Democrats: GOP blatantly gerrymandered WNC’s seat in Congress

New Congressional districts crafted by state GOP leaders that appear to position the party for political domination in North Carolina for the next decade drew sharp criticism late last week during a state hearing in Cullowhee.

Asheville and parts of Buncombe County would be booted out of the 11th Congressional district and lumped in with Piedmont counties and metropolitan areas on the outskirts of Charlotte.

The liberal voting bloc of Asheville would be replaced with four conservative-voting northern mountain counties — tipping the district decidedly more Republican and making it difficult for a Democratic Congressman, even one as conservative as U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, to get elected.

And that smacks, opponents said, of in-your-face gerrymandering by the GOP. Because if the plan stands despite the court challenges that are sure to come, Republicans will have neatly sliced out and diluted the liberal votes Democrats have long counted on from the Asheville area. The mountain district would shift from 43 percent of the voters being registered Democrats to 36 percent.

SEE ALSO: Proposed N.C. House District map

SEE ALSO: Proposed N.C. Senate District map

The districts must make geographic sense to not be overturned. If Democrats can prove gerrymandering and show that districts are not geographically “compact,” a lawsuit over the district lines could send North Carolina’s redistricting efforts back to the drawing board.

“Sirs, you overplayed your hand with this one,” said Janie Benson, who chairs the Haywood County Democratic Party. “It may be good politics for the moment, but it is not good for the people of Western North Carolina. Asheville is the soul of the area. Asheville is the historic, the judicial, the health, the shopping and the entertainment center of our area.”

Benson was one of at least 12 Democrats alone from Haywood County who gathered at Western Carolina University for an interactive redistricting hearing that included various other North Carolina sites.

A before-the-event poll at WCU by The Smoky Mountain News found one lone Republican signed up to speak, Ralph Slaughter, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party. He, not surprisingly, thought the proposed map simply looked great.

“There will be more minorities involved this way than were before,” Slaughter said. “I really don’t have a problem with it. This comes closer to the equalization needed, population-wise.”

N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Hendersonville, said as a result of the redistricting Buncombe County would actually gain more representation than it has ever enjoyed before — it would, he pointed out, have two congressional voices instead of just one.

“Most of the bigger cities in the state have more than one representative,” Apodaka said. “It’s a sign of things happening all over the country.”

Jeffrey Israel of Haywood County, however, said he could find no historical basis for removing Asheville from the 11th Congressional District.

“It attempts merely to subvert the traditional political will of the western mountains and can only be thought to stab a knife in the progressive heart of Western North Carolina,” Israel said.

In addition to threatening Democrats’ hold on the 11th Congressional District, Democrats could also lose control of the 7th, 8th and 13th districts as a result of the redistricting.

Luke Hyde of Bryson City, before the official hearing started, said that he believes “gerrymandering was wrong in the early 1800s, and it is still wrong in 2011-12. It does not benefit the voters or serve anyone well. I’m opposed to either party redistricting against logic and geography, and I don’t think it will stand in court.”

The GOP won the right to control the redistricting process after taking control of the state General Assembly in last November’s election. Redistricting takes place every 10 years after new census numbers are released.

“No matter how you shape it, now matter how you slice it, Asheville is not a Piedmont community,” said N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill. He said compactness is out the window under the new map, with a drive from Avery County in the north part of the district to Cherokee County in the west taking four or five hours — if you don’t stop for restroom breaks along the way.

Lawmakers will vote on the redistricting plan in a special session that starts July 25.

 

N.C. House and Senate districts due out this week

The maps will reflect new state legislative districts. How western counties are sliced and diced has been the source of much speculation, and will impact which party has an easier time getting elected to seats in the state legislature.

On Monday, July 18, a public hearing on the state redistricting process will be held at Western Carolina University. The session will be held from 3 until 9 p.m. in Room 133-B of the Cordelia Camp Building on the WCU campus. Speaker registration will begin at 2 p.m.

Members of the public may comment on the current district plans, communities of interest, voting history or any other topic related to redistricting. Each speaker is limited to five minutes.

