of the chaos in classrooms that will follow. Voters in this election must consider if they want to live in a state where these questions need to be answered and where their tax dollars are spent, through private school vouchers ("Opportunity Scholarships"), to confuse and punish students without the same religious views as their teachers.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Of Course Trump Lied (Like a Cheap Walmart Rug), But It Doesn't Matter


Many of my fellow Democrats took the lemon that was Thursday night and have been busily making lemonade, occasionally spiked with a good dash of grenadine and a jigger of Tequila. "Look at all the lies Trump told!" they shout, giving ample evidence and seeking any comfort they can find in these stormy seas. The best fact-checker in the business, Daniel Dale, did a whole segment about the lies on CNN, or if you'd prefer to read his analysis at length, go here.

None of it actually matters, especially in that part of the electorate that I work most closely with, college-age skeptics who are more than likely registered Unaffiliated and who generally distrust both political parties, but who are children of the age in that style matters more than substance. In fact, style is substance. One person looked alive and in control. The other didn't. That's awfully hard to overcome among people who spend their lives watching rather than reading (though Joe's performance the next day in Raleigh may have helped, but how many saw that speech compared to the millions who tuned in to the debate?)

I love that man. I memorably got to sit in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room in 1981 and watch Judiciary Chair Joe Biden grill Reagan's nominee Sandra Day O'Connor for the Supreme Court. With grace and good humor, he spared with her, and I've remembered him ever since as a good man who upholds the best values of our history. The morning after that terrible debate, I posted down-column a cri de coeur begging for some alternative to Joe, but I know that's not going to happen. We've been dealt our hand, and we have to play it as bravely as we can.

But we can't kid ourselves that the debate didn't hurt Joe's chances in North Carolina, especially among the unaffiliated and more especially the young unaffiliated. Which means for us personally as campaign operatives that all our door-knocking persuasion shifts to the down-ballot -- the governor's race, all the rest of the Council of State races, judge races, legislative seats, and local candidates -- a universe certainly rife with MAGA extremism at every level and a fiery determination for revenge and retribution.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Give Us an Open Democratic Convention!


Well that was awful. A catastrophe. You know what I'm talking about. Trump is a crisis for our nation, and now Joe Biden is a crisis for the Democratic Party.

Joe needs to step aside. Let us have an open Democratic presidential convention in August. A loud, angry, smelly political convention that nominates someone capable of beating Donald Trump. Let the power-brokers do their broking. Let the pressure groups apply their pressure. Churn that cream into butter. Someone will emerge that we can all get behind.

Gavin Newsom, who's shown himself fully capable of going straight for Trump's esophagus. Pete Buttigieg, who's supernaturally smart and can turn Republican ignorance back on itself. Stacey Abrams. Jamie Raskin, who knows a poltroon when he sees one. Hakeem Jeffries. Joe Neguse. Hell, Beto O'Rourke.

I'm sure Kamala Harris would put herself forward, and maybe she could rally everyone. Someone is going to have to rally everyone, and I'll be good with whoever that is. (I don't think Joe Manchin would dare.)

Give us a genuine open convention, and let's see if we can turn this ship around.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Corruption Destroying the Town of Summerfield


A tweet from NC House member Pricey Harrison (Guilford Co.) last night caught my eye, because it reveals so much about the pay-to-play corruption of the North Carolina General Assembly under its current Republican super-majority:

#ncga votes to strip #Summerfield of a significant portion of its town at the behest of a developer who happens to be a large campaign donor. The largest deannexation in #NC history. Coming to a community near you soon. The best Legislature money can buy. #ncpol

The bill is H 909, "Various Local Provisions."  "Local" bills are convenient cover for the big hand of Raleigh meddling in local municipalities, usually for the sake and profit of special interests who want things the local city won't otherwise give them. The Summerfield deannexation is contained in Section 10 of H 909 and is shocking in its thoroughness of removing a huge portion of the town from control of the town.

