If you were reading this blog last year, you’ll note that I covered the Kirk deViere – Wesley Meredith battle for North Carolina’s 19th Senate District extensively.
You could say I know what I’m talking about when it comes to this race. Last year, I publicly predicted each candidate’s share of the vote within .03 of a percentage point, two days before the election. It’s one of the greatest success stories in the history of Cumberland County political punditry.
In all seriousness, it looks like “Senator” Meredith didn’t take kindly to sitting out this last term, and he’s raising money for a rematch:
Someone’s gotta pay for those glossy, glittery ads.
If you’d like to help ensure our mailboxes are painted pink next year, I’m sure Meredith would love to see you at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden.
This “swing” district is a microcosm of the partisan battle going on in this state. The race is worth your attention if you care about politics, at all.
Just be careful this time around. That glitter gets everywhere.
The legislature has ground to a halt, as has the fishing. High of 97 with a 40% chance of showers. Wash, rinse, repeat. Everyone’s ready for the first air of autumn.
The phrase “dog days of summer” come from the Ancient Greeks. The star “Sirius” is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major:
In the late summer, Sirius rises in the eastern sky at dawn, just before the sun. To the ancients, Sirius represented oppressive heat, drought, disaster, and destruction. Here’s Homer’s description in The Illiad:
“That star which comes on in the autumn and whose conspicuous brightness far outshines the stars that are numbered in the night’s darkening, the star they give the name of Orion’s Dog (kynos Orionos), which is brightest among the stars, and yet is wrought as a sign of evil and brings on the great fever for unfortunate mortals.”
I think Homer’s being a tad dramatic here. Evil? Unfortunate Mortals? Maybe the dog gets a bad rap. He’s just following his master, and like most loyal canines, wants to go hunting when the sun comes up (which is the best time, by the way).
In the last analysis, I’ve got to give it to Homer because August 2019 is living up to his promise. We’ve got mass shootings, a spike in Fayetteville murders, a wild stock market, bored elementary school kids, and a general feeling of irritated restlessness (or is that just me?).
But all is not lost, for we are fortunate in Southeastern, North Carolina. Politics are coming early this year! We have an election in less than a month. On September 10, Democrat Dan McCready will face Republican Dan Bishop in a special election for our 9th Congressional seat.
The only show in town has become a bit of a donnybrook as of late, and it will get worse as more money is spent on negative ads as election day draws near.
The horse-race is shaping up as we head around the last turn, and internal polls are showing a close race:
But the national betting markets are favoring the Republican, Bishop. As of today, on Predictit, Bishop is holding a 2-1 advantage:
So it’s time for our own “internal poll.” Our readership is unbiased and has a greater knowledge of the 9th District than these folks, right! Let’s show everyone that we know what we’re doing. Please vote:
I’ll close this one with some poetry to match the season:
“Wet your lungs with wine: the star is coming round, the season is harsh, everything is thirsty under the heat, the cicada sings sweetly from the leaves, the artichoke is in flower; now are women most pesilential, but men are feeble, since Seirios parches their heads and knees..” Alcaeus, (C7th to 6th B.C.).
Watch out for pesilential women this August. If you can’t, here’s the full version:
One of my suite mates in Hinton James dorm during my freshman year at Carolina was a Lumbee Indian from Robeson County who was proud of his heritage. He hung Lumbee decorations on the cinder block walls of his room, attended Pow-Wows across the South on weekends, and fought for the recognition of his people at the state and federal level.
At that time, George W. Bush was making the case for an invasion of Iraq, and politics came up more than usual. My suite mate made one fact perfectly clear during our political talks: He hated Jesse Helms with a passion. In 1994, after publicly stating that he supported the Lumbee Tribe’s efforts to gain recognition, Helms had organized a filibuster of a a bill giving the tribe the same federal benefits as other Native Americans. Eight years later, Helms hadn’t been forgiven.
The Lumbee Indians of Robeson County have been a political football in North Carolina for a half-century. Needing votes, Tar Heel politicians pick up this football around election time, only to punt it down the field when push comes to shove.
Nothing has changed.
NC-09’s Recent History
Robeson County has a deep Democratic tradition, but the Republican Party has made headway in recent years. On top of this, Republicans have redrawn Congressional lines to water down the county’s Democratic voting block. In 2014, longtime Robeson County Congressman, Mike McIntyre, retired in the face of a tough re-election bid after his district was redrawn to favor a Republican challenger. Robeson County was without a Democratic congressman for the first time since 1994. It’s remained that way since.
Republicans have held onto the Congressional seat encompassing Robeson, in part, by carrying on the tradition of pandering to the Lumbee Tribe.
A recent case in point is former Republican congressman, Robert Pittenger. A Charlotte businessman, Pittenger began his political career in the North Carolina Senate. He served two terms, then later ran for Lieutenant Governor, losing to Democrat Walter Dalton in the 2008 Obama wave.
