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New maps and a new candidate in N.C.’s 11th Congressional District

Moe Davis. Moe Davis.

After months and years of litigation, a Wake County court decided Dec. 2 that North Carolina could proceed with the 2020 elections using newly-drawn congressional maps, and that there would be no delay in the sign-up period for the March 3 Primary Election. 

That decision has helped clarify who might run against 11th District Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, in the new district, which isn’t exactly a 50-50 split, but is much closer to even than previous maps. 

Dr. Steve Woodsmall, a Pisgah Forest Democrat who finished second in the 2018 primary, has been campaigning since March and was recently joined by Asheville Dem Michael O’Shea. 

The 2018 Democratic nominee, Phillip Price, said on Dec. 3 that he’d have some sort of announcement in the coming days. 

N.C. House Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe, had been mentioned as a possible candidate, but instead signed up to run for his District 116 seat on Dec. 2. 

Others may still jump in — filing for the seat doesn’t end until Dec. 20 — but the recent entry of another candidate promises to shake up the Democratic primary contest.

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Shelby native Moe Davis announced via press release on Dec. 2 that he’d seek the right to oppose Meadows next November. 

Col. Davis, who lives in Asheville, studied at Appalachian State, spent 25 years in the Air Force and ultimately ended up as the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay until he resigned due to concerns over torture. He’s also served as a judge and law professor and has significant expertise in national security, which is why he’s made numerous appearances on ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, NPR and Fox News.

“I officially wrapped up my employment with the Department of Labor in September, and at this point I kinda thought I was going to be sitting on the back porch drinking beer and playing the guitar,” he said. “Then the court intervened and took another look at the map. The way it was before, it was a rigged game for Mark Meadows.”

Davis, or Woodsmall or O’Shea or anyone else that ends up in the Democratic ring will still have a difficult time unseating a popular incumbent in a district that’s now less red but still red enough to favor Meadows. However, Davis thinks he’s got the best chance to beat him. 

The Smoky Mountain News: You had quite a pivotal role at Guantanamo. What was that period of your life like?

Moe Davis: I came on board in September 2005. There had been problems before I got there. There’d been no trials completed. When I arrived it was under the original order that President [George W.] Bush issued in November of 2001 that had authorized military commissions. So at that point, we’re almost four years in and no trials had been done. It seemed like every step we took forward, there were two steps back, with injunctions and court challenges which ultimately led to the Supreme Court decision in the Hamdan [v. Rumsfeld] case. Hamdan was bin Laden’s driver. The Supreme Court ruled that President Bush didn’t have the authority to create military commissions by himself, that if he wanted to go that route, he had to go through Congress. That just kind of blew us out of the water. Congress eventually did pass legislation. I got to work with, Sen. [Lindsey] Graham and Sen. [John] McCain on the Military Commissions Act. We filed some new charges under the new system in February of 2007 — the first military commission that had been done since World War II. Ultimately, in October of 2007, I resigned when some new leadership came in and reversed my policy that said we weren’t going to use evidence obtained by torture. 

SMN: Didn’t we get the name of bin Laden’s courier through enhanced interrogation techniques? 

MD: Well, that’s the argument that defenders of torture will make, that we tortured Khalid Sheik Mohammed and at some point he said something that implicated a courier and, lo and behold, seven or eight years later we found bin Laden. It’s a pretty big leap in logic to say that thanks to torture we captured and killed bin Laden. It’s a real thin thread to get from waterboarding KSM to the actual death of bin Laden. 

SMN: You’re about to run against a powerful, entrenched Republican congressman. In your press release you say he hasn’t been paying attention to poverty, education and health care in his district.

MD: If you look at the data that comes from the Census Bureau, the unemployment rate on paper looks pretty decent. Then you look at the poverty rate and it is significantly above the national average. I think any person that looks at that, you kind of logically conclude that people are working, but they’re not working in jobs that pay a living wage. Mark Meadows, if you look back at his Twitter account, you’ll see that he’s a prolific user of Twitter during the hearings on impeachment. He would tweet 40 or 50 times a day, all about Donald Trump. He never mentions North Carolina. He never mentions the 11th Congressional District. I’ve asked around, what can you point to that Mark Meadows has done that’s been good for this district? People are having a hard time coming up with examples. 