Summerfield may ring a bell, if you followed last year's attempt by Senate boss Phil Berger to get new gambling casinos in the state. Turns out H 909 is the second attempt to deannex much of Summerfield, as it was part of Berger's original plan to help out the casino gambling industry. I wrote this last September:

Look what else Berger's got up to because of that casino:

So Wednesday (this week), Phil Berger gets the Senate to vote to de-annex almost 1,000 acres of the little town of Summerfield in Guilford County, pop. 11,000, a bedroom community suburb of Greensboro that has stringent zoning laws about development. Berger takes the land away from Summerfield and gives it to Guilford County. "The de-annexation bill was requested by developer David Couch, who wants to build apartments and other housing" on at least some of those 1,000 acres. The track happens to lie 10 miles from the casino site. Who wouldn't notice it was going to be high-density housing for the hundreds of low-wage workers a gambling casino will need -- the dealers, floor-walkers, servers, security, and maintenance workers. Exactly the kind of development that an upscale suburban bedroom community like Summerfield would reject -- and, yes, it's a class thing. (NOTE: Berger has constantly pumped up the idea of the casino as a great job-creator for local people. But it's sobering to know that the "Average Casino Dealer Salary" in North Carolina -- Eastern Band Cherokee casino and the Catawba Two Kings casino -- currently: $27,429 per annum, or $13.79 an hour.)

Pricey Harrison doesn't say so, but David Couch was "the large campaign donor" she speaks of. He gave some $11,000 to Phil Berger's campaign.

Whatever else you call it, it's government corruption in plain sight.

Local news coverage by WGHP, wherein Mr. Berger figures prominently:

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Darren Staley Is a Democratic Hero

Way back at the beginning of last December, I wrote about Democrat Darren Staley, carrying the torch for working people in NC Senate Dist. 36 (Wilkes, Alexander, Yadkin, and Surry, about as red as it gets), and I praised his common roots and his struggle to overcome a hard life (interview with Darren Staley). He did overcome difficult circumstances with native smarts and determination. Wilkes Community College offered a belated education -- he had dropped out of high school to take factory work -- and now Staley has a master's degree and works full-time for a small business that provides services to people with disabilities. He sits on several committees that advocate for people across the behavioral health spectrum. But he's very much a part of the fabric of his Senate district: "I am literally just a guy in a mobile home typing this from my kitchen table."

Senate District 36 looks hopeless for a Democrat because it's rated R+26, but Staley has proven a doughty contender, raising enough small-dollar donations to make a showing on a stage where Democrats usually don't even show up. Daley points at what recently happened in a special election in a deep-red Ohio Congressional district that was rated R+30. The Democrat in the race, a first-time candidate with no experience, running against a veteran Republican office-holder, came within 10 points of beating the Republican in a race he should have lost by 30 points. Staley commented on Facebook:

Now, a special election in Ohio is not a general election in North Carolina. But I think it says something about where voters are. They may not change their political affiliation or suddenly decide to vote the other side this cycle up and down the ballot, but they are paying attention.

They are realizing that a totally "safe seat" for one party or the other means that the person in that seat doesn't really have to pay attention to their issues. That the person in that seat is best served by only agreeing with the most extreme side of their party so that they don't get a primary challenge.

People are fed up with that.

I think Darren Staley is right: People are fed up with the heavy hand of partisan politics that's used to suppress, to hold down, to silence, to maintain a status quo of one-sided power and control that benefits no one but the powerful.

Last night Staley published a thread on Twitter that's worth quoting at some length:

I'm a unique candidate, but my story is not unique. So many people in my district have been impacted by some part of my story. Single mothers. Single fathers. Factory workers. Laid off factory workers. People who live in starter homes or trailers. People who have no health insurance. People with disabilities. People without access to quality education or quality healthcare. People who pay their power bill two days before the cutoff notice. People with student loan debt. People who depend on Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and SNAP benefits. People who can't afford child care.

I have also, more recently, seen the small business side too. I understand that we need regulation, but it can't be one-size-fits-all. I know about the small business bubble ... when you are successful enough that people like what you are selling, but you can't yet afford additional staff to grow. You can't afford an in-house IT person. You can't afford a good health care plan for your staff. Anytime you give an across the board raise to existing employees, your comp premiums increase because it is based solely on payroll. But your corporate competitors don't have that problem. 

...I spend a lot of time talking to the Republicans in this district. All of them who have been impacted by one aspect of my story or another. A lot of them don't vote often. But in the past two days, I have had a half dozen Republicans in the district reach out to me about my Facebook posts on gerrymandering. They don't like it once they see the facts. It strikes against their basic sense of fairness. Same thing when I talk about vouchers and public education funding....

