Enthusiasm High at Democratic Event in Lenoir

‘Politics and Pints’ at uptown brewery draws large crowd to hear Democratic candidates

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – For a county that is heavily “red” – that is, dominated by the GOP – there were lots of blue signs and high hopes at the Howard Brewing Company on March 7. Roughly 100 people – a majority of which were people under 35-years-old – turned out to hear state and federal candidates vying for primary votes. North Carolina holds it primary on Tuesday, March 15, though the legal battles over the Tar Heel state’s congressional districts means there will be a second primary later in the year.

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A crowd of citizens gather for the Democratic rally at the Howard Brewery Company in Lenoir. Photo by Abigail Taylor.

That didn’t keep two congressional candidates from joining with others running for the U.S. Senate, Lieutenant Governor and the State Senate. Attendees also heard from North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Patsy Keever as well as local Democratic officials. Musical entertainment was provided by the trio of Jacob Johnson, Andrew Massey, and Larkin London.

After the customary pitches by local party officials for volunteers and funding to house a local Democratic headquarters, Roy “Cotton” Johnson, the Caldwell County Democratic Party chairman, noted, “Folks, we’ve got some young people here!” Then, he challenged the younger visitors present, saying, “Grandpa and Grandma aren’t going to turn this county blue for you. You still have heavy lifting to do.”

Kevin Griffin, a U.S. Senate candidate, pointed out to the audience that he was the “one candidate” to speak in support of a recent decision by the Charlotte City Council to provide separate restroom accommodations for transgender individuals.

Two candidates for Congress in the 11th congressional district – Tom Hill and Rick Bryson – also spoke. Hill was the party’s nominee for the seat in 2014, and Bryson is from Bryson City. Wearing a red North Carolina State t-shirt, Bryson, a graduate of the university, called for a “research triangle” in Western North Carolina to boost economic development.

Hill said that farmers in the western counties of North Carolina are telling him that GOP attacks on immigration have harmed their businesses, as migrant workers are fearful to travel to the state to work. He also called for an end to the wars in the Middle East, arguing that the ongoing wars there make excellent recruiting tools for terrorist groups fighting the United States. He also criticized Republicans for complaining about deficit spending, asking, “Where were these deficit hawks when George Bush was starting wars?”

Art Sherwood of northern Caldwell Count has no primary opponent for the North Carolina Senate District 45 seat. As a result, his name won’t appear on the primary ballot, but he did take time to speak. He is seeking to replace Senator Dan Soucek, who was a leader and vocal supporter of Amendment 1, the ballot initiative which defined “traditional” marriage as only between a man and a woman. The initiative was passed by voters in May 2012, but ruled unconstitutional in October 2014. Wishing to serve the citizens of Caldwell, Allegheny, Avery, Ashe and Watauga counties, Sherwood has an uphill battle before him, for Soucek won the district in 2014 by 20 percentage points over his Democratic opponent. While Sherwood took little time to speak since he has no primary opponents, he stayed for the entire event, seeking out people of all ages to ask them what was of primary concern to them this election cycle. In his remarks, he did attack the GOP for not supporting public schools.

Ron Newton, a candidate for lieutenant governor, started by saying, “I am a populist.” He pointed out that his website’s name – thepublicservant2016.com – explains why he wishes to be elected. He offered, “There are a lot of people hurting in North Carolina right now. We have the highest poverty rate in the United States. It’s reverse Robin Hood.” He also identified himself as an environmentalist, saying, “We have an obligation to leave the earth the way we found it.” He concluded, “We do not have time for weak representatives. … We have to change these things and that’s why I’m running.”

His opponent, Ron Newton, said of state GOP leaders, “They’re playing games while we’re trying to work. A former member of the Asheville City Council and currently a Buncombe County Commissioner, Jones pointed to the lawsuits over congressional redistricting as shenanigans caused by the GOP which have isolated and alienated voters and disrupted the efforts of local public officials.

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Larkin London (left), Andrew Massey and Jacob Johnson perform at the Democratic rally. Photo by Abigail Taylor.

During a quiet moment away from the crowd, Johnson, the county party chair, said, “I am exceptionally pleased with the number of people that have come out.” Asked if he thought the Democratic Party was making a comeback in the county and state, he said, “Absolutely. It’s because of the gerrymandering. They knew it was unconstitutional when they did it. Think about how much this is going to cost.”

He expressed pleasure with the candidates, saying, “They’re all hitting on the same notes. Our government – even on the state level – has been for sale, and it’s been bought.”

He reflected, as he listened to the boisterous clatter coming from the dozens of people down the stairs, “I think we’re starting in a new direction.”

© The Lenoir Voice, 2016.

On Twitter: @ lenoirvoice