Two weeks ago, state GOP leaders released redistricting plans for the state’s congressional districts. Democrats have accused Republicans of gerrymandering, or drawing the maps to favor the likelihood of Republican candidates being elected.

To sign up for the public hearing, or to submit comments on line, go to www.ncleg.net/sessions/2011/publichearings/redistricting.html.

Shuler left with Republican-leaning district after new maps slice liberal Asheville out of WNC

Democrats are crying foul over new Congressional district lines that with seemingly surgical precision slice the City of Asheville, a liberal stronghold, out of the 11th Congressional District.

The maps, drawn by state Republican leaders in the the GOP-dominated General Assembly, are no doubt a political move, according to Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.

“This is the game that both parties play,” Cooper said. “They know exactly what they are doing.”

The new 11th Congressional District would include Mitchell, Avery, Caldwell and Burke counties. In exchange, the district divests itself of Asheville and eastern Buncombe, as well as Polk County. The mountain district will shift from 43 percent of the voters being registered Democrats to 36 percent.

The result: a far more conservative voting base, and much more difficult re-election campaing next year for three-term Democrat Congressman Heath Shuler of Waynesville.

Shuler seized the district in 2006 over eight-term incumbent Charles Taylor, R-Transylvania County, and has easily won back his seat every election since. His opponent last fall was considered an admirable opponent, and the year was a watershed for Republicans, but even then Shuler handily kept his seat with more than 54 percent of the vote.

That may not be the case in 2012 given the new district lines, however. Shuler is one of several previously Democratic-leaning districts that has been infused with just enough GOP voters to tip the balance.

As for what to do with all those Democratic voters? The best bet is to lump as many as possible into as few districts as possible. In otherwords, pick a few Democratic-leaning districts to be sacrifical lambs. Stack them heavily with Democrats, while spreading Republican voters around to have just enough of an edge in as many districts as possible.

“Any vote after 50 plus one is a wasted vote,” Cooper said. “The reason you do that is not to dominate a few districts but to win a lot of districts by a little bit.”

All the while, however, the districts must make geographic sense or else risk being overturned in a court battle. If the other party can prove gerrymandering and show that districts are not geographically “compact,” a lawsuit over the district lines is likely.

In this instance, Cooper doesn’t think the new mountain districts cross that line. He sees the districts being geographically close enough to be bullet proof in court, yet still achieving their purpose of favoring Republicans.

“They did a great job of it. The more I look at the more impressed I am,” Cooper said.

Mike Clampitt of the Swain County Republican Party said the redrawing wasn’t tit-for-tat as it might appear — Democrats have a long history of gerrymandering districts in North Carolina — but a case of putting likes with likes.

“This balances the playing field,” Clampitt said. “Asheville is more like the Greensboro and Charlotte area.”

That metropolitan, urban mindset is at odds with the rural understandings and needs of the bulk of the 11th Congressional District, Clampitt said.

Members of the opposing party see the situation differently, however: “Democrats will not take this lying down,” promised Janie Benson of the Haywood County Democratic Party.

“I’m stunned, because the distance between Caldwell county and Cherokee county is so great,” Benson said, adding that the redistricting proposed by Republicans is a “blatant” attempt to wrest the district from Democrats.

“Frankly the redistricting maps that I’ve seen just look unfair,” she said. “The Democrats, to my knowledge, have never been so obvious in whatever they were doing. This just seems almost like a punishment, and it feels that way somewhat.”

In addition to threatening Democrats hold on the 11th Congressional District, Democrats could also lose control of the 7th, 8th and 13th districts.

But Kirk Callahan of Haywood County, a self-described conservative, believes Republicans might be missing the mark some. While cautioning he hasn’t had time to fully assess the potential voter fallout, Callahan thinks the growing bloc of unaffiliated voters could actually dictate who wins and who loses.

“They are key,” Callahan said. “A candidate has to earn the votes, because they are not going to be swayed by party labels or an appeal to party loyalty.”

Callahan, by way of example, pointed to Taylor’s defeat, saying he was dismayed by the longtime congressman’s unabashed support of earmarks.