And I think certainly if you look at the poverty rate, that’s a spot that’s been ignored. I think there are a lot of things that we could do that would help lift people out of poverty and get them jobs that can support a family home. 




SMN: Part of your agenda is to create well-paying and sustainable jobs. How does a Congressman do that? 

MD: We’re renting a house in Asheville now while we’re building a house, and we’re putting in geothermal heat and a solar power. Those are good jobs. They’re jobs that are good for the environment, good for employment and good for national security because if we’re energy independent a lot of the leverage that countries like Saudi Arabia have dissipates. If you look around this area, there’s a lot of solar power going in, but those panels are coming from elsewhere. I’d like to see those made here locally. The federal tax credits are being phased out there this year. I’d propose we focus on renewing those credits — not just renewing and sustaining them, but increasing and targeting counties that have a high poverty rate because bringing solar power and solar jobs to those areas.

SMN: With the state having so much control over how education money is disbursed in North Carolina, what can a Congressman do to effect change that prepares kids for these jobs of the future? 

MD: Education is the cornerstone of some of the problems that plague this area — poverty, access to health care, they’re really kind of concentric circles that come together, but at the center is getting a good education. Education is primarily a state and local issue, but there is some federal funding. One of the things I think we could do is, I think there’s bipartisan agreement that we need more money focused on infrastructure, not just school houses, but sewers and all the other streets and things that, uh, are crumbling. I’d like to see those efforts focused on counties that have high rates of poverty. Broadband access is something lacking in the Western part of the state. If I can help bring funding to put the infrastructure in place and encourage the state and local governments to pick up and do better on their end of the bargain, then I think we can raise that education level and give kids a brighter future to look forward to. 

SMN: And then there’s health care. In North Carolina we’re talking about Medicaid expansion. Is that the answer? Is it something else?

MD: I think health care is a fundamental right as an American. No one should have to go without health care and no one should have to go bankrupt because they got sick. I think basic health care ought to be guaranteed. Some folks talk about Medicare for all, others talk about a single payer system. The devil’s in the details on how you work that out, but there’s gotta be a better way. I mean, we spend more money per person on health care than any other country in the world, yet we have people that don’t have access to health care.

Being in the military for 25 years, I get my health care now here at the VA hospital in Asheville. When people talk about socialized medicine, I’m pretty happy with the socialized medicine that I’ve experienced. People talk about, “Do you want a bureaucrat standing between you and your health care?” You know, a bureaucrat gets paid the same amount of money whether they say yes or no. An insurance company knows that the more times they say no, the higher the profits and the bigger the bonus. I’d kinda like to have the guy that doesn’t have a financial incentive making the decision rather than somebody that makes a profit. 

Another issue is health care providers. I would like to see more residency opportunities. If you have medical students that come to an area and spend years doing their residency, some are going to finish it up and leave and go somewhere else and chase the big dollars, but a significant percentage are going to stay. If we can bring people to Western North Carolina to do their residency, I think we’ll see a lot of those people stay. 

For instance, when I go to the hospital, if it’s not a heart attack or a broken leg or something urgent, nine times out of 10 I see a physician’s assistant, not a doctor. There’s not a P.A. program in this district, in Western North Carolina. Western Carolina University has a nursing program and they have a nurse practitioner program, but they don’t have a P.A. program. I’d like to help get funding to put a P.A. program at Western Carolina. The big difference in a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant is the P.A. doesn’t require a doctor’s supervision. 

In the military, I went back and got a master’s of law, and for every year of school, I had a two-year service commitment. If we had a program where we could send people through the PA program in return for a payback of working in Western North Carolina, we could have greater access to health care. 

SMN: Increasingly, people are talking about the solution to the opioid crisis as rooted in health care and the mental health benefits that that should inevitably come with it. Do you think health care can alleviate this scourge in this district?

MD: Again, it’s concentric circles. I think poverty, education and health care all come together to help contribute to the problem. So if we can improve education and employment opportunities and provide health care, I think we can address it — it’s not going to eliminate the problem, but it’ll help address it. There are people that end up in the emergency room that have mental health issues or addiction issues that can’t be transferred to a treatment facility because the emergency room has to keep them until someone will sign off saying that they’re stable. And at that point, they have to be discharged. So there are things that have been done with the best of intentions that have had unintended consequences. I wish there was an easy answer, but it’s really a multifaceted problem that we just have to work on a piece at a time. 

