When moral Monday protestors gathered this week in front of the legislature in Raleigh to decrying the policies of conservative lawmakers, among them were a contingent of demonstrators from Western North Carolina.
More than 150 protestors marched in downtown Waynesville Monday to oppose what they characterize as egregious policies by Republican state lawmakers that will take North Carolina back to the Dark Ages.
One of three candidates vying to be Haywood County’s next sheriff was eliminated from the competition in a preliminary round last week.
Nearly 200 people came out for a candidate forum in Jackson County Monday (Oct. 15) to listen to a slate of candidates spar over local, state, federal — and sometimes existential — issues facing Western North Carolinians today.
Sporting a red Obama hat, a matching “Change Rocks” t-shirt and a “Barack Obama 2012” button, Ron Frendreis approached the first house on his list.
With pen, papers and clipboard in hand, he climbed the concrete steps to a white duplex with fellow campaign volunteer Jane Harrison, knocked on the door marked 82, and then waited.
Mark Meadows won the second primary on July 17 by a sweeping majority.
The conservative Republican candidate for U.S. Congress garnered 76.3 percent of the vote Tuesday.
A recount is likely in the race for N.C. House of Representatives between two well-known and prominent Waynesville Democrats, Danny Davis and Joe Sam Queen. The race came down to the wire on election night last week, with Queen emerging as the top vote-getter by a mere 11 votes.
Results on election night are considered “unofficial” for another week, however, until election workers have a chance to weed through a few dozen provisional ballots and late absentees and determine if any should be counted.
Those provisional and late absentees were processed Tuesday but failed to change the outcome of the race.
Davis picked up an additional 13 votes, while Queen picked up an additional 19 votes — so Queen actually widened his margin of victory from 11 votes to 17.
Queen and Davis were vying for the N.C. House seat currently held by retiring Rep. Phil Haire, D- Sylva. The seat represents Jackson, Swain and the greater Waynesville and Lake Junaluska area of Haywood County. The winner in the Democratic primary will face the Republican opponent Mike Clampitt from Swain County come November.
Given how close the race is, Davis said he will likely call for a recount. Under state election law, any candidate can request a recount in any race. The state election board then decides whether one is warranted.
If a race is within 1 percent, however, the state is obligated to conduct a recount if the runner-up requests it.
“There is a reason the state has a mandatory recount if it is less than 1 percent,” Davis said, explaining why he would most likely ask for a recount.
Davis spent 26 years as a District Court judge in the seven western counties. Queen, an architect with a side business managing a vast inventory of rental property, has served six years in Raleigh as a state senator.
Both candidates were holding their breath in the days following last week’s election, curious whether some 115 provisional ballots and a handful of late absentee ballots would alter the outcome of the race.
Provisional ballots are cast on Election Day when poll workers can’t find a voter’s name on the roster of registered voters. They are given a provisional ballot, which is then set aside in a special stack until election workers have a chance to research whether the ballot should be counted.
“Every voter has the right to vote. They are given a provisional and if it is cleared they count. If not, they don’t,” said Joan Weeks, director of the Swain County Board of Elections.
There are several reasons why someone’s name might not show up on the roster at the polls. Perhaps they registered to vote under their maiden name, but give poll workers their married name. Perhaps they thought they registered at some point but in fact had not.
Often, they registered to vote in another county and didn’t realize they have to re-register to vote when they move.
This is particularly common in Jackson County, where college students at Western Carolina University registered in their hometown but show up at the polls on Election Day thinking they can vote in Jackson.
Election workers across the state hold a “canvas” the week after the election, where they go through all the provisional ballots and decide which, if any, are legitimate.
Ultimately, the majority don’t count.
“Legally you can’t say ‘No you can’t vote,’ but in the end most of them are not going to count,” Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, director of the Jackson County Election Board, said.
But there are a few instances where a voter has indeed registered yet doesn’t show up in the official roster at the polls.
Sometimes, people will register to vote at the Division of Motor Vehicles when getting a driver’s license. The DMV then transmits the voter registration to the appropriate county election board. Occasionally, it gets sent to the wrong county or something simply goes wrong with the transfer.
“There are times, albeit rare, when you put a batch of things in the scanner and somebody at DMV had syrup on their hands and two of them stick together and one of them doesn’t scan,” said Robert Inman, director of the Haywood County Election Board.