In 2011, Pittenger decided to run for Congress. He was elected and seated in 2012 in North Carolina’s Republican-leaning 9th District which surrounded Charlotte (see below in pink). Notice that it’s nowhere near Robeson County in 2012.
Pittenger easily won re-election in a district tailor-made for a suburban Charlotte Republican. In 2014, he was the only Republican candidate for Congress in North Carolina without Democratic opposition.
But his luck didn’t last. The North Carolina districts were ruled unconstitutional and were redrawn for the 2016 election. Pittenger’s 9th district changed dramatically and now included all of Robeson County (below in green):
Quite a different district, as you can see.
So what was Pittenger to do? How would he appeal to constituents in his “new” district that wasn’t rigged to get him elected? Most of them had no idea who he was.
After more than decade in public office, Pittenger developed a strong affinity for the Lumbee Tribe. He introduced the Lumbee Recognition Act in Congress to impress his new constituents. Here’s a photo of Pittenger, Senator Richard Burr, and Congressman Richard Hudson meeting with the Lumbee Chairman in 2017.
Jesse Helms wasn’t around to filibuster this time, so there was rising hope that the Lumbees might finally win. But despite the fact that Pittenger’s party controlled Congress and the Presidency, his bill went nowhere and quickly died in committee. The football was kicked down the field, again.
Pittenger’s pandering didn’t earn him any favors in the 2018 Republican primary, and Pittenger lost to Reverend Mark Harris in a tight race. Harris went on to beat Democrat Dan McCready in one of the closest general election races in the country, but the result was overturned due to Harris’s illegal campaign activity. Here’s a few posts from last year covering that race if you want to re-live all the drama.
As a result of Harris’s illegal activity, we have a special election in NC’s 9th Congressional District in 2019, a “do-over,” if you will. Harris has been replaced by Republican Dan Bishop, who, like Pittenger, is a former North Carolina State Senator from Charlotte.
Bishop Follows Pandering Playbook
McCready v. Bishop 19′ is setting up to be just as close as McCready v. Harris 18′. Here’s a snapshot of one of the latest polls:
So what is Bishop doing to try to pick off Robeson County votes? He’s following his predecessor’s pandering playbook:
Bishop is now sponsoring a bill in the North Carolina Legislature for Lumbee recognition. He took this action three days before he announced his candidacy for Congress.
The bill would give the Lumbee’s governing body the same recognition status granted to municipal governments. Of all of the other pro-Lumbee bills that have gone through the North Carolina Legislature, this is the first bill Bishop has chosen to sponsor. The timing is glaringly suspect, but he’s got an election to win.
So far this year, despite Trump’s lagging approval rating, Bishop has gone all-in and campaigned beside the President.
This raises an interesting political question for 2019: Can a candidate embrace Donald Trump and still pick off Lumbee votes in 2019? Bishop thinks he can, and the reason may surprise you:
Lumbees reversed course and voted with Republicans and Trump in 2016, making national news. Robeson County became a case study in Trump’s successful campaign. Pundits were baffled. There was no good way to explain how Trump won a county by 5 points four years after Obama won it by 17.
However, much has changed since the 2016 election, and the numbers show that 2016 may be less evidence of a trend and more of an anomaly. In 2018, McCready beat Mark Harris by a substantial margin in Robeson County:
I have a very simple theory as to why:
Remember the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville? Trump, in an epic failure of moral leadership, commented that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a modern day Klan Rally.
This issue isn’t going anywhere. A few weeks ago, we had Trump’s latest North Carolina rally in Greenville where thousands of white North Carolinians chanted “send her back” about a minority member of the United States Congress after Trump complained that she didn’t love America. The reaction from national media and members of Congress made it clear that Trump had gone too far.
The chant brought back memories of North Carolina’s racist past:
Dan Bishop was right in the middle of it:
Trump has made it perfectly clear that he is doubling down on his racial rhetoric in an attempt to galvanize working class whites for the 2020 election.
As to why this matters, I have a story for you:
In the late 1950’s, the KKK saw its membership rise after the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education desegregated public schools. Robeson County had a tri-racial population at the time, with African Americans and Lumbee Indians out-numbering whites, so it became a civil rights battleground of sorts.
The KKK burned several crosses in the yards of Lumbee Indians. One of the terrorized Lumbee families had just moved into a “white” neighborhood. The leader of the local KKK group planned a massive rally on a farm in Maxton in order to “put the Indians in their place, to end race mixing.”
The Lumbees didn’t take kindly to this, so a thousand of them decided to do something about it. The ended up outnumbering the Klan, 5-1. Shouting war chants, they stormed the rally, stole the Klan’s cross, and ran the Klan members off the field.