My whole intention in making this run was to bring people out of their bubble. To show people in this district, regardless of party, you DO have a choice. You CAN change this bullshit. You MUST send a message. NO party owns a district. NO vote should be taken for granted....

I've had a hard life, some by circumstance and some of my own making. I want to make the struggles we all have a little bit easier. That message is resonating, because it is true. It is the only reason I am doing it. And if ya'll didn't know that you wouldn't even be reading this....

I have donated to the Darren Staley campaign, and so can you, here. We need him, and we need more Democratic candidates like him.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Letter the Watauga School Board Sent Opposing Sen. Hise's Bill To Gerrymander School Board Districts


At the Senate Rules Committee hearing Tuesday morning on S 912, Ralph Hise's scheme for changing both the Watauga County Commission and the Watauga County Board of Education -- gerrymandered into geographic districts that Hise came up with in the dead of night -- met with strong and unanimous pushback from current Watauga School Board members. The letter below was read into the record, and for the record, the Republican committee members heard but ignored it, voting immediately and without any discussion to approve the Hise bill and send it on to the Senate floor. The bill is not scheduled to go into effect for the School Board until the elections of 2026, but without successful legal action, the schools we know and love will be upended for the whim of a power-hungry state senator.

Dear Senator Rabon and members of the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate,

The Watauga County Board of Education met this evening (June 17). During the "Board comments" section of our meeting each of the five members of our Board shared their thoughts about Senate Bill 912.

Each member of our Board, for various reasons, expressed opposition to the bill. Even though each of us on the Watauga County Board of Education was elected through a nonpartisan process, we thought it would be helpful to the committee to know that of our 5 members the political affiliations are equally distributed with 2 republicans, 2 democrats, and 1 independent We hope this demonstrates to the committee that our reactions and comments are not politically motivated. They are motivated by the belief that this bill has the potential to weaken one of the consistently top rated school systems in the state.

We feel it is important for you to know that none of us were told this bill was being considered nor were we asked if it was needed (or if it would be helpful in any way). Furthermore, during our discussion of this matter, each of us shared that we had not had anyone in our county speak to any of us indicating they felt there was a need to change anything about the way School Board members have been elected in Watauga.

One of our Board members reached out to the director of our county's Elections and also to the Chair of the Board of Elections and asked the following questions;

Have voters registered any complaints with your office about the election process for the Board of Education? Both the director and the Chair replied, no.

Has Sen. Hise voiced any complaints with your office about the election process for the Board of Education? Both the director and the Chair replied, no. One of our major concerns is that we believe this bill has been submitted with very little input from the citizens of our county. Embedded in this concern is our belief that very few citizens of our county even know this bill has been proposed.

Another concern we have is around the issue of moving to district elections and eliminating at-large elections. Each of us have varying concerns about this. Each member expressed the concern that this would create the potential to limit the number of people who would run for Board of Education that are passionate about public education and motivated to act in the best interest of all our county's schools. Conversely, we feel it would increase the number of people who are coerced into running just because a district needs a school board candidate.

We also are concerned that by electing school board members from districts instead of at large it creates the potential for divisiveness and self-interest instead of cohesiveness and "best for the whole school system" thinking. For the committee's consideration it may be helpful to know that our Board of Education has historically enjoyed having representation from a variety of areas of our county. (This information can be provided to the committee should it like to know the breakdown of representation from the various areas of our county.) We can also provide information (if requested) that shows how moving to district representation could generate potential Board of Education members that would not be acceptable to the majority of the citizens or fairly represent the current distribution of schools in Watauga County.

It is appropriate to add that the Board would like to express gratitude to Senator Hise for including the provision that our Board of Education elections remain non-partisan.

To conclude, in summarizing the many thoughts of the current Watauga County Board of Education members, we have consensus in our belief this bill should not be approved because of the aforementioned concerns and the following additional statements.

The way our citizens elect the members of the Board of Education is not broken and doesn't need fixing.

We are consistently one of the top performing school systems in North Carolina and we are very concerned this bill has the potential to weaken our school system.

Mr Chairman, should you or any of the committee wish to have further information, or dialogue, you may reach out to me or any of our other members. Their names and email can be found on our school system's website at

Thank you in advance for your attention to this message and to our concerns as the officials elected by the citizens of Watauga County to represent our excellent school system.

