Friday, March 29, 2024

NC Senate and House Districts Targeted by the DLCC


The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) was formed in 1992 by then Democratic National Committee Chair David Wilhelm to target and win races in state legislatures -- because Republican majorities in state legislatures were more than eager to gerrymander districts to their advantage and suppress the voters they didn't like. The DLCC brings with it money to targeted races but also some expertise in ground games, tactics, and overall strategy. NC board members on the DLCC, who no doubt influenced the targets below, are NC Senate leader Dan Blue and NC House leader Robert Reives.

The DLCC has announced its North Carolina targets for 2024. The goal: Break the Republican Supermajorities

Senate District 7, New Hanover Co.: Defeat Republican 4-term incumbent Michael Lee. Elect Democrat David Hill, a pediatrician. Civitas Partisan Index rates it R+2.

Senate District 11, Franklin, Nash, and Vance: Defeat Republican incumbent Lisa Barnes (in her 2nd term). Elect Democrat James Mercer who founded a non-profit to help kids and veterans. Civitas rates it D+1.

Senate District 13, Wake: Elect Democrat Lisa Grafstein, a labor and civil rights lawyer, who's running for an open seat against Republican Scott Lassiter. Civitas rates it D+1.

Senate District 18, Granville and Wake: Elect Democrat Terence Everitt, currently a member of the NC House, running for an open seat against Republican Ashlee Adams. Civitas rates it R+1.

Senate District 42, Mecklenburg: Elect Democrat Woodson Bradley, businesswoman and prolific volunteer, running for an open seat against Republican Stacie McGinn. Civitas rates it D+1.

House District 24, Nash and Wilson: Defeat 1st-term Republican Ken Fontenot. Elect Democrat Dante Pittman, an assistant town manager in Wilson, NC. Civitas rates it D+2.

House District 25, Nash: Defeat 1st-term Republican Allen Chesser. Elect Democrat Lorenza Wilkins, a non-profit activist. Civitas rates it D+2.

House District 32, Granville and Vance: Defeat 1st-term Republican Frank Sossamon. Elect Democrat Bryan Cohn, a member of the Oxford Board of Commissioners. Civitas rates it D+4.

Lindsey Prather

House District 35, Wake: Elect Democrat Evonne Hopkins, a family law specialist, who's running for an open seat against Republican Mike Schietzelt. Civitas rates it R+3.

House District 37, Wake: Defeat 2-term Republican incumbent Erin Pare. Elect Democrat Safiyah Jackson, an early childhood advocate. Civitas rates it R+3.

House District 73, Cabarrus: Help reelect 1st-term Democrat Diamond Staton-Williams, a registered nurse, running against Republican Jonathan Almond. Civitas rates it R+3.

House District 98, Mecklenburg: Elect Democrat Beth Helfrich, a career public school teacher, running for an open seat against Republican Melinda Bales. Civitas rates it R+1.

House District 105, Mecklenburg: Defeat Republican turncoat incumbent Tricia Cotham. Elect Democrat Nicole Sidman, who won a 3-way primary in March. Civitas rates it R+2.

House District 115, Buncombe: Help reelect 1st-term Democrat Lindsey Prather, public school educator, running against Republican Ruth Smith. Civitas rates it D+7.

Except for the one House seat in Buncombe County, it's plain to see that the DLCC writes off western North Carolina. You can't have everything. We can be thankful that the 50-state DLCC sees an opening for loosening the total power the NCGOP has over abortion rights and ballot access. I'll be digging into at least some of the personalities mentioned in the list above in the coming weeks/months.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

AppState Chancellor Under Fire for Suppressing the Queer Community on Campus


The Appalachian State University Graduate SGA has produced a string of accusations against Chancellor Sheri Everts alleging that she is behind the suppression of "Pride Week," the banning of drag shows on campus, and the actual firing of "at least four (4) Queer & Trans Staff and Faculty" without explanation (and presumably without cause). The document actually names names of those shown the door.

Other student groups have joined the out-cry against Everts (including the ASU College Democrats, which produced its own statement of solidarity). The student groups want Pride Week restored.

Aside from their condemnation of the AppState administration (principally Everts), the students don't raise the questions that immediately come to my mind ... that perhaps Everts is merely carrying water for the Republican-heavy Board of Trustees and the even-more-laden-with-cultural-conservatives Board of Governors, who have shown some eagerness for clamping down on what they consider the too-liberal university system. Everts has seemed all too willing to please those powers and not at all susceptible to the pleas and arguments of her own student body and faculty.

She's been highly unpopular on campus for a long time. The ASU Faculty Senate passed a "no confidence" resolution about her back in 2020, but nothing much about her style of authoritarian administration has changed.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Newest Chair of the NCGOP


Jason Simmons

Following Trump's elevation of Michael Whatley to the chairmanship of the national GOP (and also to holding Lara Trump's handbag), the chairmanship of the NCGOP stood open for an election by the state's executive committee -- which happened last night. The winner of a contested race was the state party's executive director Jason Simmons, handpicked by Whatley and endorsed by Trump. The vote was decisive despite a spirited challenge from the ultra-conservative Jim Womack, head of the "NC Election Integrity Team" who thinks far too many people are allowed to vote in this state.