As for the majority of provisional ballots that never get counted, how that person voted will never be known. Election workers first verify whether the ballot is eligible, and only then is the ballot opened and counted. Whether those not counted could have changed the outcome of the election remains a mystery.
“This is not five card draw where you have to show your hand,” Inman said.
Mark Meadows and Hayden Rogers came out on top last night in a Congressional election that at the beginning of the day boasted a full slate of 11 candidates.
The field of eight Republicans and three Democrats vying to represent the mountains in the halls of Washington was narrowed down. Rogers won 56 percent of the Democratic vote. Although Meadows emerged as the top vote getter on the Republican ticket, he received less than 40 percent of the votes — the minimum percentage required to officially win a race. Now, a special election must be held between Meadows and the second-highest vote getter on the Republican ticket, Vance Patterson, on June 26.
The Congressional race became a wide open contest after Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, announced he would not seek re-election after six years in office. Shuler was a conservative Democrat and had the ability to cater to both side of the political spectrum among mountain voters.
A wide field of Republicans were already lining up to take on Shuler, but after Shuler announced his retirement, the floodgates opened even wider for anyone with the dream of holding a congressional seat.
Republican voters particularly had a difficult time with a daunting eight candidates to choose from. The choice will be considerably easier when two distinct candidates emerge for the November election.
On the Democratic side, Shuler’s own chief of staff Hayden Rogers put his hat in the ring after Shuler’s retirement and has emerged as the victor in the Democratic primary.
Rogers said he is thrilled that he has moved one step closer to the possibility of representing the community that he grew up in.
“I’m really excited,” Rogers said. “We were sort of last to the dance, but we worked really, really hard to put a structure in place and get our message out.”
Rogers, 41, grew up in Robbinsville where he played high school football, majored in political science at Princeton University and now lives near Murphy.
Now that the race has narrowed, Rogers said he will continue to push his message of working together to move the nation forward rather than to the left or right.
“Whether it’s Mr. Meadows or any of the other Republican candidates for the most part, they are pushing a sort of fringe ideology,” Rogers said. “I really believe voters are looking for true leadership and open mindedness.”
Lauren Bishop, a Waynesville resident, said she was personally was sad to see Shuler step down and has now thrown her support behind Rogers who she believes can pick up where Shuler left off.
Many voters leaving the polls could not recall which congressional candidate they supported — or did not vote in the race at all, indicating that that particular primary race was not what necessarily drove people to the polls yesterday.
On the Republican ticket, Meadows, a 52-year-old Christian businessman from Cashiers, has advanced to the front of the Republican pack.
At about 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Meadows was optimistic but did not want to comment on the race at that time.
“We are excited about our vote totals at this point,” Meadows said at that time. Meadows did not return later calls for comment.
He is currently a real estate developer in Jackson County. Meadows has no previous experience in a political office.
His opponent, Vance Patterson, is a 61-year-old resident of Morganton. Patterson has 37 years of business leadership experience and started 16 companies. The TEA party candidate ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in North Carolina’s 10th District in 2010.
The litany of Republicans from Western North Carolina running for Congress haven’t taken any cues from their counterparts on the presidential stage, where the once robust field of candidates has slowly been picked off until there was just one man left standing.
Although all eight Republican contenders for the 11th District seat have hung on to the bitter end, a few have clearly emerged as front-runners as the primary draws to a close.
Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows and Ethan Wingfield have emerged as the Republican front-runners in the race.
“They are raising the most money. They seem to be putting together the most endorsements,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.
In a recent poll of self-described Republican voters, Meadows, Wingfield and Hunt ranked top three, respectively. More than 40 percent of those surveyed were still undecided however, according to the independent poll by the Atlanta-based Rosetta Stone Communications.
It’s going to be “a tight race,” Cooper said. “It’s going to start coming down to things like name recognition.”
• Hunt is a 61-year-old Brevard resident who has served as district attorney of Henderson, Transylvania and Polk counties since 1994.
• Meadows is a 52-year-old Cashiers resident, former restaurant owner and real estate developer.
• Wingfield is a 26-year-old native of Weaverville, who started his only technology firm in 2003. He was recently a senior strategy consultant for Capital One.
Prior to the poll, Hunt and Meadows had already classified themselves as front-runners. Meadows said he feels good about his place in the race, while Hunt describes himself as the only candidate with a consistently conservative record. Hunt is the only candidate of the three who has held a political office.