SMN: How do you make your name known when you have a guy like Woodsmall who’s been campaigning for more than two years, and possibly last year’s nominee, Phillip Price, in addition to a younger Asheville candidate, Michael O’Shea?

MD: Well, that’s the challenge. It’s less than a hundred days till Election Day so it’s going to be a sprint from here till March. Obviously this area around Asheville is a pretty progressive blue area. Out in the Western part of the district, there’s some of those red counties that would be interested in listening to a 25-year veteran. I have over a year working for Congress, so I’ve been there to see how the sausage got made. I’ve been a judge. I’ve been a law professor. I grew up in Shelby and Cleveland County. My family had a farm in Rutherford County. I went to college up in Boone. I think it’s just a matter of getting out there and letting people know who I am and that, my commitment to them, my only interest is going to be them and not trying to run interference for the president or for anyone else. 

SMN: Assuming you’re successful in this primary, you’re going to have to raise a lot of money. How do you compete with Mark Meadows’ money? 

MD: I can’t compete with the Koch brothers and that’s who’s gonna put their money behind him. Up until this point, it had been a waste of money to put money behind Mark Meadows because this was a slam-dunk. On the same token, for the Democrats it was money down the drain and Democrats chose to focus on the races that they thought they could win. I used to do commentary on MSNBC and CNN and Fox and different networks and over time built up a fairly substantial social media following, including politicians and journalists and celebrities and athletes and people that I hope will get behind the effort and help bring in the resources that are necessary to get the message out and let people know what I stand for. Mark Meadows is going to run on his record, and again I’d ask, what is that record? What’s he done for the people of this district? 

SMN: If the Democratic Presidential Primary was held today, who do you vote for? 

MD: Well, any living human being would be better than Donald Trump. I think any of the Democrats would be a tremendous improvement. The top tier, they’re all qualified for the job. They all make good points, focusing on health care and jobs and restoring America’s credibility. I don’t see how any veteran can support Donald Trump given what he’s done to destroy our historical alliances. We’ve pushed our friends away. We’ve embraced our adversaries. North Korea and Iran are both still actively developing nuclear weapons. We abandoned the Kurds after they fought bravely in our interests. We’ve turned our backs on them. A couple of weeks ago, he pardoned people that had either been convicted or accused of war crimes. We led the effort after World War II to create the Geneva Convention, to bring the world up to our standards, and now we’ve got a president that’s playing down to the standards of people that we used to try to hold accountable.

SMN: Again, it’s an important question, to let voters know what kind of Democrat you are — conservative? Ultra liberal? A Bernie Sanders Democrat, or perhaps a Kamala Harris law-and-order Democrat? If you can’t say who you’ll vote for, who are maybe your top two or three that you would like to see advance?

MD: I think there are a lot of good choices. To me, I think it’s kind of like picking the Democratic contender for the 11th district. It’s who is most likely to beat the incumbent, because the bottom line objective has to be getting the person in office out, whether it’s Mark Meadows or Donald Trump. So I look at it as who’s got the best chance of beating Donald Trump, not necessarily who has the views that I think in a perfect world would suit me the best. So I don’t know. I mean, it at least appears that Joe Biden’s got a lot of appeal with workers, with common people in the iron belt that went for Trump up in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Bernie Sanders is extraordinarily popular here in this area. I keep asking who’s got the best chance of beating Donald Trump.

At this point in time it will be hard to put all the chips on the table and put them behind one horse. Whoever ends up being most likely to beat Trump has to be the nominee, and everybody’s got to get behind them. No more of what we’ve seen in the past where the perfect became the enemy of the good. They didn’t get what they wanted, so this is what we end up with. Today there was an argument in the Supreme Court on the Second Amendment and we’ve got two more conservative justices that Trump has appointed. People that chose to stay on the sidelines or to say “It doesn’t matter” back in 2016 need to take a look at where we are and get out in 2020 and vote for whoever the nominee is. That’s one thing I can tell you with 100 percent certainty is, whoever the nominee is, I will support wholeheartedly and I’ll be out there on Election Day voting for that person regardless of who it is because we can’t put up with four more years of Donald Trump. 

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