Womack is a big deal in Lee County -- chair of the local GOP and a former county commissioner -- and something of a serial loser. He ran for the chairmanship of the NCGOP twice before, unsuccessfully, and usually with collateral damage. The ultra-MAGAs supported Womack last night and had made plenty of noise leading up to the vote about the failings of establishment Republicans like Thom Tillis and Whatley himself, who nevertheless remain in control of the NC org.

Womack's supporters are naturally furious. They consider themselves "the real Republicans" as opposed to  the Thom Tillises, who are really just part of a "Uniparty" made up of Democrats and country club Republicans who protect the status quo for their own profit. The ultra-MAGAs have baroque theories to explain why Trump won North Carolina in 2020 despite widespread fraud to elect Biden: “Donald Trump may be happy with NC because he didn’t lose in 2020, but it is my belief he didn’t lose because the Uniparty didn’t need him to lose since the fraud in the other states with unexplained pauses in vote counting was adequate to secure his defeat. Letting Trump win protected the Uniparty in NC” (former Republican state Sen. Fern Shubert, in a comment here).

Letting Trump win NC's electoral votes protected the "Uniparty"? I'm truly stunned by that logic.

If Mark Robinson, Michele Morrow, or Dan Bishop lose their statewide races in November, Jason Simmons will be blamed. We have a sympathy card ready to go.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Wray of All Flesh


Rodney Pierce and Michael Wray

Conservative Democrat Michael H. Wray had a good 20 years legislating in Raleigh before he was taken out in the March primary by Rodney Pierce (profiled here back in February). After the recount, Wray lost his seat by a mere 34 votes. Pierce will be going to Raleigh next January because there is no Republican candidate. It's a safe Democratic House district, and Wray often had no Republican challenger in his reelections though he often had Democratic primary challengers. Rodney Pierce finally had the juice to beat him.

He was unpopular among Democrats for being so popular with the Republican majority in the House. He was said to vote with the Republicans over 80% of the time, most notoriously for Dan Bishop's hated "Bathroom Bill" and more recently for the last Republican budget, choosing to override Gov. Cooper's veto.

He was and is a nice man, people say, at a time that Democrats needed a little more steel in tribal spines. Wray was sweet enough to Republicans that Speaker Tim Moore elevated him to a senior chairmanship on the powerful House Finance Committee way back at the start of the current session in January 2023. Moore was trying to woo Wray to change parties. Moore also wooed Tricia Cotham, who obligingly tumbled in April 2023.

No one said it was illegal to turn your coat. But there are consequences, especially among those who made the coat and expected you to wear it with the right side out.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Mark Robinson Is Nothing If Not Gratuitous


Mark Robinson popped off on Brian Kilmeade's radio show: "I'm not interested in anything that Thom Tillis has to say. As far as I'm concerned, Thom Tillis has abandoned the base of our party.”

Thom Tillis, who sometimes amazes us with his willingness to defy the MAGA majority, responded to the Robinson insult to Huffington Post reporter Igor Bobic, "The feeling's mutual."

What's holding the NCGOP together? A couple of strings of baling twine and a little dry-mouthed spit?

Just in case you've forgotten, Tillis endorsed Bill Graham over Mark Robinson in the recent Republican primary for guv.

About the dyspepsia in the NCGOP, Democratic commentator Gary Pearce tweeted, "Senator Thom Tillis and the reliably Republican NC Chamber distance themselves from NCGOP's MAGA candidates. Pass the popcorn."

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Comedy in the Age of Trump


"The reason 'conservative comedy' never manages to go mainstream is that it's all fundamentally based on punching down at vulnerable people for no reason but sheer meanness. But in the Trump era, that's what some people want. Cruelty for the lols."
--@forwardcarolina, January 17, 2024

P.J. O'Rourke, the author and the subject of Republican Party Reptile: The Confessions, Adventures, Essays and (Other) Outrages of P.J. O’Rourke, could be very funny. He was a satirist, especially of sitting-duck bleeding hearts. It takes a true sense of humor to write satire, and real intelligence.

I speculate on O'Rourke, who's been dead since February 2022, in trying to guess the connection between intelligence and humor and the failure of "conservative comedy" mentioned above. The MAGA wing particularly, who depend for their world view on carefully curated information that blots out evidence not congenial to their hero worship, seem to enjoy cruel put-downs and juvenile insults above all other forms of "humor." When we were ignorant farm kids, we might actually laugh at physical deformity or disability, but as we aged, we sometimes were lucky or persistent enough to learn humility and perspective and some history of humanity.