The event made national news. One of the Lumbees was Simon Oxendine, the son of the Mayor of Pembroke, and a World War II Veteran Flight Engineer who took part in the first US raid on Berlin. He was photographed after the battle and featured in Life magazine, smiling with the KKK banner he had captured.
And so, questions remain for Dan Bishop in 2019:
Will the pandering work?
Will the Lumbee Tribe support a staunch conservative who’s gone all-in with Trump?
Lewis Armistead was born into a military family in 1817 in the town of New Bern, North Carolina. His father and all of his uncles were soldiers. One uncle, George, was the commander of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. Uncle George’s successful defense of the fort inspired a song called “The Star Spangled Banner.” You may have heard about it.
Needless to say, Lewis was destined to be a soldier, and like most military brats, he went to West Point. He didn’t do well in French class, and he broke a plate over the head of another cadet, so he was kicked out of the Academy. But he remained in the Army, serving honorably across the country, and when the Civil War broke out, he chose the Southern side and served as a Brigadier General.
On July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Armistead had the good fortune of being right in the middle of a charge ordered by Robert E. Lee and lead by General George Pickett. You may have heard about it:
When your day begins at a place called “Seminary Ridge” and ends at a place called “Cemetery Ridge,” you have good cause for concern. But Armistead, the son of soldier, got to it.
His pre-game speech lives on in Civil War glory (at 3:00):
For your lands, for your homes, for your sweethearts, for your wives!
For Virginia! Forward! March!
Armistead hit all the high-notes with this one and got his men right in their hearts. Fight for your home and those you love. What else do you need for motivation? It reminds me a lot of this one:
Sam “Stonewall” Jackson was talking about Richmond, CA, not Richmond, VA, but you get the point. These speeches always work, and Armistead got all the caps in the air:
And so he and his men marched, then ran, uphill in a open field into a barrage of artillery fire. Note the consternation on the man’s face:
Armistead made it all the way to the top of Cemetary Ridge (the exact worst possible place a human being could be on Planet Earth on July 3, 1863).
His men were the only Confederate troops to break the Union Lines, at a place called “The Angle” (see map above). For a minute, victory was in sight. Their valor and glory would live in infamy:
But the Union troops quickly closed the lines, and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. As soon as Armistead laid his hand on a Union cannon, he was shot:
Armistead died of his wounds two days later. He’s now buried next to his famous uncle.
His death is a testament to the power of high ground, both moral and practical. You might say that he, like many others on that ridge in grey suits, were destined to fail.
Cumberland on the Front Lines
A few months ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Museums, Vetoes, and How the Sausage Gets Made” where I analyzed how Republican legislators in North Carolina are adding “pork” to the budget to encourage swing Democrats to override Governor Cooper’s expected veto.
Well, as predicted, Governor Cooper vetoed the budget, and Republicans are looking to pick off votes for an override. In his press release, Cooper argued the Republican Budget didn’t expand Medicaid, didn’t give enough to public education, and harmed lower and middle class citizens while favoring the wealthy.
Cumberland County is now on the front lines of this budget battle, and local business groups are piling on the pressure. One group called “Vision 2026” is taking out ad space, encouraging legislators to vote for the budget. One ad includes a list of earmarks for Cumberland County, the largest and most notable being the Civil War Museum:
Their battle cry is very similar to General Armistead’s: “Fellow Citizens,” it says. “This is not about party, this is about our community.”
Attached to the ad was a list of supporters that includes the veritable “who’s who” of the political and business community in the area:
And so our Democratic legislators are faced with some difficult choices:
Where do their loyalties lie? With their Party? With their Governor? With Cumberland County? Are state-wide problems more important than a Civil War museum?
Do these legislators represent the citizens of their district or all of North Carolina?
If they “Fight for Cumberland,” will they face a primary challenge by another Democrat for not being loyal to the party. If they “Fight for North Carolina,” will they face scrutiny and lose support “back home?”
Will they die on the hill next Spring, like Armistead?
Where’s the High Ground???
It’s an interesting question, and there’s no easy answer.
Democrats were elected in 2018 under a promise to “break the super-majority” of Republican rule in the North Carolina Legislature. They succeeded, in the face of overwhelmingly-gerrymandered districts that were rigged against them. They made it up the hill. So what was it all for???
Are they breaking their promise to voters if they vote for this budget? Or are they simply doing what’s best for Cumberland County?
I’ll put it to a vote:
If you’re a Democrat and you had to think twice about a “yes” or “no” question, you understand the problem. No matter what happens, someone is going to end up angry. That’s how you know this is an important issue.
And in case you’re wondering, Armistead’s last words were an apology to Union General Winfield Hancock, his close friend and the commander of the forces that had destroyed Armistead and his men on Cemetery Ridge: