Soul searching time for the GOP

When N.C. GOP Director Todd Poole emailed a list of state job openings — some 300 vacant positions in all — to dozens of Republican operatives asking them to spread the word to party friendlies, some political fallout was to be expected.

Internal debate divides Haywood GOP

coverSome mainstream Republicans in Haywood County fear their local party is being hijacked by a far-right faction with extreme views on what limited government should look like. 

The ascension of what some deem the radical right into leadership positions on the party’s executive committee is steering the party into uncharted activist territory, threatening to veer the party off course, they say.

King leads group saying revaluation was off the mark

The Haywood County Republican Party, siding with a two-time county commission candidate, has submitted a resolution to the county saying it should hire a professional appraisal firm to review all home values.

Meadows listens to constituents at town hall meetings

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, sporting an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians button, hosted a town hall meeting last Thursday in Cherokee that he said was the “most vocal” he has held in the district.

State teaching center in Cullowhee could be shuttered by budget cuts

fr nccatThe North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Jackson County had its funding slashed in half in 2011, and this year, Raleigh may finish the job.

Meadows finds that homework is the first lesson for new Congressman

fr meadowsGive a U.S. congressman a cookie, and he can eat it. But offer him some free pancakes, and he’ll have to pass.

“I can eat a pig in a blanket, but God forbid if it’s a hot dog. If it’s a hot dog, I can’t take it,” said newly elected Congressman Mark Meadows about being able to accept an hors d’oeuvre but not a meal according to a set of ethical rules that all members of Congress must follow.

GOP leaders push unfunded mandate to counties

op frNorth Carolina’s General Assembly — under the leadership of Republicans for the first time in more than a century— will hopefully refrain in the future from pushing unfunded mandates onto the backs of counties and their taxpayers.

The U.S. Congress approved the Help America Vote Act so that counties could keep electronic voting machines updated and election workers properly trained. After the Bush-Gore debacle in 2000 that ended up in the Supreme Court, that seemed a wise decision. Electronic machines could have prevented the problems that occurred in Florida, problems that left Americans in limbo as to who won the presidential election.

GOP congressional candidates square off for a shot at the ballot

Elections are upon us again.

Although the primary has come and gone and the general election is still months away, voters are being asked to head to the polls July 17 to weigh in once more on some of May’s tighter races. Run-off elections typically post dismally low turnout among voters.

Republicans must face off in second primary

When none of the Republican candidates for Congress garnered 40 percent of the votes during the May 8 primary, the election got more complicated.

Rather than narrowing the long list of candidates to two — one Republican and one Democrat — the primary left Republicans with two candidates who will participate in a second primary on June 26. That delay could possibly give the Democratic nominee, Hayden Rogers, a head start going into the November general election as the two remaining Republican candidates, Vance Patterson and Mark Meadows, continue to duke it out for their party’s nomination for another six weeks.

“Does it make it more difficult? Yes. Does it make it impossible? No,” Meadows said.

The field was already overflowing with candidates from both sides of the aisle looking to snatch up the seat of departing Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville. Eight Republicans lined up to fight for the position, while three distinct Democratic candidates jumped into the ring for a comparatively easy battle amongst themselves.

With so many Republican candidates, it was difficult for voters to distinguish most of them from Adam. So, when May 8 finally rolled around, voters in the Republican primary split their ballots too many ways.

Meadows received nearly 38 percent of the votes — just 2 percentage points shy of the need 40 percent for the nomination. Meanwhile, Patterson, who garnered 23.6 percent of the votes, will have a second chance in a runoff.

Meadows, 52 of Cashiers, is the candidate who drew the short end of the stick, said Chris Cooper, an associate professor of political science at Western Carolina University.

“It’s a good day for Hayden. It’s a good day for Patterson. It’s not so good a day for Meadows,” Cooper said. “It has complicated Meadows’ life.”

A second primary means a divide in campaign funding and volunteers and no one for the Republican Party as a whole to gather their support behind.

“You are splitting everything a campaign needs between two candidates,” Cooper said.

Although a runoff is not the ideal situation for Meadows, the May 8 primary showed that he has a broad base of support. Meadows won the majority of votes in all but four counties in the district.

“It doesn’t mean he will win, but he is clearly the frontrunner going forward,” Cooper said.

Meadows will have to make a strategic decision — to run against Patterson only until June or position his message as if he has secured the nomination, Cooper said.