Sincerely and gratefully,
Gary L. Childers
Watauga County Board of Education, Chair

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Map A Will Be on the Referendum Ballot in November


This is the map that will be voted on this November in a referendum on the reorganization of the Watauga County Commission.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Tonight Watauga County Fights Back Against Sen. Hise


Last fall on October 25, Senator Ralph Hise's local bill changing the voting districts for the Watauga County Commission -- and the way its members will be elected, starting this fall -- sailed through the General Assembly with its Republican super-majorities. Hise's bill created five new commissioner districts with three of them gerrymandered to favor Republicans. Every current County Commissioner -- two Republicans and three Democrats -- was put on the record in a public meeting saying they had no conversation with Sen. Hise about this piece of legislation. Believe that, if you can. No public hearing notice, or any sort of open, transparent, or accessible conversation was ever had with the community. Watauga was the only county in the state to be targeted -- punished -- in this way.

The Hise Map, Oct. 2023

The three sitting Democratic county commissioners responded earlier this month by exercising their ability under state law to hold a ballot referendum to return the power to Watauga citizens to set commissioner districts. This was approved in a 3-2 vote, along party lines.

Then, just a day later, Hise introduced a second local bill, saying that a referendum approved by the people in Watauga could have no impact on maps until after 2030, and he went further by gerrymandering our school board members into new districts following the Hise commission map -- again, without public involvement or notice.

The two Hise districts representing the town of Boone and a majority of its suburbs will not be up for election until 2026. These are the only two Democratic-friendly districts in Hise's map. No current representation exists for those districts, as no current county commissioner resides in either. Hise's intention is that the two commissioners in Democratic districts will be appointed by the likely three Republican winners of this fall's election.

Ralph Hise lives in Spruce Pine and has represented Watauga County in the Senate for less than a term. Local bills like Hise's are fundamentally anti-democratic, a form of aggressive government overstep, a power grab, and hyper-partisan.

At its regular meeting tonight, the Watauga County Commission will consider a resolution for the content of a public referendum on county commission districts. Being proposed by the Democrats is a mixed system of three districts based on equal population and geographic distribution and two at-large seats to be elected by the entire county. Three possible maps have been produced by a certified map-drawer who was instructed to draw districts with equal populations with no consideration of political affiliations. These three maps were published in the county commissioner meeting packet for this evening, pp. 59-61, and are reproduced here:

Saturday, June 15, 2024

When Ideology Becomes Craziness


FlipNC. "The Shameless Bergers"

There have been plenty of cracked pots on the political Left, and the rest of us have suffered from the broad-brush of opposition and resentment when the push-back came. "Defund the police" springs to mind. Censorship by the Left is as bad as censorship by the Right. Anarchism is not a good look, nor is indiscriminate destruction of private property. Gender dysphoria, and all of its taboos and bright labeling, strikes many observers as a fraught fad that buries too many landmines with hair-trigger fuses.

But the ideological craziness that has overtaken the Right is in a class to itself, mainly because Republicans are often in a position to make it law. Like, the Clarence Thomas-written opinion lifting the ban on bump stocks, following hard on the Samuel Alito-written opinion taking away the abortion rights of women. Just this week, we saw the Southern Baptists' condemnation of in vitro fertilization, following the lead of the ideological nuts on the Alabama Supreme Court who "found" that frozen embryos are actually children. Good grief!

The very ideas of "fairness" and "equity" are under attack as wicked innovations intended to deprive children of the God-given right to hate and discriminate against whomever they -- or their parents -- please. Higher education is a plot -- obviously! -- to turn older children anti-American and if possible gay.

It's up to the voters to say "enough!"

Perhaps worse than crazy ideology is the self-interested corruption of public policy for the sake of power or wealth or both. Our current Speaker of the NC House Tim Moore certainly knows how to turn a buck and has taught his willing acolytes that as long as you have the power, you can pretty much twist things to your personal benefit.

The Berger family's interlaced web of power and influence is an even bigger example, with number one son Phil Junior repeatedly ruling in his father's favor on Supreme Court cases where Senior is a defendant or significant intervenor, and Junior steadfastly refuses to recuse himself. Second son Kevin Berger did what he could to get Dad his gambling casino in Rockingham County, though that one went off the rails, and Kevin barely won another term on the Rockingham County Commission. You can fool some of the people.... Maybe not all of the people.