“That didn’t sit well with me, because (earmarks) really corrupted the budgeting process,” he said.

Lawmakers will vote on the redistricting plan in a special session that starts July 25.

Across the state, there were five districts that posted major geographical shifts. Four are seats currently held by vulnerable Democrats that have now seen the scales tip in their district to favor Republicans — as is the case with Shuler’s district. The fifth that showed the biggest changes was held by a vulnerable Republican, but is now more solidly Republican.

“It is really clear they targeted these vulnerable Democrats,” Cooper said.

Shuler’s new district would be the most Republican-leaning district in the state when judging by those who voted for McCain over Obama in 2008.

Shuler is a conservative Democratic at best — others considered him a DINO, or Democrat In Name Only — and plays well with conservative Southern Democrats and even many Republicans.

But under the new district lines, even that may not be enough, Cooper said.

“For Shuler to win he would have to practicaly completely separate himself from the Democratic party,” Cooper said. “This is going to be a really intersting race.”

 

Why the new voting maps?

Every 10 years, along with the census, state legislative and Congressional districts are redrawn to reflect the population change. As the population grows, so does the number of people each elected leader represents.

The state’s Congressional District will need to grow from the current 619,177 people to the 733,499 each, plus or minus 5 percent.

Since growth was more robust in urban areas, districts in rural regions like Western North Carolina will have to expand geographically to take in the required number of people.

Under the proposed new maps, which sever Asheville from the district, it would lose 9,000 Democrats and gain 26,000 Republicans.

The Department of Justice issues guidelines governing how states can and can’t be carved up, and they must approve a map before it can be put into action.

Currently, redistricting is done by legislators and is a highly partisan affair. With every redistricting comes a court challenge from one side or the other, claiming that the lines are unfair.

But under new legislation recently passed by the state House, the process would become staff-driven, with a simple up-or-down vote by legislators. It’s based on a system long used by Iowa, where no redistricting has been to court in the four decades since the system was put into place.

The measure is now headed to the Senate.

 

Speak up

Weigh in on new Congressional districts

A public hearing on the new Congressional district maps will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 7, at  Western Carolina University in the Cordelia Camp Building.

It is one of nine across the state on the same day and time. There is also one in the Ferguson Auditorium at A-B Tech.

The hearings are sponsored by the Joint House and Senate Redistricting Committee, and anyone wishing to comment can sign up online at www.ncga.state.nc.us or in person the day of the hearing.  Written comments can also be submitted on the North Carolina General Assembly’s Website.

State budget showdown: Perdue vetoes budget, but GOP poised to override it

Governor Beverly Perdue nixed the $19.7 billion state budget put on her desk by the General Assembly Sunday, winning herself a place in state history.

She is the first governor to veto a budget since veto powers were granted in 1997, and she told lawmakers that education was the impetus for her action.

“For the first time, we have a legislature that is turning its back on our schools, our children, our longstanding investments in education and our future economic prospects,” said Perdue in a statement and speech last Sunday.

Perdue’s veto is unlikely to hold, however. The GOP is expressing confidence that it has the votes necessary to override her historic thumbs down. Five House Democrats voted with Republicans to pass the budget, enough to override the veto if they continue bucking their party. Republicans have a tight enough grasp of the Senate not to need Democrat help for an override vote in that chamber.

Perdue posited that the budget as-is would cause “generational damage” by cutting funds to K-12 schools, preschool programs More at Four and Smart Start and elderly care.

It takes a super-majority of 60 percent to override the Governor’s veto.

In the House, that means 72 votes. There are 68 Republicans in the House — four short of what’s needed to buck the Governor’s veto. But five Democrats had previously sided with Republicans in voting for the budget, and Representative Phil Haire, D-Sylva, doesn’t think those five Democrats can be persuaded to come back to their own party.

“Some of them were promised something in the budget,” Haire said.

Haire personally voted against the budget proffered by Republican leadership.

“I think it is going to have a devastating effect on North Carolina, and it will takes us years to regain the status where we are now,” said Haire.