Wingfield sprang onto the political scene late last year with an announcement that he had raised about $201,000 in 10 days — of that $125,000 was money he loaned himself, however, not individual contributions. Wingfield is pleased to be in the top-three field.
“Clearly, our grassroots support is surging, and we have the momentum in this race,” Wingfield said.
Something about what Wingfield is selling is catching on with voters, Cooper said.
“He is young. He is articulate. In some ways, it makes sense,” Cooper said.
On the Democratic side, Hayden Rogers has emerged as the front-runner, particularly in the money race.
Meadows has the most money of the candidates. But, much of it has come from his own personal wealth. The conservative Christian advanced his campaign $250,000. He received nearly $122,700 in individual donations. Of that, $9,200 came from political committees.
“Clearly, Meadows had the money from the beginning,” Cooper said.
However, Hunt has shown he has a more diverse base of donors and contributors, raising almost $138,000 for his coffer. Of that, political committees donated $395. He also loaned himself $11,600. As a district attorney, Hunt has run for office before, possibly giving him an established donor network to more easily tap.
So far, Wingfield has raised about $133,300, with $5,000 of that from political committees. Wingfield has loaned himself $200,000.
Both Hunt and Meadows received a large portion of their donations — more than 85 percent — from inside Western North Carolina. For Wingfield, only 12 percent of the individual gifts were from inside WNC.
However, none of the Republican candidates are raising much money this primary season, compared to one of their Democratic counterparts, Hayden Rogers, who rallied a war chest of $300,000 in just three months of fundraising, all of it from donations.
Rogers has emerged as the front-runner of the three Democrats running for the seat.
The broad field has made fundraising harder for Republican candidates. People either are not giving, waiting to see who will win the primary, or have split their contributions among a couple of favorites.
“It’s been split so many ways,” Cooper said. “The really base voters don’t know who they support and don’t know who is likely to win.”
So, to bolster their standing in the lineup, candidates are racking up lists of notables to endorse their individual message.
Just last month, Hunt received the endorsement of 11 fellow district attorneys, Bruce Briggs of Madison, Mayor Jimmy Harris of Brevard and Mayor Steve Little of Marion.
Meadows saw a huge boost in recognition and support with the endorsement by Jeff Miller, a Republican candidate for Congress who went up against Shuler in 2010.
Meadows has compiled an index of at least 34 endorsements, including Sen. Jimmy Jacumin, state Rep. Carolyn Justus, state Rep. Phillip Frye, state Rep. Mitch Gillespie and Sheriff Robert Holland of Macon County.
Wingfield has not announced any endorsements thus far.
However, in the end, who a candidate’s backers, both financially and verbally, are does not automatically translate to a victory.
“Money is important. Endorsements are important,” Cooper said, but ultimately, it is votes that count.
The Democratic voters have a considerably easier time — with three distinct candidates to choose from. Hayden Rogers is a Blue Dog Democrat from Murphy; and Cecil Bothwell is a liberal Democrat from Asheville; and Tom Hill, a retired scientist, is a comparatively unknown candidate from Zirconia.
Of the trio, the two standouts are Rogers and Bothwell, who both have previous political experience. However, Rogers has a clear upper hand in a conservative-leaning district, where he could draw a potentially broader base of voters come November than Bothwell.
“Bothwell is an ideological brand in some ways,” Cooper said. “He is the kind of person who can get really active support from a small group of people.”
The question is: Can Bothwell get enough 11th District voters to buy into his beliefs and plans?
“He obviously has an uphill battle,” Cooper said. “I just don’t know that that is a brand that will sell well in WNC.”
Rogers was the clear winner as far as fundraising goes this quarter. The former chief of staff to Shuler for six years, he has contacts in Washington and party connections that no doubt benefited his fund raising efforts.
“Rogers has had a real advantage,” Cooper said.
In just three months, Rogers raised about $301,000 — two-thirds of which came from individuals. The remaining came from political committees.
“It’s a sign of the strength of our campaign but also shows how well our message is resonating with voters,” Rogers said in a news release.
His ability to quickly raise funds in a primary and with a relative lack of competition will give Rogers an advantage over the Republican nominee, Cooper said.
“Rogers is going to have such a head start because he is able to focus on the general,” Cooper said.
Meanwhile, Bothwell has raised a total of about $58,000 during a more than six-month period, plus a loan of $4,000. All but $900 of his war chest came from individual contributions — lots and lots of them. Bothwell had many dollar-and-cent amounts compared to Rogers’ $100-plus contributions.
