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Blue wave more like a ripple, GOP is told

President Trump was visible in the lobby. On stage, not so much. President Trump was visible in the lobby. On stage, not so much.

Republican leaders in Washington sweat about a blue tide in November. Talking heads on (non-Fox) cable TV news predict Democrats will take control of Congress. Court rulings threaten legislative maps gerrymandered to ensure a supermajority of safe seats for the Republican Party. The leader of the party is a polarizing figure who infuriates opponents and bewilders allies with a steady stream of White House tweets.

 

But if a blue wind is stirring across the nation, Henderson County Republicans gathered on Saturday at Apple Valley Middle School for their annual convention seemed confident that their own precincts would remain reliably red.

“Isn’t this a great time to be a Republican?” said state Sen. Chuck Edwards. Applause applause applause.

Although a life-sized cardboard cutout of Donald J. Trump greeted party activists as they strolled in to the school lobby, the president was hardly the focus inside the auditorium.

Only U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, who had just gotten off the phone with him, brought Trump onto the stage, so to speak. Meadows said later that Trump was calling to talk about tariffs, the imposition of which has divided his own party. While he had him, Meadows asked the president what message he wanted the congressman to bring to the 11th District Republicans.

“He said, ‘I have not forgotten the men and women who got out on Nov. 8, who knocked on doors and quite frankly, for some who didn’t want to vote for me but did vote for me.’ He said, ‘I have not forgotten them and I can tell you this place, Washington, D.C., is wanting to make me forget. You tell them that I will not forget.”

Headshots of Edwards, McGrady, Henson

Two Chucks

Edwards, who was elected to the Senate in November 2016 after his appointment to the 48th District seat earlier that summer, praised his party’s achievements.

“While Republicans have a lot of momentum and we accomplished a lot in North Carolina, it’s still a firestorm in Raleigh,” he said.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has filed numerous lawsuits seeking to overturn or block Republican legislation that trims his authority.

“We like to joke around in Raleigh that when he was attorney general we couldn’t get him into court and now that he’s governor we can’t keep him out of court,” Edwards said. It frustrates Republicans. “People ask me, What do I like least about politics?” he said. “My answer quietly frankly is politics.”

Rep. Chuck McGrady was next up.

“There are only two Chucks in the General Assembly and they’re both from Henderson County,” he said.

A few minutes later, Rep. Cody Henson quipped, “I’m just glad my parents didn’t name me Chuck.”

Henson invited Republicans to visit his website, codyhensonnc.com, which he had just launched that morning after staying up until 2 a.m. to create it.

“I’m the world’s worst at asking for money so the first thing the website does is ask it for me,” he said. “We need all the help we can get.”

Democratic Party enthusiasm has produced candidates on the ballot, at the very least, for a change. The two Chucks and Henson all have Democratic opposition in November, though in Henson’s view that does not portend trouble.

“It’s going to be great election year,” he said. “I think the blue wave we’ve been hearing about is nothing more than a ripple.”

Only Meadows sounded any warning.

“The energy is not within our own party,” he told the crowd. “After primary season gets over with, what we need to make sure we do is stay engaged in November. I’m seeing trends out there that really concern me. If we stay engaged, we have the right message, guys. I would ask you to pray a little more, stay engaged a lot more.”

Here is a roundup of comments from candidates in local Republican primaries:

Sheriff

Challenger Lowell Griffin, currently a captain at the Polk County sheriff’s office, has served as a law officer and firefighter for 36 years.

“To this day I still get out there at a moment’s notice to help a complete stranger, expecting nothing in return,” he said. “I’m not afraid of work, even hard physical work. I cut my own firewood, I mow my own grass, take care of a little livestock. My brother and I repair cars on the side, even do a little restoration.”

As sheriff, he would reassign high-ranking personnel and “put them out in your community,” he said. “They would know the area inside and outside. They would be there to listen to ideas from you. Most importantly, you the people would know those that were assigned to be in charge of law enforcement in your community.”

He vowed to partner with other agencies to create crime-fighting task forces that would be “manpower multipliers without adding any burden to the taxpayers.” He would create a climate of “job security for the employees, a system where they’re not expected to be politically involved.”

Griffin promises to implement body cameras for deputies, something Sheriff Charlie McDonald has resisted. The cameras would ensure accountability and “most of all protect the officers.” As a fiscal conservative, he said, he opposes the $22 million law enforcement training center McDonald wants to build.

McDonald opened with a jab at his opponent, who worked for the sheriff’s office until McDonald sacked him after his November 2014 election.

“The office of sheriff is not to be left to somebody whose record has not been proven or somebody who has not operated at the executive level in law enforcement,” McDonald said.

Appointed sheriff in March 2012, “I took over an agency that was racked by a breakdown in leadership,” he said. “There was a lot of uncertainty going on and the men and women who served this fine office were subject to a lot of doubt and a lot of speculation and a lot of damage to their pride because of ineffective leadership.” He terminated command staff who “weren’t servant leaders in their heart but were there really just to make a living.”

“Together we embarked on a very arduous process of changing the culture of the Henderson County sheriff’s office,” he said. “It was a difficult. It took a number of years. We managed to make it through” and ended up with updated law enforcement processes and a committed force. “I kept all the promises I made when I first ran for office and since then.”

District Attorney

Mary Ann Hollocker, a magistrate, moved here from Hawaii six years ago to look after her elderly parents.

“The other reason I moved here is for my children,” she said. Her son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with autism at 18 months, and she learned that the services that Henderson County provides are extraordinary.

She vowed to work closely with law enforcement officers “to get them ready for trial,” and to counsel crime victims who are often unfamiliar with the trial process.

Incumbent Greg Newman, who was appointed district attorney in 2013 and won election in 2014, said, “I will put my record up against any other district attorney in the state of North Carolina.”

“You should be very proud of the staff that we have as well as the attorneys that serve you,” he said. “These are people of high skill level, these are people with experience. I have three lawyers with 20-plus years experience. … Our conviction rate is extremely high, especially in major felony areas.” He’s added three victim coordinators, including one who works with the Hispanic community, and has added “more trials, (resulting in) more convictions.”

Board of Commissioners District 4

The Republican primary for the apple country seat that incumbent Tommy Thompson is vacating after two terms features two Henderson County natives.

“My family goes back to the 1700s,” said Rebecca McCall. Her grandfather and uncle were county commissioners in the 1960s and ‘70s. She’s served in manufacturing for 40 years, at General Electric and Hubbell Lighting.

“The county is a corporation,” she said. “It’s a business and it needs to be run as a business. I’ve held management positions, I’ve held engineering positions, so I understand what goes on with facilities and all the things county commissioners have to deal with.”

Her priorities include school safety. “As an example, East Henderson High School is wide open,” she said. “It needs to be made more safe as far as people being able to get into the campus.” She favors mental health treatment for “repeat customers” of the jail. “I do have time to do the job,” she said. “I will put every effort into this job. I will not slack on this job.”

Like McCall, Don Ward has deep roots in the county and a grandfather who served on the Board of Commissioners. Ward runs a tractor business, is a third generation apple farmer and served two terms on the board himself, from 1994 to 2002. Aside from that, he’s an avid softball player. “I love softball,” he said. “I’ve been elected to three hall of fames in softball. It don’t matter if it’s softball or tractor parts or apples, I’m going to give it my best.”

The upcoming property reassessment next year could produce “a potential 18 percent tax increase,” he said. He vowed to block that. “Tell all your friends to come out and vote,” he said. “I got beat one time by 14 votes.”