It's up to the voters to say "enough!" It's the only thing that will stop the craziness and the corruption.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Sen. Ralph Hise Has Watauga County Under His Big, Fat, Callused Thumb


A new local law aimed at Watauga is again moving forward in the General Assembly this morning, S 912, which will reorganize after January the Watauga Board of Education to match the County Commission districts that Sen. Ralph Hise already gerrymandered back in October, and -- more to the immediate point -- in its Part 2, command that "the Watauga County Board of Commissioners shall not change its method of election or redraw its county commissioner districts until after the return of the next federal decennial census."

Why is Part 2 of particular importance right now? Because at its last meeting, the Watauga Commission voted 3-2 to put a referendum before the people this November, giving voters the chance to vote on the shape and makeup of their County Commission districts. Hise is slapping down Watauga voters before they have a chance to speak.


When Hise introduced his local bill last October to completely upend the Watauga County Commission, he promised that "all county commissioners will serve the terms they were elected to," "no terms will be extended," and "no terms will be cut short" -- but that promise was simply not true. 

The Hise map for Watauga County Commission.
Dist. 1 in dark blue segregates Boone and AppState.
The map also splits Brushy Fork Precinct three ways
and New River 2 Precinct two ways.

Hise's promises were not true because the bill mandates that Districts 3, 4, and 5 will be on the ballot in 2024, which means that...

Todd Castle in new Dist. 5 has his 4-year term (won in 2022) cut short by 2 years.

Braxton Eggers in new Dist. 3 has his 4-year term (won in 2022) cut short by 2 years.

Ray Russell in new Dist. 2 has his term (set to expire in 2024) extended until 2026.

Furthermore, Dist. 1 (Boone and AppState) has no incumbent commissioner living in-district but is not mandated for an election in Hise's bill until 2026. The voters of Dist. 1 will be disenfranchised from representation for two years, or -- worse -- will get a commissioner appointed by the new Republican majority (early in 2025).

S 912 is on the Rules Committee calendar for a hearing this afternoon.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Patriotic Leadership - Supporting Democracy

By Bricca Sweet, LTC USA (ret.)

Editor's Note: This is the speech written for and presented at the 2024 Memorial Day observance in Boone on Monday, May 27th. Sweet was commissioned in 1974 into the Women’s Army Corps and then the Military Intelligence Corps. She spent her career working at the Pentagon and within many levels of the US Army.

Good morning! I am so honored to be here, and to be part of this community of all you heroes who are here today! I could certainly share a few entertaining stories with a bit of a twist, as you might expect from a woman who went from being a school teacher in rural Idaho one day to an Army second lieutenant the next! I have so very many stories from my years in service, which I know is also true for each of you veterans here today. But this day is not a day for our stories.

Memorial Day is often a day of backyard parties and a celebration of the start of summer. For those of us who have served our nation in uniform, for veterans, this is also a somber day of remembrance, honoring the memories of those we’ve known who gave their lives, and remembering the even larger loss of the countless many we didn’t know who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Today is a day for us to remember that we veterans are the sisters and brothers of the fallen. We owe it to those who gave their very lives to now be their voice. Would they be proud of how our lives honor their sacrifice? Are we honoring them with our example, our deeds, and our words?

Ronald Reagan said, “We’re blessed with the opportunity to stand for something -- for liberty, and freedom and fairness. And these things are worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to.” Those profound words are the basis of my remarks today about patriotic leadership -- a patriotism that requires thoughtful, informed awareness and then requires us to carefully choose a principled course of action to fulfill the values of our country.

Could you each now take just a moment to think of a service member you knew who died serving our country. With that person clearly in mind, let’s ask ourselves this question: What kind of patriot would that person want us each to be? They would ask us to be patriotic leaders. Are we each acting as a patriotic leader, supporting our nation’s democracy? We, as veterans, in our duty to our nation and to our fallen sisters and brothers, must be patriotic leaders.

Some of you knew – even loved – my late husband, the incredible Colonel Sonny Sweet. While I did not actually work for him, Sonny did out-rank me. So, yes, after our first kiss, I asked if I still had to call him "Sir."  True to form, Sonny said that it would only be necessary in public! The Veterans Administration said that the lung cancer that killed my Sonny was caused by his service in Vietnam. He too joined the ranks of all those veterans who have given their lives in service to our nation. Each day, I ask myself if I am speaking for him in a manner that he would be proud of. Do my actions, leadership, and daily life reflect the depth of his sacrifice? All of us, as veterans, are tasked to be living examples and the voice for our fallen who can no longer speak. Would they be proud of us as patriotic leaders in our support of the United States and our democracy?