Although he hit a snag, Meadows said his strategy for the election will not change, and he will continue to focus on appealing to all voters, not just one group.

“Instead of talking about other candidates, we have talked about our message,” Meadows said. “We are going to go ahead with our message — less government, less spending.”

As for Patterson, Cooper said his best option is to focus on the runoff race.

“Patterson needs to aim to beat Meadows, and Meadows has a tough choice to make,” Cooper said.

And, that is exactly what Patterson said he plans to do.

“A lot of the work’s been done,” said Patterson, who started the race with little to no name recognition. “I just need to make sure I can differentiate myself from Mark (Meadows).”

In most cases, second place is a disappointment, but for Patterson, runner up in the Republican congressional primary is exactly what he was aiming for.

“We are really where we hoped to be,” Patterson said. “We were hoping to make the runoff.”

Patterson said he thinks that he can close the gap in support during the next six weeks.

“Why would I not continue on? We’ve got good momentum,” Patterson said. “We made the playoffs, and when your team makes it into the playoffs, anything can happen.”

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is in a difficult position since it cannot officially support anyone until a nominee is chosen. The Democratic Party, however, can start putting its political weight and funding behind Hayden Rogers, a Blue Dog Democrat and former chief of staff to Shuler.

“It puts us at a tremendous disadvantage,” said Ralph Slaughter, chair of the Jackson County Republican Party. “It would make it much easier if my job was supporting one person as opposed to two people.”

 

The cost of a runoff

Close races come at a cost — a steep cost for cash-strapped counties that can ill afford to stage a special “do-over” election when no clear victor emerges the first time around.

When there’s a crowded field, as there was in this year’s Republican primary contest for Congress, if none of the candidates secure at least 40 percent of the votes cast, the runner-up has the right to call for a special run-off election.

And that means county taxpayers must foot the bill. How much?

“More than $25,000 and probably close to $30,000,” said Robert Inman, director of Haywood County’s Board of Elections. “We are looking at a major expense.”

Jackson County’s board budgeted $25,000 to cover the cost of any runoffs this year, but it is unclear if it will need to find more.

“It’s just really hard to tell,” said Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, director of the Jackson County BOE. “I base (the amount) on past years.”

Haywood County hasn’t budgeted any additional money specifically for such cases.

“We just kind of have to pay those bills as they come along,” Inman said. “Haywood County has not budgeted any (funds) at all, not one penny.”

Instead, the money is a mixture of any leftover elections funding and county contingency funds.

The Macon County’s Board of Elections estimated its cost to be between $20,000 and $25,000.

Cost depends on a number of variables: How many runoff elections there are? How many machines and employees will be required to man the polls? How many early voting sites must it operate? Are there runoffs for both Democratic and Republican races, which would up the number of ballots needed?

“You are basically turning around and doing another election,” said Joan Weeks, director of the Swain County Board of Elections.

The Swain County board will have to return once again with its hands out to the Board of Commissioners to help pay for any runoffs. The election board approached the commissioners earlier this year asking for money to pay for an early voting site in Cherokee. Now, it will go back for more funding. The total cost of an election in Swain County is between $6,000 and $12,000.

Primaries typically report low turnouts anyway — ranging from 12 to 30 percent during the past decade.  

For runoffs, or secondary primaries, voter turnout numbers are far lower. Runoff turnouts are anywhere from 2 percent to 12 percent of registered voters, Lovedahl estimated.

It is nearly impossible to replicate the emotion that first drove voters to the polls for the primary or that will drive them to the polls come November.

“You can’t change the emotion that they had the first time,” Inman said.

“The cost leaves some wondering if the restrictions are too tight. I wonder if there is not perhaps a better way.” said Ralph Slaughter, chair of the Jackson County Republican Party. 

Republican voters must pick their man to take on long-time House legislator

Three Republican candidates are attempting to set themselves apart in the hope of winning the May primary and going head-to-head with N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp for his seat in the state House.

After three uncontested elections, Rapp will now face opposition from one of three Republican candidates in the November election. The popular Democrat has represented the 118th District — covering Madison and Yancey counties as well as the Canton, Clyde and Maggie Valley areas in Haywood County — for 10 years.

All three Republican candidates subscribe to the main party lines in a few respects: pro-life, anti-gay marriage and cutting down state regulations on businesses. However, each has different degrees of experience and has one or two distinct issues that they are passionate about.