Teenage girl cyber-bullying belongs to a particular age group for a reason. Like MAGA, they seem to believe any victim deserves it for being weak.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Jon Council, Testing the Power of the Unaffiliated in Watauga County


He's a construction worker living with his wife Peden in a reclaimed barn, with four dogs (Hannah  Jack, Bear, and Matilda), and 15 ducks on the Watauga River Road in Watauga, because it was the only available and affordable housing that Jon and Peden could afford in a super-expensive vacation destination like Watauga County. 

Jon Council just became a rare unaffiliated candidate for a Watauga County Commission seat (Dist. 3), "certified by petition" for the November ballot. No Democrat had filed for the seat against incumbent Republican Braxton Eggers. Council knocked doors to get the signatures he needed to qualify for the ballot because he believes that there should always be a choice of candidates and because he believes he can provide an important voice for working people in his district. Council may be the first unaffiliated candidate in Watauga County history to complete the petition process. He's certainly unusual in North Carolina.

Council has always been unaffiliated, and like many people who do not register as either Democrat or Republican, he sometimes has not voted in elections where he felt his interests were not being represented. Political scientist Chris Cooper at Western Carolina Univ. did research and found that some 261 unaffiliated candidates met the requirements and ran in North Carolina between 2010 and 2022. Almost all of them lost -- badly. During those years, 33 unaffiliated candidates (out of those 261) actually won their races, and frequently they were running for county commission seats. Can Jon Council beat the odds and join that rarest of rare winners' circle?

Unaffiliated voters now out-number both registered Democrats and Republicans in the state of North Carolina. And they out-number Democrats and Republicans in County Commission Dist. 3 of Watauga County, which includes the precincts of Watauga, Laurel Creek, Beaver Dam, Shawneehaw, Beech Mountain, and a portion of Brushy Fork. Here's the partisan breakdown of that district:

D 1,695
R 2,921
U 3,445

(Explains why no Democrat filed to run in the district.)

The Jon Council Story

Photo by Sophie Mead

Have you ever tried to live in the structure you're also trying to renovate? Carry on life while you add a kitchen and wood heat and a composting toilet to a structure that never had any of those "necessaries"? You may have to cover the bed with a tarp to protect it from falling construction debris and cook on a single-burner Coleman set on a desk. That's what Jon and Peden went through to have an affordable place to live, while (big irony here) Jon got up early every morning to go to work maintenance at a high end country club. Now he slings a hammer on construction jobs building summer places that he also can't afford. He's a keen observer of the realities around him -- a well informed, smart, and practical thinker who understands how the economy grinds working people. The crisis in affordable housing is a particular flashpoint for him. In a Barn Raiser online magazine interview last October, Jon pointed out that "development" in a mountain county is "just another extractive industry":

We’re in a place that’s got heavy tourist traffic at different times of the year with ski resorts and other recreation industries. We’ve seen a lot of single-family homes that have been turned into Airbnbs and short-term rentals, which makes it difficult for working-class people to find places that they can afford to live and work. Because we’re a pretty low-income community, we’ve seen how easy it is for outside interests with a lot of money to come in, buy up land, parcel it off and develop it, not for the people who live here, but for second homes or for short-term rentals for people that are living elsewhere.

That struggle for a decent place to live is coupled for Jon with a personal determination to heal and reclaim the two and a half acres of mountain hillside that he and Peden were able to afford in 2018. The land had been neglected for years, sprayed periodically with herbicides and pesticides to keep the scrub from taking over, but blackberry canes took over anyway.

Jon Council is characteristic of any number of smart and determined young people (he's 32), for whom college didn't click, which makes him not a candidate for a white-collar type job but worthy of respect for the struggle to live reasonably in a society that does not value physical labor and native smarts nearly enough. Jon and Peden have learned "make-do" -- living "on the cheap" -- but knowing the benefits and pleasures of a vibrant community of similarly struggling working people who help one another and understand barter/borrow. For Jon, duck eggs, which are significantly higher in both fat and cholesterol than chicken eggs and also higher in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, have become a valuable side enterprize. He's sold up to 200 duck eggs at a time to chefs for special event dinners featuring locally sourced ingredients. Jon and Peden trade and barter with other local small farmers for fresh vegetables and other produce during the warmer months. Jon told Barn Raiser

Jon and Peden's home. Photo Sophie Mead 

A lot of our friends are craftspeople. My wedding ring and my wife’s wedding ring were made by a friend, a woman we know in the community, which we traded for barter. There’s a lot of that.

Though Jon left college -- sampled but unfinished -- he's become skilled in a number of life-hacks, not just carpentry and renovations but also the nurturing of native plants and the health of the soil (not to mention the precious water). "I didn't do well in college. But I love to learn," Jon says, "and I'm often moved by novelty." So Jon is a deep reader widely curious about the world. He lights up when talking about favorite books and mentions the work of Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac), Peter Heller (a longtime contributor to Outside magazine), Craig Childs (The Secret Knowledge of Water), and Wendell Berry, whose Unsettling of America holds a special spot in Jon's library. He's a deep thinker on the ways and means that economic power gets wielded against the labor that sustains it, and the Barn Raiser interview quotes him at length on the failures of the two dominant parties.