“We’ve attended more than 160 events in the district over the past year,” Bothwell said in a news release. “This contest will be a real test of grassroots organizing versus the big money power brokers in Raleigh and Washington, D.C.”
Less than half of Bothwell’s and Rogers’ contributions came from people in Western North Carolina, a calculation that can be indicative of what type of support candidates are receiving from people who can actually cast a vote for them.
“It is a very important metric,” Cooper said. “It is not what you’d want to see as a candidate.”
Cooper predicted that voter turnout for the primary will be low statewide. Most states only see a 3 or 4 percent voter turnout, Cooper said, and North Carolina will be no different. Those who do vote, he said, will have distinct leans to either the left or right — a fact that could “bode well for Bothwell.”
Rogers is considered a more conservative Democrat.
And although quantity of youth voters was a popular discussion topic in 2008, Cooper said this year would likely see low turnout among the 18- to 29-year-old age bracket as well.
“The youth turnout I do not think is going to be very good,” Cooper said.
Several of the Republican congressional candidates will attend a dinner and meet-and-greet starting at 6 p.m., April 27, at Southwestern Community College’s Swain County campus with an opportunity to meet-and-greet the candidates.
Among the 11th District Congressional Candidates who have confirmed their intent to attend are Spence Campbell, Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows, Vance Patterson and Chris Petrella. Other congressional candidates will have representatives in attendance.
Bring a covered side dish, salad or dessert. The main dish will be provided.
Two well-known Waynesville Democrats running against each other for a shot at representing mountain people in Raleigh so far are playing fair and keeping the race clean.
But their similar platforms, progressive rhetoric and measured campaigns mean voters deciding between Joe Sam Queen and Danny Davis will likely be left to size up the man behind the race rather than the policies they stand for.
“There is little he wouldn’t say in his stump speech that I wouldn’t say ‘Amen’ to,” Queen said of Davis. “This is a Democratic primary, and Democrats have to choose among their friends. I have heard ‘I like you both’ more than once.”
The two men are vying for a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives representing Jackson, Swain and the greater Waynesville and Lake Junaluska area of Haywood County. The winner will run against Mike Clampitt, a Republican from Swain County, come November.
The seat suddenly came open this year when Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, announced he would retire. Haire has served seven terms. Queen and Davis quickly emerged as Democratic contenders following Haire’s decision.
Both men lament the budget cuts witnessed under Republican leadership as being too harsh and decry Republican leadership for taking the state in a regressive direction.
But those arguments will play out in excruciating detail come the general election in November when facing an opponent from the other party. For now, in this civil race between two Democrats, Queen and Davis are left trying to convince voters they have the experience needed to get the job done.
Davis spent 26 years as a District Court judge in the seven western counties, what he calls a “front row seat” on the issues affecting people’s lives.
“There is no better training than being a District Court judge when it comes to seeing the problems people in our community face,” Davis said. “If there is a new drug on the street, we are the first to see it. If the economy is bad, we are the first to see it. People lose their jobs and can’t pay their child support.”
Davis has even witnessed the struggle over health care, when people’s insurance runs out, and they turn to credit cards to pay medical bills only to end up with collection agencies after them.
“I wish members of the General Assembly could come to court and see how people really live,” Davis said. “What they do down there has repercussions.”
Meanwhile, Queen, an architect with a side business managing a vast inventory of rental property, points to his six years spent in Raleigh as a state senator.
Queen said it’s easy for first-time candidates to draft legislative wish lists and sweeping campaign platforms. But once in Raleigh, reality sets in, something he learned the hard way his first time around.
“I have been proud, forceful and green before, and you don’t get much done,” Queen said. “I got my pocket picked plenty. There is a learning curve. Experience matters.”
Queen lost his seat in the Senate in 2010 after several hard-fought elections that saw the seat flip-flop back and forth between Queen and his Republican opponent each election cycle. Thus, his six years in Raleigh were served intermittently during the course of the past decade. Nonetheless, Queen said he can get right to work for the region thanks to the experience and relationships he’s already built in Raleigh.
“I know where the landmines are and how difficult it is to pull things off,” Queen said. “We need to have experienced legislators serving us because you get better every year. That is just a fact.”
But, Davis isn’t easily assuaged.
