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.

Monday, June 03, 2024

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Virginia Foxx Leaps to the Felon's Defense


What She Said:

“To curry the favor of political allies, DA Bragg took it upon himself to engage in brazen legal alchemy that has set a very damning precedent – the verdicts levied against President Trump are steeped in partisan animus. "

What She Meant:

Believe you me! I know animus. I have created plenty of it, at Appalachian State University, at Mayland Community College, in several local Five-'n'-Dimes, on the Watauga County School Board, in the state Senate ... you get my drift. I know animus. And if I do say so myself -- and yes I do! --"brazen legal alchemy" is a brilliant use of language, isn't it?


What She Said:

"This decision will inevitably be thrown out by an appeal, but the damage will be done. A political opponent will have grounded a presidential candidate and branded his candidacy. This is beyond outrageous."

What She Meant:

Let's be honest: Our dictator is probably well and fatally cock-blocked. Me be sad about it.


What She Said:

"The rule of law has long served as the foundation for our country, but today, a dark, new chapter has been opened – one where judicial warfare is given a higher priority than fairness.”

What She Meant:

How dare the legal system do its job! What our former President did was no worse than a little minor shop-lifting.