Jon found a new local community organization, Down Home North Carolina, a member of the People's Action Network, dedicated to finding common ground with blue-collar working people and engaging them in action. The Watauga chapter was building a petition to the County Commission about affordable and fair housing (Watauga County has no minimal housing standards). Jon was also motivated by the repeated raw sewerage spills from a mega-student apartment complex on the west side of Boone. Those spills end up in the Watauga River drainage system, which runs it directly past Jon and Peden's homestead. Jon became an activist. He understands the cost-benefits for the corporate owners: They've been repeatedly hit with fines, "and they just pay the fine and everything still goes back into the watershed. And then it happens again, and they pay the fine." An endless loop of abuse.

He told Barn Raiser about what door-knocking and porch-sitting for Down Home taught him about human community:

When you can talk to somebody face-to-face and say, “Hey, man, we share a watershed,” or, “We rely on this mom-and-pop business up here that’s in danger of being run out by outside corporate interests,” I think you find that people are willing to cooperate with one another. People don’t have to agree on everything. But if we take care of one another, especially within a small community like this, it benefits everyone.

He told me, "Look, I'm not like a vigilante do-gooder. It's doing the simple stuff like helping someone get firewood or picking up trash on the road on a Saturday morning." Helping out. Building community. "Common Sense rules the day" is Jon's motto.

Down Home's petition for the county to enact minimum housing standards went nowhere, and that was under a Democratically dominated County Commission. So this unaffiliated activist is testing whether an amorphous non-party can also elect a representative to the partisan office of County Commission. 

Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Humiliations Continue To Pile Up on Mark Walker


Trump himself announced the news that he'd completely destroyed any self-respect that Mark Walker might still cling to. Walker lost to Trump's designated patsy Addison McDowell in the 6th CD Republican primary last week by only two points, and Walker had previously talked tough about continuing to fight against McDowell in a run-off. The deadline under NC law to request a runoff was today at noon, but there will be no runoff and McDowell will be going to Congress next January because there is no Democrat in the race.

Trump himself put out the announcement: “I’ve asked Congressman Mark Walker to join my campaign team to work with faith groups and minority communities, and he has agreed to immediately do so,” Trump wrote in a post on his Truth Social platform.

According to Anderson Alerts, "Walker said in a statement that he spoke with Trump about the position Tuesday afternoon and plans to serve in the Trump administration if the former president wins in November.

“Yesterday afternoon, I was honored to hear from President Trump asking if I would take the lead position as the Director of Outreach for faith and minority communities effective immediately,” Walker wrote. “I’m delighted to accept this position and after the Biden administration is defeated in November, I’m grateful for the offer to continue our work with President Trump in the White House.”

What "work" will be involved in convincing the Christian Right to vote for Trump, since that group long ago started worshipping the golden ass.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The NC Chamber of Commerce Fears Michele Morrow


On March 6th, the day after the primary that saw Republican incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt get kicked out by Republican voters (after one term) and replaced by an ideological wrecking ball named Michele Morrow, a home-schooler and very determined enemy of public education as it has evolved in the 21st Century. Morrow will be on your ballot come November to run the Department of Education, up against Democrat Mo Green.

On March 6th, the day after that thunderbolt of Truitt's defeat -- unexpected -- unimaginable, really, that a moderate professional like Catherine Truitt would get bumped off the ticket by someone considered a nut -- the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce put out an astounding official statement warning that the primary win of Michele Morrow was a threat to the state's "business climate" (and if you immediately flash on Dan Bishop and those people passing the Bathroom Bill in 2016 and costing the state billions in moola and years of bad press and worse memories, you would be right). Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Show Us Your Gender Act in March of 2016 and the stars fell on North Carolina in a media catastrophe that lasted until they repealed the law a quick year later in 2017.

The Chamber evidently thinks that Michele Morrow is another bathroom bill waiting to metastasize. 

"When both parties move to the opposite ends of the political spectrum," wrote the Chamber's political director, "it erodes the quiet, bipartisan work necessary to move our state forward. Moderating voices in each caucus will be replaced with partisan ideologues that cause division and create controversy."

Division and controversy -- very bad for business

Here's a video of Morrow interviewed by Bill O'Neil for WXII. She complicates the political equation by sounding reasonable (there has been indeed an explosion of gender fluidity, but whether you can blame the schools for that and not pop culture seems debatable). She scapegoats the teaching of history for daring to admit the historic evidence that white people have made some bad choices for owning Black people and squeezing Indians into the corner. And Morrow can get fairly giddy about sending more tax dollars to private academies and thus starving public education. And incidentally, she took some of her kids to the January 6th siege of the Capitol, though she says she never went into the building.