In the Senate, there are 31 Republicans compared to 19 Democrats, one more than needed to meet the super majority criteria.

The Governor and Democrats in the legislature are pushing to keep a 1-cent sales tax that Republicans want to eliminate. Keeping the extra sales tax, say Perdue and other Democrats, could raise $900,000 to fill the more than $2 billion funding gap facing the state.

Haire doubts Republicans will capitulate on their position on the sales tax.

“Not no, but heck no. If they do that they renege on their whole campaign promise,” Haire said.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, said keeping the sales tax, billed as a “temporary measure” when it was put in place two years ago, is non-negotiable.

“It expires June 30, and if they thought that they needed a tax for longer than that, they should’ve voted for it. If the legislature wanted to have a penny sales tax, they’d have to introduce a bill and vote on it, and that’s just not going to happen,” said Davis.

With Republicans unwilling to compromise on the sales tax, Perdue’s veto, if it stood, would accomplish little but a prolonged stalemate.

“The first of July you get to a shut down if you don’t have a budget,” Haire said.

NC General Assembly update

Most people predicted that this session of the North Carolina General Assembly was going to be fast and furious, and it appears that is indeed the case. The GOP-led General Assembly is advancing legislation that Democrats have traditionally not supported, like raising the cap on charter schools and opposing the federal health care law passed last year by Congress.

In addition, the $3.7 billion projected budget shortfall is also forcing lawmakers to look all over for money, a challenge that is also highlighting the different philosophies of both parties.

 
The Golden Leaf as a golden egg

It appears a move is afoot to snag money that is supposed to be headed for the Golden LEAF Foundation.

This fund was established from the tobacco settlement proceeds and is supposed to be used to promote the “long-term, economic advancement of rural, economically distressed, and tobacco-dependent counties.” That said, the $68 million annual settlement payment is being eyed by GOP leaders in the General Assembly as a piece of the deficit-reduction puzzle.

On Thursday, the Senate gave tentative approval to a plan that would take proposal that would take money from approximately 20 state accounts and the three funds supported by the 1998 national tobacco settlement — Golden LEAF gets half the tobacco settlement money, and two sister funds, the Health and Wellness Trust Fund and the Tobacco Trust Fund, share the other half.

The vote was 30-18 to take what would amount to about $142 million in all.

An email was sent out yesterday by the Golden Leaf Foundation president saying the idea was a bad one, and that other states have taken similar actions with bad results.

“That’s not the answer. Other states have used their tobacco settlement funds long ago to patch their budget. Now their money is gone, and they face the same issues we face but don’t have access to the assets you currently do through the Golden LEAF Foundation to create jobs and expand economic opportunity. Golden LEAF has helped create an anticipated 4,300 jobs and over $900 million in capital investments in the last two years alone, wrote Golden Leaf president Dan Gerlach.

A Western North Carolina source who is involved in an economic development project funded by the Golden Leaf Fund told The Smoky Mountain News on Thursday that conference calls were held around the region on Thursday to discuss the possibility the fund would be raided and ongoing projects might be stopped in their tracks.

So far this issue has been mostly split right down party lines, with Republicans supporting taking the money and Democrats — along with Gov. Bev Perdue — insisting the money stay where it is. Some Republicans have suggested that the Golden LEAF Fund should be dissolved and all of its $600 million in assets go toward deficit reduction.

 
N.C.’s own health care debate

Rep. Ray Rapp, D- Mars Hill, wrote in his e-newsletter that debate on repealing the federal health care law was one of the two dominant topics from the General Assembly’s first full week in session (the other was the economy).

Republicans in the House introduced and passed a bill to block the requirement in the federal health care law that requires everyone to buy health insurance by 2014. The bill — which passed essentially along party lines, 66-50 — would force Attorney General Roy Cooper to join other states in challenging the federal law.

“It only seems fair that we ask everyone to take personal responsibility for their own health by purchasing their own insurance so that we can require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions, allow young people to stay on their parents’ health policies until age 26, eliminate life time limits and provide tax credits for small businesses that want to cover their employees,” said Rapp, who has been appointed Democratic whip for this session of the General Assembly.