• Michele Presnell, 60, has served as Yancey County Commissioner for two years and owns Serendipity Custom Frames in Burnsville. She is also the wife of former state senator Keith Presnell and mother of three grown children.

Because of her time as a commissioner and the knowledge she gained about state government as a state senator’s wife, Presnell said she is most qualified candidate.

“I think I am the only one who can beat him (Rapp),” Presnell said.

A key goal of Presnell is to pass legislation, requiring residents to present some form of identification when voting. The measure will cut down on voter fraud in the state, Presnell said. Rapp voted against a bill that would have compelled voters to bring identification to the polls.

Presnell also spoke in favor of Amendment One, which would insert a clause in the state constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. There is already a state law against gay marriage in North Carolina, but Presnell said it is not enough, and the constitution must be changed.

“The problem is: you get a judge out here who is very liberal, and he can decide that he doesn’t like that, and he can change it,” Presnell said. “If we change our constitution, that makes all the difference in the world right there.”

• Jesse Sigmon, 63, is a retired field officer with the Department of Revenue and now works part-time at Builders Express in Mars Hill, where he currently resides. He and his wife have five children. Sigmon ran unsuccessfully for state office in 1998 and again in 2000.

Because of his experience enforcing tax regulations with the Department of Revenue, Sigmon said he is passionate about maintaining the state’s current tax levels. Increased taxes are turning the U.S. into a welfare state and “eroding our work ethic,” Sigmon said.

Sigmon listed his time in the construction business, working with small business and his knowledge of state tax regulations as key items that set him apart from his competition

“I know the tax code like I know my grandchild’s face,” he said.

Sigmon said Presnell’s limited experience as a county commissioner and Ben Keilman’s youth give him a leg up in the race.

During a Haywood County Republican Party event last week, Sigmon emphasized that the country was built on Judeo-Christian principles — something that state and federal leaders need to remember when making decisions.

“We’re a Christian nation, always have been, but our founding fathers recognized that we had to have religious tolerance for all religions, but we can’t swap ours for Mohamed,” Sigmon said. “Nations who don’t maintain a cultural heritage do not survive … ours is Judeo-Christian religion. Everybody else we tolerate.”

“You don’t think like Asians or Orientals or Mohamed. You think like a Western Civilization person, don’t you? All your friends do and we accept the other religions,” Sigmon said, echoing a theme that has become a standard talking point for him on the campaign trail.

• Ben Keilman, 23, is a Canton resident and Pisgah graduate. He recently graduated with a political science degree from the UNC- Chapel Hill, where he was active in College Republicans. Keilman currently works for his father at Asheville Cabinets.

Although he is the least experienced of the three candidates, Keilman said he is not the least qualified and should not be counted out because of his age.

“Teddy Roosevelt, if you recall, was 23 years old when he got elected to the Michigan state House of Representatives. He was actually the most active member, writing more bills — more conservative bills — than any other,” Keilman said.

Legislation that Keilman would like to work on if elected would allow North Carolinians to opt out of “Obamacare” and No Child Left Behind. States have the right to challenge such mandates, he said.

“The constitution is supposed to restrain the federal government through separation of powers and through the doctrine of enumerated rights,” Keilman said.

Rather than focus on his lack of professional political experience, Keilman commented that he has no experience as a corporation crony and is too young to be in the pocket of big business. And, when people talk about making the world better for their children, Keilman pointed out that he is one of those kids.

“If you want someone who is going to make sure that the (future) is good for your children, vote for me because I have to live with it for the next 70 or 80 years. This is my life,” he said.

Keilman said he is the most committed to the race and is out among the communities talking with constituents — two factors that he said would also help in the general election against Rapp.

“I am the one with the organization. I am the one with the ideas and the planning,” Keilman said. “I have the energy to actually get on the ground with my boots.”

 

Do I vote in this race?

Haywood County voters in Canton, Clyde, Bethel, Cruso, Fines Creek and Crabtree vote in this race. Most voters in the Ivy Hills precinct do, too, but part of Ivy Hills lies in another House district so your best bet is to call the Haywood County Board of Elections and ask them to check your address. As a rule of thumb, Maggie Valley proper and Jonathan Creek are in this House district but the Dellwood area is not.

You also vote in this race if you live anywhere in Madison or Yancey counties.

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