“I don’t think I will miss a beat when I go down there,” Davis said. “I think my experience as a judge gives me instant credibility. I think I have a much stronger background thinking through how legislation is going to affect people.”
Davis says he is familiar with the legislative process and has honed the art of approaching problems with critical and rational thinking.
“Having to sit down with folks and say, ‘Here’s where we are and here’s where we need to get,’ it doesn’t mater if you are a judge or a legislator, the art of negotiating is the same,” Davis said. “I think the best thing I have learned from being a District Court judge is how to listen. No one is ever 100 percent correct, and no one is ever 100 percent wrong.”
Davis also points to the decorum it takes to run a courtroom in a civil, respectful manner while still staying in charge.
Queen countered that his experience doesn’t stop at the steps of the legislative building, but he knows what it means to work in the private sector business world.
“I am an architect, a farmer, a businessman. I have employees and make payroll and deal with business cycles,” Queen said.
While Queen and Davis are both from Waynesville, the race will likely be fought and won in Jackson County — clearly the largest bloc of voters compared to much smaller Swain County and the fraction of Haywood that lies in the district.
Jackson accounts for half the likely voters who will cast ballots in the race. Swain accounts for less than 20 percent. Haywood’s partial territory accounts for slightly more than 30 percent.
The breakdown, an analysis by Queen, factors in registered Democrats as well as unaffiliated voters who typically vote in the Democratic primary.
Davis believes he has strong name recognition in Jackson County, where he served for two-and-a-half decades as judge, a post that spanned all seven western counties. Likewise, he has been serving in Cherokee as one of the three justices on the Cherokee Supreme Court and as a substitute tribal court judge.
Queen said his name is known outside Haywood from his years in the state Senate. Even though his Senate district extended to the north and east of Haywood — and did not include Jackson or Swain — his name was still out there. Queen said he partnered with other mountain legislators to get regional projects accomplished, including initiatives in Jackson even though he technically didn’t represent that county in the senate.
But to make sure, Queen is campaigning heavily on the ground in Jackson and Swain counties. He is pulling out all the stops with a series of meet-the-candidate events, complete with free food and a line-up local bluegrass bands at each. His events have run the gamut from a waffle brunch at an outdoor park in Sylva to an upscale restaurant in Cashiers.
“I have really enjoyed this primary. It has been fun, and I try to make it fun,” Queen said. “I try to have good music, good food and a good vision — the vision excites people.”
The kind of campaign Queen is running also takes money, between hiring bands and feeding anyone who shows up. Queen has a history of tapping his personal finances, spending well over half a million of his own money his later Senate campaigns.
Davis is hosting two campaign events compared to Queen’s eight.
There’s more than sheer population that makes Jackson a heavy-hitter in the Queen-Davis race.
Jackson County might see higher voter turnout than its neighbors thanks to a ballot measure on whether to legalize alcohol sales countywide (see article on page 12).
Democratic voters in Jackson County also have a primary contest for county commissioner, unlike Haywood or Swain.
It’s hard to predict what kind of voter turnout Davis and Queen can expect. Primaries generally don’t draw a lot of attention.
While there’s not likely to be nearly the interest as in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were duking it out in the Democratic primary, it’s not exactly a sleeper either.
For starters, there’s the referendum on a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages and civil unions that is bound to turn out voters who otherwise would sit out the primary.
Democrats also face the task of picking their nominees to run for governor and congress, in the wake of the political retirement of Gov. Beverly Perdue and Congressman Heath Shuler.
Yes, if you live anywhere in Jackson and Swain counties. Also yes, if you live in the greater Waynesville area, Lake Junaluska or Iron Duff in Haywood County.
The answer gets tricky if you live in Maggie Valley, as the Ivy Hills precinct lies in two different N.C. House districts. The best bet for Ivy Hills voters is to call the board of elections at 828.452.6633 and ask them to check your address. But as a rule of thumb, the Dellwood area of Maggie votes in this race. Residents of Maggie Valley proper and Jonathan Creek do not.
The Smoky Mountain News begins an information-packed month of election coverage this week. Stay tuned for coverage of county commissioner races, U.S. Congress, the same-sex marriage amendment and Jackson County’s alcohol vote.
Early voting starts April 19. Election Day is May 8.
Voters can cast ballots in either the Republican or Democratic primary but not both. Unaffiliated voters can chose which party’s ballot they want when they show up to vote.