She says that in addition to banning books that lean too far into any kind of sexual awareness, she wants books about "traumatic experiences" also banned from school libraries. "But couldn't a book bring some comfort to you to know you're not alone?" asked O'Neil. "No," sez Morrow, decisively, as though the word "comfort" had triggered an odd antipathy.

Her persuasiveness coupled with her calm demeanor make her seem a kind of coherent culture analyst. She has noticed some blatant blunders by education bureaucrats that areactually blatant blunders. But it's how far backward you're willing to go to balance the scales that gives one plenty of pause about Morrow. There is on-line an extended video of her laying out her platform (and incidentally her personality) in a Zoom presentation to the Pasquotank PAC. (The Pasquotank PAC, named for the county, "promotes Republican and Unaffiliated Conservatives in Northeastern North Carolina." Lord help me but I find her persuasive, and I can see her appeal. She talks well and without visible notes and makes sense of things for the MAGA crowd who want everything razed to the ground.

In other words, she has to be stopped.

Maurice "Mo" Green, Democrat

Mo trails behind him a distinguished career in education: Executive Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation from 2016-2023. More than seven years as superintendent of Guilford County Schools. Before that, general counsel of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, then chief operating officer and then deputy superintendent. He began his career as a lawyer in private practice after doing two United States judicial clerkships. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics and a law degree, both from Duke University. (Indebted to PamsPicks for the details.)

He's about as establishment as you can get. And Morrow is a disestablishmentarian. The clash alone ought to give you the willies when it comes to deciding if our public education will teach inclusiveness as part of the fabric of our Republic.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

BREAKING: 3-Judge Panel Strikes Down Law To Remake the Boards of Election


S 749, the Republican grand scheme to take away the governor's power to control the Boards of Elections in every county and replace what we have now with 50-50 splits guaranteed to produce grid-lock and dysfunction -- that law was just stuck down as unconstitutional by a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges, two Republicans and one Democrat.

Unanimously struck it down.

"In a seven-page order released Tuesday [today], the judges wrote that the Republican effort to remove Cooper’s power to appoint members of state and county elections boards clearly “infringes upon” the governor’s constitutional duties, and marked “the most stark and blatant removal of appointment power” since previous cases over appointment powers like McCrory v. Berger and Cooper v. Berger." (NandO)

It's likely that Republican leaders will appeal to their BFF, the state's Supreme Court, which is guaranteed to be far more receptive to allowing the General Assembly anything it wants.

Monday, March 11, 2024

For Czar of NC Agriculture, It's Good Ole Boy vs. Brainiac Innovater

Sarah Taber, Insurgent Democrat

The most popular campaign photo of Sarah Taber is the one copied here, which is a studied pose, yes, but she looks to me like someone who knows farm work and heavy work at that. The look is especially crucial when you're a woman running with the boys, not to mention against a very popular incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture.

Did I say "running with the boys"? 

The boys should be so lucky to keep up with this woman, or any farm woman for that matter. Taber published an amazing little essay in The Nation in January of this year and did some woman'splaining to the men about the importance of her gender on farms: 

"We’re the ones who balance the family books, take outside jobs, handle invoicing, and turn raw crops and livestock into goods ready for people to buy. We are the business backbone that makes farm country work." 

Her personal background sounds raw enough to trust and real as dirt: "I grew up working on farms. I got good at chores, sure — but I also got good at the livelihood part of agriculture." She built a business being expert in aquaculture and aquaponics and greenhouses. She started her consultancy in 2006 to help farms and farmers transition away from traditional crops like tobacco and toward non-traditional but highly lucrative forms of agriculture -- growing food under glass or in water. She has a justifiable brag: 

...growing vegetables in greenhouses [is] a great livelihood if you get it right—but if you get one detail wrong, you’ll lose your shirt. I’m proud to say every single one of my farm clients is still in business. Altogether, they’re now worth $4 billion. [The Nation]

She alludes to a cascade of bad practices and bad decisions that some big (and a few small) farmers have engaged in, struggling to make lucrative what often has not been lucative: "Rural poverty causes radicalization. So does pollution from farms. Farm radicalization isn’t just a local problem. Farm outfits that hire undocumented workers put serious money behind hard-right legislators and sheriffs who pledge to collaborate with ICE. That means local country politics can get ugly. And those ugly politics don’t stay local. They can undermine democracy for the whole state." 

Taber holds a doctorate in plant medicine from the University of Florida. In her case, education has sparked an imagination for big agricultural projects that could actually save the planet, like the idea of turning abandoned oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico into seaweed-growing operations that could cleanse Gulf waters of their pollution.

On, her professional consultancy site that's disappeared from the Web in favor of, she self-identified as "crop scientist and writer." Regrettably (for me at least), she decided to highlight in her campaign lit her academic credentials a little more than I think can help her with a population used to good ole boys who are careful not to act too smart. Very first words of autobiography on her website: "Dr. Sarah Taber." Because I R also an overeducated "Doctor" and happened to have been close to lots of farmers growing up and heard their jibes, I tend to wince when I hear someone describe themselves as Doctor So-and-So. Might as well go ahead and parody yourself as "Perfesser So-and-So" for the country folks, cause that's what they're thinking. When is the flashing of higher education ever not off-putting as a social class marker?

Nevertheless, for her obvious smarts and practical wisdom, not to mention her vision for expanding and improving vegetable production in North Carolina, Taber is revolutionary as a candidate, but she'll have to be more than that to pull anywhere near even with the popular Republican incumbent.

Steve Troxler, Incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture (since 2004)

Photo Joseph Bradley, for The Assembly

Here's Troxler's history of election margins, making him often the most popular Republican on the ballot below President:

2004 -- his 1st election, he won by 2,287 votes or 50.3%

2008 -- won with 52% of the vote

2012 -- won with 53% of the vote

2016 -- won with 55.56% of the vote

2020 -- won with 53.86% against an unconventional woman, Jenna Wadsworth

His popularity rose steadily after his first election but dipped noticeably in 2020 and possibly because his Democratic opponent came at him from a novel direction. Sarah Taber will be his second time up against an accomplished, out-of-her-traditional-womanly-lane candidate who may come off a little more electable than Wadsworth was.

Plus Taber is going squarely at Troxler as corrupt, the single biggest factor -- if it's true -- known by political science to motivate significant shifts in the vote. Sarah Taber herself summed up the Troxler era in her piece for The Nation, "Why I'm Running for Commissioner of Agriculture":

We’ve had the same commissioner of agriculture for 20 years, despite a series of fumbles and corruption scandals on his watch. He presided over the largest crop insurance fraud ring in US history. His department tipped off meat plants suspected of animal abuse before a “surprise” inspection. His greatest success was encouraging China to buy North Carolina-grown tobacco—only for Trump, for whom the incumbent helped raise funds and votes, to destroy that market with a trade war

Meanwhile, Taber claims, Troxler and his aides "misspent taxpayer dollars on high-end lodgings and dining."

So why is ole tobacco-farmer Troxler so popular? Says Taber, he's actually quite unpopular with an increasing number of farmers. Her evidence is partly anecdotal: 

I’m struck by how eager North Carolina’s farmers are for change. It’s not hard to see why. After you account for inflation and population growth, North Carolina’s farm economy has shrunk by 19 percent in the last 20 years. Our farmers and ranchers feel it. And they know what the problem is: corrupt leadership. One hog farmer put it to me this way: “Politicians are a bit like piggies. They’re frisky when they’re little. But then they discover corn and become hogs.” He paused and went on. “Maybe it’s time to put this one in the smokehouse.”

But her best evidence that Troxler's popularity may be illusory is numbers:

In 2020 several North Carolina farm counties voted for the Democratic candidate for commissioner of agriculture [Jenna Wadsworth], and not by a little: Anson. Bertie. Northampton. Hertford. Vance. Hoke. Chatham. Watauga. Halifax. Warren. Edgecombe. Our incumbent doesn’t win because of the farmer vote .... In 2020, hundreds of thousands of suburban North Carolinians voted for both Joe Biden and a Republican commissioner of agriculture who’s wildly unpopular in much of our actual rural farm country.

Why would our suburban brethren, who only look at meat when it's under cellophane, stick with Troxler? Explains Taber, "Because he looks and sounds like what suburbanites think a farmer should look like."

Looks are important, O my brethren, especially in politics. If this is the year the progressive resistance rises up against the corruption of Trump and the extremism of Mark Robinson, Michele Morrow, Dan Bishop, at al. then constant pounding of the message of Troxler's corruption might wilt that big bushy mustache.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Michael Whatley Selected To Be the Doormat


Photo Robert Willett, News & Observer

Last Friday, Trump's hand-picked yes-man Michael Whatley got installed as the new chair of the Republican National Committee, replacing Ronna McDaniel who had ceased to please Trump. During the "Stop the Steal" furor following the 2020 election, McDaniel had been wary of joining Trump's 65 lawsuits aimed at overturning the election, plus she appears to have pushed back about emptying Republican bank accounts to pay Trump's legal bills.

Whatley will be joined as co-chair by Trump's own daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who's made it clear that anyone not sufficiently loyal to her father-in-law will be purged from the party, and she's guaranteed to ensure that Trump will get all the money he wants to pay for his chaos.

Whatley will be handmaiden, pregnant with every Trump whim. And he'd better carry them to term!

Trump has been impressed with Whatley's own PR campaign to convince the boss that he is a true believer that the election was stolen and that the only reason North Carolina didn't go for Biden in 2020 was Whatley's own "election integrity" plan to "guard the vote" against imaginary hoards of illegal immigrants and Black felons and Deep State election officials. Whatley was full of shit then, and it'll fairly squeeze out of him now like toothpaste.

