Nash County Spite (Cooper and deViere)

When I was a student at UNC, I had a buddy from Nash County. One evening, he noticed a Ducks Unlimited print on my apartment wall and the conversation turned to hunting. He bragged about killing twenty wood ducks one morning a few years back in a beaver swamp near his home.

“You can only kill two.” I replied.

I can still hear his slow, deep, drawl:

“We just kept shooting them.”

It upset me, but I left it there. You either respect the game (laws), or you don’t. He didn’t.

Governor Roy Cooper likes to tout his roots. If you’ve followed North Carolina politics during his two-term reign, you’ve probably heard the story about his watermelon patch or the one about him blocking Phil Ford’s shot in a high school game. Southern, white Democrats are a dying breed, and Cooper’s “one of us” appeal allows him to steal enough Independent and Republican votes to stay in power.

If you grew up in the Eastern part of the state like he did, you’ll notice that there’s a little bit of spite in the people, fire and brimstone even, that bites sharper than the apple cider vinegar we put on our pork. You can trace it back to the Revolution. We came here to be left alone and then stayed put. The farther east you drive on 64 or 70, the deeper it gets. We’ve got a mean streak if you push us too far. Shut your mouth and play along, and we’ll get along just fine.

Fight that mean streak, and you’ll elect Terry Sanford.

Foster that mean streak, and you’ll elect Jesse Helms.

Temper that mean streak, and you’ll elect Roy Cooper and Donald Trump in the same election.

Democratic Senators and Cumberland County

Tony Rand represented Cumberland County in the North Carolina Senate from 1981 to 2009, becoming one of the most powerful men in the state in the process. After his retirement, Margaret Dickson took the seat. She was defeated in the next election by Republican Wesley Meredith in a vicious campaign that made national news.

Meredith got the backing of the Republican Party and developed a massive war chest. He won four elections in a row. I had a front row seat to one of them in 2014. Meredith and the Republican attack machine ran ads on the 5:00 news claiming my old man “had no moral compass.” Another ad played horror music, showed an empty baby crib, and claimed my dad got a child killer off. I had a son in a crib at the time.

Then came Kirk deViere.

Meredith lost two elections in a row.

Meredith has filed to run against deViere again this year.

This week, in a head-scratcher, Cooper endorsed deViere’s Democratic opponent.

Sunken Ambitions

Cooper has been in politics since 1986, and it’s fairly unlikely that he wants to go back to Nash County after having the best seats in the Dean Dome for the past eight years. He’s going to make a run at the Vice Presidency (if Harris continues to flounder), the Presidency (if Biden’s health gives out), or the U.S. Senate.

In order to get to the next level, Cooper needed to be more than another Tim Kaine. He needed something to set him apart. He had his sights on two issues: Covid and Medicaid expansion.

N.C.’s Covid response started off well enough. We were doing better than the rest of the South due to our increased restrictions. Then the reality of extremely contagious respiratory diseases set in and we quickly ended up as bad as everyone else. None of it was worth it. Our school kids will continue to suffer the ramifications of Cooper’s leadership, and Republicans are foaming at the mouth to remind swing voters who closed the businesses and schools across the country.

Medicaid expansion quickly became all Cooper had left. He wanted to use the power of his veto pen to force Medicaid expansion into the state budget. He needed unanimous (or close to it) Democratic support in the legislature to get it.

DeViere and a group of moderate Democrats worked with Republicans to get a budget passed. In doing so, they did very, very well for their constituents back home. Cooper signed the budget, but it wasn’t what he wanted.

So what happens when a lame duck Governor from Nash County gets angry?

“It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday,” Applewhite sang happily during a phone call Tuesday to talk about the endorsement. She turns 61 on Saturday, she said.

“It’s huge,” she said. “It’s unusual for a governor to engage in a primary.”

“I think it’s two things. It’s his confidence in who I am, and the issues of Medicaid expansion, paying our teachers — these are clear, no-brainer issues. But what’s more important is that it shows (Cooper’s) lack of support for our current senator.”

What it Means

It’s all personal and petty with a touch of spite. More importantly, it’s bad politics.

Cooper beat Republican Dan Forest in 2020 with only 51.5% of the vote. He didn’t get a resounding mandate for a liberal agenda. If North Carolina Democrats want to regain control, they’re going to have to win swing districts like deViere’s. More importantly, they are increasingly becoming an urban, minority party, out of touch with half of the State. DeViere brought together a coalition of voters and beat the Republican machine, twice. Cooper doesn’t seem concerned with that. In the end, he only seems concerned with himself. Maybe eight years in a mansion does that to someone? Regardless, it might be time to re-learn an old lesson from a Nash County beaver swamp:

You kill all your good ducks, and you can’t go hunting next year.

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