Too often lately, we hear so much thoughtless talk, labelling, blaming, and we see mean-spirited, hurtful actions, so much "Ready, Fire, Aim!" Too late, way too late, to aim after firing. For us, as patriotic leaders, action can only come after we thoughtfully consider differing needs with dignity and respect for those who are impacted by our actions.

Reverend Peter Marshall, the distinguished minister, said, “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right?” To do what is right, to truly be patriotic leaders, we must hold dear those values so clearly expressed in the 1776 Preamble to our nation’s Declaration of Independence: "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."  Can we, as patriotic leaders, focus on the meaning of those values in our lives and ensure that our own behavior represents those enduring values? Are we each providing patriotic leadership? Does a patriotic leader dismiss those who hold different opinions, or do we seek to understand those differences? Is it patriotic to reduce Americans to mean names and denigrating labels? Are we each choosing to behave in ways that represent the fundamental values of our country -- democracy, freedom of speech, the pursuit of happiness -- values for which we all wore our nation’s uniform so proudly?

What could patriotic leadership actually look like in our own lives? 

1) We veterans must stand up for our nation’s values and democracy by confronting name-calling when it occurs around us.

2) We can also verify news stories by checking the facts and examining sources for bias. 

3) As veterans, we are principled leaders, not blind followers, and thus must do what is right, not just what those around us are doing. As for me, I am also working hard to get people to exercise that highest responsibility of American citizenship – to VOTE!

Franklin Roosevelt said, “The fate of America cannot depend on any one man. The greatness of America is grounded in principles and not on any single personality.” What principles are we creating as our legacy? I hope that we all want to build a legacy of thoughtful dignity, and then powerful action, to fight for our country as trustworthy, ethical, and dignified citizens.

Bricca with the late Sonny Sweet

Do we honor the value of dignity in the way we treat others, others who are different from us, a different class, a different race, a different ideology or religion? Tomorrow, next month, five years from now, I want us all to be able to look back and be proud of our choices and our actions, to know that we truly are patriotic leaders, and that we leave a legacy of thoughtful reflection and dignified action.When I think about patriotic leadership, I think about the hope that is so uniquely American. It is my hope that today, and every day, we remember that we who wore our nation’s uniform are still in service to our country! I hope that we all serve in ways that respect the rights of others. I hope we all do what is right instead of what is easy or emotional. I hope that we all leave a legacy of patriotic leadership, a legacy for hope in an America that is committed to do the right thing, and to do it with dignity and fairness.

Of course, as we veterans all know, there is always a mission in leadership – the mission of patriotic leadership is to support our nation’s democracy! Democracy was central to President Lincoln’s Gettysburg message, and is certainly what we, as veterans, stand for: An American government ofALL the people, byAll the people, and for ALL the people!

This Memorial Day, we each have the chance to review our own leadership, to make sure that we are veterans who are worthy of the sacrifice of those we pay tribute to today. Are we honoring them in a way that would allow them to rest easy, knowing that their sacrifice was not in vain? Let us all, my fellow veterans and my fellow Americans, be thoughtful patriotic leaders as we help our fellow citizens understand the importance of a strong democracy to our national security. Let’s honor the memory of our fallen comrades such that they would be proud of each of us as patriotic leaders. Let us each honor them all, and bring honor to the United States of America. Thank you.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Watauga’s Chance for Home Rule

 By Bricca Sweet, guest-posting

[Editor's Note: For additional background on the redistricting of Watauga's County Commission by Sen. Ralph Hise, see "Does Senator Hise Hate Watauga?" and "Watauga County Commission Sues Over Gerrymander"]

It’s ironic to write this on June 6, the 80th anniversary of D-Day. I’ve stood on the cliffs of Omaha Beach, imagining the grit and terror of the young men coming ashore and scaling those obstacles in the face of withering enemy fire, as they fought for the freedom of a people they didn’t know. Yet on Tuesday evening, I witnessed two of our own Watauga County Commissioners repeatedly reject the notion that Wataugans should decide for ourselves how we elect our county commissioners. Why aren’t they, safely in the comfort of a modern meeting room, fighting for our freedom?