Rapp and other Democrats point out that the Attorney General has said it would cost $344,000 to join the suit, tough money to come by in the face of the projected budget shortfall. Both Rapp and Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, voted against the bill. Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, voted for the bill.

 
In other General Assembly news

• As reported in the Asheville Citizen-Times Friday, Feb. 4, bills are progressing in both the House and Senate that would ban the practice of involuntary annexation, which forces residents near town limits into the town’s jurisdiction. Annexations typically mean additional city taxes and are usually accompanied by more services.

However, towns now have the right to grow their boundaries even if the residents to be annexed don’t support the move. These laws would ban that type annexation.

“I believe that people should have the opportunity to vote whether or not they should be included in an adjacent municipality,” said rep. Tim Moffitt, a Republican lawmaker from Buncombe County.

The bills would halt all involuntary annexations until July 1, 2012, during which time GOP leaders want to craft a new set of laws governing annexation.

• The Associated Press is reporting that Republicans are in support of a bill to lift the cap on charter schools and allowing proceeds from the state lottery to be used to build new charter schools.

State laws governing charter schools have changed very little since a bill passed in 1996 allowing for up to 100 charter schools in North Carolina. Because of the cap, charter school supporters say students in 53 of the state’s counties don’t have charter schools. The current 100 schools have a waiting list of 20,000 families, according to Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

Charter schools don’t charge tuition and have open enrollment. They are run by private boards and exempt from many of the rules that are in place in traditional public schools. The state money allocated for each student follows that student to a charter school, but so far charters have not received any lottery money.

Opponents also worry that lifting the requirement that enrollment in charter schools reflect the general racial and ethnic composition of a county could lead to problems. They argued for slowly raising the allowable number of schools rather than a blanket lifting of the cap.

“What I do not want to do is create a dual system of schools and charter schools,” said Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg.

The bill is currently in committee.

GOP may loosen rules on lottery proceeds

With the GOP takeover of the state General Assembly, lottery money and how schools use what they’re given will come under new scrutiny.

“I wouldn’t have voted for a lottery, but it is the law now and it needs to be done properly,” said Jim Davis, an incoming freshman Republican senator from Franklin.

Davis unseated Democratic incumbent Sen. John Snow in November, helping Republicans — for the first time in more than a century — take control of the House and Senate.

“I think the research will show the poor counties have a higher per-capita lottery purchase, and those people can’t afford (to play the lottery),” Davis said. “But it is here now.”

Davis, a former longtime Macon County commissioner, is an unwavering, unapologetic supporter of local control. Though Davis said he finds Haywood County’s decision to use lottery money for football stadium upgrades difficult to rationalize, “if the school board wants to do that and commissioners OK the choice, they ought to be able to do that.”

Incoming state senator Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine, said he would support allowing schools to use their lottery funding for items other than capital improvements again this year.

“I wouldn’t just limit that to lottery funding,” Hise said. “I think that we have to give local school boards more options in using their funding. We know the level of cuts, and as we get more specific information, we hope to be able to give as much flexibility to state departments and others with their own budgets.”

That would be a welcome change to Macon County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman.

“I would love to have more lottery dollars,” Brigman said. “The formula definitely needs to be revised.”

Money from the North Carolina Education Lottery is divided among school districts based on enrollment. Counties with a higher tax rate used to get a higher percentage of lottery money, meaning Western North Carolina with its historically low tax rate got penalized. That was changed by the General Assembly two years ago.

— By Quintin Ellison and Colby Dunn

GOP contenders

There are six Republicans vying for a shot to run against Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, this year.

The six Republican candidates share similar platforms on all the salient talking points: they are against the health care bill that passed, they want smaller government, they want to reduce debt and they all pledge to “get the country back on the right track.”

But they have vastly different backgrounds. And despite sharing the standard Republican agenda, there are differences that set them apart, with some further right than others.

 

Jeff Miller, 55, small business owner

Miller runs a dry-cleaning business with 24 employees that was started by his parents. He is married and has a 17-year-old son.