Whatley has no apparent personal integrity beyond pleasing the big man, which makes him singularly suited to lead the GOP in the Trump era and provide a square space for Trump to wipe his shoes.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Democrat Braxton Winston Now Has a Republican Opponent for Secretary of Labor



I've been following Winston's trajectory into politics since he won his seat on the Charlotte City Council in 2017. He promises to be a Democratic star attraction on the fall ballot. Winston was born in North Carolina into a military family, was recruited by Davidson College to play football, earned a degree in anthropology, coaches football part time at Providence Day School, and became an accidental but powerful symbol for Black Lives Matter in Charlotte following the September 20, 2016, police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. That killing prompted several days of street protests. A chance photograph of Winston by the Charlotte Observer’s Jeff Siner went viral (see below) and catapulted Winston into local fame. He's 40 years old.

On September 20, 2016, Winston was on his way home after coaching a middle school football game. He was driving Old Concord Road past the Village at College Downs apartments, where a ruction was going on. An angry crowd was gathering the way a crowd gathers after a shooting, and Winston pulled over to find out what it was.

Winston actually makes his living as a cameraman -- videographer -- who films home games for the Charlotte Hornets as an independent contractor. He began live-streaming the aftermath of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting to his Facebook page.

A Charlotte cop on the scene told Winston to leave. Winston didn't, and the cop left him alone. The cop already knew Winston as a good man from a previous incident. In November 2015, Winston called the cops to help a Hispanic woman being severely beaten by her husband. There was a big commotion, involving neighbors and a little boy running around crying. Winston grabbed up and hugged the boy to him. With his mother going to the hospital and his father to jail, the little boy didn’t want to leave Braxton's arms, "so Braxton went with us to the hospital. He stayed the whole night, trying to make sure the little boy was OK as he clung onto Braxton...” (according to CharlotteMeck PD Officer Shannon Finis). A year later the same cop allowed Braxton to stay on the scene at College Downs apartments.

Student reporters for The Davidsonian, after several interviews, concluded this: "Winston had never been involved in any protest movement. He thought of tear-gas or potential injury as 'the price I got to pay to speak up on behalf of my children, [on] behalf of myself, and [on] behalf of what I believe in and what the world should look like.' ”

According to Olivia Daniels and AJ Naddaff, "tension between police and civilians escalated. Winston removed his shirt to cover his mouth from tear gas. He approached a line of police in riot gear and thrust his fist in the air in an act of civil disobedience." Jeff Siner took his picture.

Later, after things died down, Winston became a community spokesman, first calling for the resignation of CharlotteMeckPD Chief Kerr Putney and then meeting face-to-face with him and apparently reaching an understanding that there had to be a change in methods for interacting with segments of Charlotte that feel over-policed and under-served. When eventually the police officer who killed Keith Lamont Scott was exonerated because department policy leans way over backward to absolve the government from responsibility when the police kill people without due process, Braxton Winston acknowledged that police followed policy in letting the cop off. But after he was elected to the Charlotte City Council, he worked to reform procedures.

Braxton announced he was planning to run for Secretary of Labor in April 2023 after six years on the Charlotte council (and attaining the distinction of Mayor Pro Tem). He is also a labor activist -- a professional videographer but also, as a stagehand and grip, a union member, in "our region’s robust sports television and entertainment production community" (Winston website).


On Tuesday this week, Farley bested three other Republican candidates for the nomination to run in this race, taking over 30% of the vote and thus avoiding a runoff. 

His website makes him seem like a deeply unserious person. A white-on-red banner on his homepage proclaims "Make Elevators Great Again," an allusion to the former Republican holder of this office, Cherie Berry (no friend of labor), who has endorsed him (that endorsement also loudly proclaimed on his home page). I have my instant doubts about any candidate who begins his introduction, "I am a Christian...." That tells me everything and also precisely nothing about this guy's character.

His main policy obsession appears to be mandated COVID vaccine shots, which he naturally opposes.

He's a lawyer in private practice, specializing in OSHA rules, which on the face of it, in my view, makes him also instinctively anti-labor.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Primary Results -- Other Races


Allison Riggs

Supreme Court Associate Justice, Seat 6

Democrat Allison Riggs took over 69% of the vote statewide, running for reelection to her seat against Judge Lora Cubbage.

NC House Dist. 60

Frequent Democratic defector from Democratic policy, incumbent Cecil Brockman squeaked past his insurgent opponent James Adams by a mere 83 votes (according to the NCSBE website). There will surely be a recount. Brockman had been marked for elimination by fellow Democrats because of his frequent votes with the Republican super-majority. (Contest profiled here.)

NC House Dist. 82

The Republican primary featured first-termer Kevin Crutchfield trying to hang on to the seat he just won in 2022 against man-about-town Brian Echevarria, a camera hog who may think he's awfully cute. This race was called the most competitive Republican primary for the General Assembly -- and was coincidentally also the meanest -- and indeed Echevarria took out the incumbent by a very close margin, 171 votes.