The Hise map for Watauga County
Commissioner Districts

A little background. In the waning days of the 2023 General Assembly (late October), NC State Senator Ralph Hise quickly pushed through a "local bill," legislation specific to Watauga’s county commissioner election process. NC Statute 153A-22 -- proposed without ANY local input -- basically achieved three changes. First, Senator Hise redrew our five County Commission districts so that some of our voting precincts were split into three different districts and the population varied among the districts by well over five percent. Second, Senator Hise changed our voting process from one where we each voted for each commissioner candidate to one where we now can only vote for the candidate from our own district. Third, Senator Hise changed the election rotation basis from terms that depended on the amount of votes each commissioner received to a rotation based on the districts. Conveniently, three of the districts (3, 4, and 5) leaned Republican, and they will be up for commissioner election in 2024, while voters in the Democratic-leaning districts (1 and 2, the largest two districts, with a population of 22,696) can’t even cast ballots for commissioners until 2026. The newly drawn District 1 has no current commissioner residing within it. Commissioner Ray Russell resides in newly drawn District 2, yet his term expires in 2024.

This statute governs how Watauga’s County Commissioner elections will proceed for the 2024 election, unless there is a very expensive lawsuit on the part of the now disenfranchised voters in District 1 or 2. The June 4 County Commission meeting focused on how our elections should proceed in the future. Democratic Commission Chair Larry Turnbow proposed that a referendum be placed on our 2024 ballot, allowing Watauga voters to choose a map of three electoral districts for three commissioners who reside in each of those districts, while two additional commissioners can be elected at-large from a county-wide vote. Turnbow further proposed to seek the services of an independent professional map-maker to provide three proposed maps for the commissioners to consider in selecting one map for the referendum. He imposed these criteria in developing the maps: no use of current voter registration statistics (voter party affiliations); the districts must be equal in population; districts must be contiguous; and no voting precincts can be split. Commissioner Russell added that existing municipalities should be kept intact within proposed districts.

Chair Turnbow stated that the districts in Statute 153A-22, along with the rotation of elections for those districts, were imposed by Raleigh, and did not reflect home rule. All county commissioners have previously stated on record that no one in Raleigh, including Senator Hise, had consulted with them at all in developing these districts or the statute. None of the commissioners had any issue concerning within-district voting, other than the likely consequence of the commission becoming divisive and losing sight of county-wide issues. The ensuing discussion revolved around allowing Watauga citizens to choose how we vote via a referendum, as allowed by state law.

Republican Commissioners Todd Castle and Braxton Eggers repeatedly echoed that they liked the maps as drawn by Senator Hise. They offered no explanation of why they wouldn’t want Watauga voters to decide on district maps along with at-large commissioners. Democratic Commissioner Wallin expressed curiosity as to why, since the terms for Castle and Eggers are not up until 2026, yet the Hise redistricting put their seats up for election in 2024.  Again, there was no reasonable explanation for this. Incredibly, Castle and Eggers explained that they would stay on the commission regardless of the 2024 election. Obviously, if they each win their county commission elections, they would remain commissioners. Astonishingly, they argue that if either or both of them lose, they would then become commissioners for the new Districts 1 and 2. They argued that because they were elected at-large in the 2022 election, this was indeed representation. They couldn’t explain how this would be representation of districts that didn’t even exist in 2022, or how they could be considered commissioners for districts in which they don’t even reside. Neither Castle nor Eggers expressed any concern for the issues that voters from the new District 1 and 2 have over being excluded from the opportunity to vote for their county commissioners.

After all of this laborious and at times heated debate, Chairman Turnbow asked if there was any more discussion of the motion to put the proposed referendum on the 2024 ballot. Commissioner Eggers once again stated that he supported Senator Hise’s maps. The motion passed three to two, with the two Republican Commissioners opposed. It is beyond me to comprehend why there was so much furor over allowing Watauga voters to choose how we would like to elect our county commissioners. I thought that Republicans were all about local control. It’s a quandary.

The point is that we Watauga voters will now be able to exercise home rule in determining how we vote for our own county commissioners. The other bottom-line is that it sadly appears that voters from the new District 1 and 2 (population: 22,696) will likely have no say in their own representation until 2026. It’s vital that we make sure that our fellow voters understand the importance of voting YES on this referendum!