Miller founded Honor Air, a program that charters airplanes to bring groups of WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., at no cost to see the WWII monument before they die. His plan was initially to reach all the veterans in Henderson County. But the project took off and by the end of the first year of the project, he had flown 800 veterans to D.C. Last year, the Honor Air network under Miller’s supervision flew 18,000 veterans to D.C. from 35 states.

Why did you decide to run?

“I had never talked about it, never thought about it, but I had a lot of people asking me to do it.”

Those people happened to be what Miller called “bookend generations” that each meant the world to him — his 17-year-old son and WWII veterans who he works closely with through Honor Air flights. They convinced Miller he was the type of common sense leader people were looking for.

What do you hope to accomplish?

“The number one thing we have to do is drive down the national debt. I like to call it beginning the deconstruction of big government.”

What separates you from other candidates?

“I understand the pains and challenges of running a business. I know what it’s like to sign the front of a payroll check and have to back it up. I think right now if there is anything the country needs it is people who have had to balance a budget.”

Miller is more moderate that some candidates.

“I am not a far right-winger. I think both parties have a piece of this mess we are in.”

He avoids bashing the President or the Democratic Party, and he admits there are “some good things” in the health care bill.

www.jeffmiller2010.com

 

Greg Newman, 48, attorney in Hendersonville

Newman is a partner in his firm and practices every type of law, from criminal to civil. He also served as a prosecutor in the 1990s. He served as mayor of Hendersonville for four years. He is married and has three kids ranging from 9 to 20 years old.

Why did you decide to run?

“I saw the fear and worry people were starting to experience. There are a lot of people beginning to think the government is too large, and our kids and grandkids are going to have an enormous tax burden on them. It is that lack of confidence that motivated me to want to get into this thing.”

What do you hope to accomplish?

“I want to restore people’s confidence in our future. We have to make some very bold actions about what we choose to fund in this government.”

What separates you from other candidates?

“I want to be honest with people about what it is going to take to get our fiscal house in order.”

On that note, Newman suggests axing the federal departments of Education, Energy and Homeland Security, considering them a duplication of existing departments or failing to provide any vital services.

“I am the only one who has been bold enough to state specifically what I intended to cut.”

 

Dan Eichenbaum, 67, ophthalmologist in Murphy

Eichenbaum has been a leader in the Tea Party movement and the 9/12 Project in the mountains. Eichenbaum was formerly registered as a Libertarian and ran for county commissioner in Cherokee County in 2002 on the Libertarian ticket. He said he became a Libertarian out of frustration at the direction of the Republican Party at one stage but was “never a big ‘L’ libertarian.”

Why did you decide to run?

Eichenbaum is fed up with government interference in his life and business.

“It got to the point where for the past year or so I have been screaming at my television set and yelling at my satellite radio in my truck.” He even found himself giving political speeches in the shower.

Last spring, he went to the Tea Party in Atlanta on tax day with a homemade sign with a single word: Liberty.

“We get there and there are 20,000 people. I was inspired and empowered.”

He came home and started a chapter of the 9/12 Project that grew from half a dozen to 600 members by the end of the summer. He inadvertently became the leader of a movement, and was ultimately convinced to run by those around him.

What do you hope to accomplish?

“I’ve had a platform from day one: limited government, individual freedom, personal responsibility, fiscal restraint and free market economy. Those are my five tools and my tool belt is the Constitution of the United States.”

What separates you from other candidates?

Eichenbaum said he is more knowledgeable than all the other candidates and has won straw polls at every Republican debate he has been in, which he credits to his ability to define a problem and pose a solution that will work.

“I can speak to those points on any issue anyone will ever ask me about. I am starting to hear my own words come back to me now from some of these other candidates.”

Eichenbaum is sick and tired of top down politics in Washington and RINOS, Republicans In Name Only.


Ed Krause, 63, attorney in Marion

Krause is married and has five grown children and an adopted teenager still at home. He has written three novels set in a fictitious small town in the rural Southern Appalachians. He is a fan of model railroads.