NC House Dist. 27

Conservative Democrat Michael Wray, who often voted with the Republicans to override Cooper vetoes, finally may have been picked off (if the current vote totals hold through the counting of provisionals and the inevitable recount). Wray appears to have lost to Rodney Pierce by 42 votes.

NC House Dist. 105

Nicole Sidman slid to victory in a three-way race where she took over 57% of the vote. She is the winner to take on the tall quest to unseat turncoat Tricia Cotham in November. I've experienced nervous exhaustion worrying about the outcome here.

NC House Dist. 62

Former legislator and often thorn in the Republican majority's side, John Blust won a 5-way contest with 34% of the vote, thus avoiding a runoff. I wrote about "The Return of John Blust" back in February.

NC Senate Dist. 13

Scott Lassiter, who became "Famous for the Wrong Reason," beat his Republican competitor in that side's primary. Lassiter will face Democrat Lisa Grafstein in November. He tried once to get her barred from the ballot.

Primary Results, Watauga Board of Education

Adam Hege
Very right race for the top five finishers. A total of six candidates will go through to the November ballot:

Marshall Ashcraft 4,765 
Adam Hege 4,347 
Chad Cole 4,208 
Charlotte Mizelle Lloyd 4,204 
Alison Carroll Idol 4,128 

Tom Ross 2,039

Ashcraft, Hege, and Lloyd are Democrats. Cole, Idol, and Ross are Republicans. Anything can happen, come November. All these candidates were researched and written up by PamsPicks. Appears that the two most radical candidates were eliminated.

More Primary Results -- NC Council of State



Democrat Josh Stein crushed challenger Mike Morgan with almost 70% of the vote. Stein did considerably less well in Watauga, where almost 30% of voters preferred Morgan.

Republican Mark Robinson easily beat Dale Folwell and super-litigator Bill Graham, taking almost 65%. 

Rachel Hunt

Lieutenant Governor

On the Democratic side, Rachel Hunt (yes, of those Hunts) took 70% statewide (a whopping 86% in Watauga).

On the Republican side, Deanna Ballard was one of over a dozen contenders. She came in last night 3rd, just missing the opportunity to be in the runoff with top vote-getter Hal Weatherman by some 8,000 votes. So Weatherman will face instead former prosecutor Jim O'Neill in the runoff.  O'Neill came close to beating Josh Stein for A.G. in 2020.

Attorney General

Jeff Jackson took almost 55% of the vote statewide against two competitors. He took 77% in Watauga.

Commissioner of Insurance

On the Democratic ballot Natasha Marcus buried David Wheeler.

Republican incumbent Mike Causey, who's been tagged with controversy and scandal, took over 60% of the vote on the Republican ballot and will face Marcus in November. He's a ripe target for a negative campaign, which I think David Wheeler would have delivered with gusto. Marcus, not so much. Gives Causey a distinct advantage in November.

Commissioner of Labor

On the Republican ballot, Luke Farley, endorsed by yesteryear's horror story Cherie Berry, won outright with almost 37% of the vote against NC House honcho Jon Hardister. Hardister has been infamous in these precincts as a twerpy sort of snake in the General Assembly, so .... schadenfreude.

Superintendent of Public Education

On the Democratic side, Maurice (Mo) Green won with almost 66% of the vote.

On the Republican side, right-wing fright Michele Morrow beat incumbent Catherine Truitt by some 36,000 votes. Morrow has been quite an outspoken and outright enemy of public schools, calling them "indoctrination centers" and urging her followers not to send their children there. She's endorsed by Moms for Liberty. Truitt has been a target of the MAGA right for not being bullying enough to root out "diversity" and "inclusion" in all its demonic manifestations.


Democrat Wesley Harris easily beat his rival Gabe Esparza.

Some Primary Results -- US Congressional Races


Pat Harrigan

US House Dist. 1 -- Republican Laurie Buckhout beat husband-beater Sandy Smith

US House Dist. 5 -- Republican incumbent Virginia Foxx beat challenger Ryan Mayberry, taking almost 68% of the vote district-wide. But almost a third of Watauga County voted for Mayberry

US House Dist. 6 -- Republican runoff coming between top vote-getter Addison McDowell, who took 26% of the vote, vs. former congressman Mark Walker, who took 24%. Bo Hines placed 4th. May be the end of his political ambitions

US House Dist. 8 -- Republican preacherman Mark Harris, the center of the 2018 ballot-harvesting scandal, won 30% against 5 other candidates and thus avoids a runoff

US House Dist. 10 -- Republican firearms manufacturer Pat Harrigan won outright over establishment pick Grey Mills (endorsed by Virginia Foxx and Tim Moore and many other big names) and 3 other candidates, taking over 41% of the vote

US House Dist. 14 -- Republican NC House Speaker Tim Moore easily won his primary in a district that was drawn especially for him