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Federal Judge Blocks Part of NC Law Limiting Mifipristone Usage


On Monday U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles blocked parts of North Carolina’s law on medication abortions, ruling that any health care provider — not just physicians — and pharmacists who are certified can prescribe abortion pills, and patients can take mifepristone at home, and they no longer have to make three in-person visits to a doctor.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Dr. Amy Bryant, an OB-GYN in Hillsborough.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, who’s running for governor, was a lead defendant in the case but declined to represent the state. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore were allowed to defend the laws with private attorneys. They argued that restrictions on mifepristone and abortion were necessary to protect patients’ health and safety.

In a statement released Tuesday, Stein lauded the ruling, saying:

“Republican lawmakers enacted SB20 to control women. Their sloppy, chaotic law violated women’s constitutional rights and made it harder to get a safe, effective medication abortion. I fought back against the unconstitutional parts of the law that made it harder for women – especially in rural parts of the state – to get the health care they need. I’m proud to defend women’s reproductive freedoms and pleased that this ruling helps women regain some control over their personal health care decisions. Politicians need to stay out of the exam room and leave these decisions to a woman and her medical provider.”

Judge Eagles did not grant Bryant’s request to strike down state requirements for an in-person exam, ultrasound, blood testing, and a 72-hour consultation before the abortion.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Republicans Are Terrified of Sunlight


Last September, the Republican super-majority in both houses of the NC General Assembly passed a budget that included  a provision  to allow lawmakers to determine what qualifies as a public record and to destroy the items that they unilaterally determine are not public records. Or even sell the records they think they can make a profit from. But most importantly, hide their maneuverings, plots, and dirty deeds behind a stone wall.

The John Locke org -- of all people -- commissioned a poll following that hide-everything-from-the-public-view addition to the state's budget and found that "93.5% of likely voters in the state believe open records laws are important in maintaining accountability, with a majority believing they are  extremely  important. Support for open records is exceedingly bipartisan, with over 90% of both Democrats and Republicans recognizing its importance."

Nevertheless, Republicans in the General Assembly are very satisfied with their own secrecy and aren't about to change.

Sen. Meyer
Enter Democratic Senator Graig Meyer from Orange County who is the chief sponsor/writer of a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee the public's right to all government records and meetings. (Hattip to Bryan Anderson for uncovering this development.) And here you were thinking (probably) that we already had that right, but you would be wrong, since Republicans slipped that secrecy clause into the budget last year.

Sen. Meyer admits that his constitutional amendment has less-than-zero chance of passing this Republican General Assembly, but at least he's raising the profile of Republican secrecy and lack of accountability. Like, who do they think they are? Donald J. Trump? And thereby above the law, the scrutiny of the voters, if not history itself?

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Do Democrats Have a Pulse? Maybe


I had just finished reading -- and agreeing with -- Thomas Mills' editorial attacking the Democrats' insecurity about making a big issue out of Trump's 34 felonies -- Democrats look "weak, uncertain, and incompetent," Mills wrote, while Republicans are unified in attacking the justice system itself -- when I also noticed that Joe Biden may also have read Thomas, because Biden went after Trump yesterday as a "convicted felon" at a campaign event: “For the first time in American history a former president that is a convicted felon is now seeking the office of the presidency,” Biden said at a fundraiser in Greenwich, Connecticut. “But as disturbing as that is, more damaging is the all-out assault Donald Trump is making on the American system of justice,” he continued, going on to call Trump “unhinged.”

What set Thomas Mills off was the memory of how John Kerry went into a mute and defensive crouch when he was "swift-boated" in 2004 and that Democrats seems to be similarly unsure how to play Trump's convictions in 2024:

[Kerry's] lead pollsters told us [Mills was working on the Kerry campaign team at the time] that the ads were not affecting Kerry’s numbers and that his war record was still his strongest single attribute. They believed that the controversy would die down and that we would not hear about criticism of Kerry’s heroics going down the stretch in the period from Labor Day to Election Day. They would not respond with attacks on Bush and would address the ad’s criticism mainly through the press.

I thought then, and believe now, that it was the most naive response to an attack I had seen up to that point in my political career.

We know now, after decades of frustrating experience, that Democrats are by nature naive, by nature hesitant, by effing nature always worried what someone -- anyone -- is going to think of them if they do anything to fight back, so I took it as a good sign that Dark Brandon is willing to go nose-to-nose with Trump's fat, felon face.