Why did you decide to run?

“I am concerned and upset about the bad economic situation and the government’s inability to solve the problem.”

What do you hope to accomplish?

“We have to pay back the debt. We are mortgaging our children and grandchildren.”

What separates you from other candidates?

“We are all the same. There are only minor differences between us all. I stress that I am a problem solver. I am not a flashy person or eloquent person but I can get the job done.”

 

Kenny West, 52, insurance salesman in Hayesville

West is a representative for Liberty National Life Insurance company focused on businesses accounts and works strictly on commission. He is the eighth ranking salesperson out of 6,800 insurance reps, even though he has only been on the job three years. Before that, he was a regional director with a large company overseing 160 employee that published church directories around the Southeast.

Why did you decide to run?

“When I looked at things going on and the choices being made, I told my wife, ‘This is not the America Kenny West knows.’ I think we forgot about our founding fathers and the principles they stood for when they fought and died for our country.”

West invited over his pastor and friends over to pray and talk about whether West should run while sharing a bucket of chicken wings in his basement one evening.

What do you hope to accomplish?

“I submit to you there is a lack of character in Congress. If we don’t put God and character back in this county, it is over for my children.”

What separates you from other candidates?

West has made his belief in God, his family values and strong Christian principles a central part of his campaign message. He is surprised how absent God is in the other candidates’ platforms.

“I have already been called a theocrat by one of them. Am I a zealot? No, but I am a Christian. All blessings come from God.”

West, a Baptist, represents strong family values. He’s been married just once, never smoked or drank, and doesn’t cheat.

 

James Howard, 72, Franklin

Howard grew up in New York as one of 11 children. He retired to Franklin from Florida in 2002. In Florida, he was a commercial helicopter pilot, but also worked in law enforcement for a stint and owned a real estate title company.

When asked his age, Howard refused, saying it wasn’t an issue in the campaign. “That is the problem with reporters,” he said, and then insisted he was 39. His real age was obtained from his registration information at the board of elections, however.

Why did you decide to run?

Howard filed a class action lawsuit against Congress in 2009 following the passage of the stimulus bill. He filed it without a lawyer, “on behalf of himself and the American taxpayer,” according to the suit.

He claims Congress was “derelict in their duties” and “conspired collectively to undermine the people who hired them with their vote.”

In a nut shell, that’s why he decided to run.

“I am not going to stand by and watch our great country destroy itself under the present leadership of the current Congress,” Howard said. “I am going to give it more than a college try.”

What do you hope to accomplish?

He pledges to always put the interests of those who elected him first.

“They hire me, they elect me, I serve them when I get to Washington.”

What separates you from other candidates?

None of the others have the right experience in the “trenches” of the Republican Party. Howard cited his work as the executive director of the Broward County Republican Party in Florida.

Howard said even if one of the other candidates gets elected, they won’t know what to do when they get to D.C.

“That person will be buried for two years and won’t be able to take his hands out of his pockets. It’s a fraternity up there,” Howard said.

Taylor makes it official: He’s not running

After months of keeping his fellow Western North Carolina Republicans guessing, former U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC) has decided not to run for the seat he lost to Democratic rookie Heath Shuler in the 2006 elections.

Taylor made the announcement to 1,000 guests at his annual holiday dinner at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, where presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was the featured speaker.

Taylor’s reluctance to announce his decision in the last months sparked frustration among his party and prompted the Henderson County Republican Men’s Club to ask Taylor to make up his mind. Efforts at pushing Taylor toward a decision failed, and an anticipated Labor Day announcement never materialized.

Three other Republicans have already announced their intentions to seek their party’s nomination to run against Shuler in 2008: Macon County attorney John Armor, Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower, and former Henderson County GOP Chair Spence Campbell.

Profiles of those candidates are available online in the Smoky Mountain News archives here.

— By Julia Merchant

Two more seek 11th District GOP nomination

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Spence Campbell, chair of the Henderson County Republican Club, declared his intentions two weeks ago to run for the 11th Congressional District seat against Rep. Heath Shuler.

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