Category Archives: News

Early Voting in Appalachian County Shows Strong GOP Turnout

GOP early voters are outpacing their registration numbers by nearly eight percent

Unaffiliated voters and Democrats accounting for less than half of ballots cast

LENOIR, N.C. – Republican Party voters in Caldwell County are starting off the 2018 election cycle as they ended it in 2016 – energized and voting.

FTR GOP logoIndeed, after only three days, of the 3,609 votes cast so far, 52 percent – 1,894 – have been by Republicans, a number that exceeds the number of GOP registered voters by about eight percent. It represents a burst of energy that began on the first day of voting this past Wednesday and has not subsided.

Democrats account for 909 votes, or 25 percent; and, unaffiliated voters have cast 798 votes, equaling 22 percent of the total, according to data provided by the Caldwell County Board of Elections.

Vote totals through Friday represent nearly seven percent of the 54,515 registered voters in the county. Republicans make up the vast plurality, accounting for 24,747 of the total voters, or 44 percent. Unaffiliated voters now outnumber Democrats. There are 15,867 unaffiliated voters, accounting for 30 percent of total voters, and 13,901 Democrats in the county, representing 25 percent of the voters. Less than one percent of voters are registered with one of the other political parties.

Voters have been turning out consistently since the first day, averaging about 1,200 early voters per day at the county’s two One-Stop Voting locations.  In Granite Falls, 1,420 voters – 39 percent of the county’s total – have voted; in Lenoir, 2,188 have cast ballots, accounting for 61 percent of vote totals.

Analysis

Caldwell County Republicans are voting at a pace that could be record-setting, especially for a mid-term election. Unaffiliated voters, which Democrats are undeniably counting on this cycle, are not turning out, as their voting numbers are eight percent below their percentage of registered voters in the county. Democrats are holding steady with their registration numbers.

CCDPIn a perfect year for Democrats, overcoming such registration numbers would be virtually insurmountable; ticket-splitting is virtually nonexistent today. So, while unaffiliated voters can be a wild card, those registered by party are counted upon by party officials to vote their ticket. There is no evidence to suggest this year will be any different.

Republicans are enthused; Democrats are not; unaffiliated voters are yawning. Since 2016, pundits and politicians on both sides have said that 2018 is, “The Most Important Election of our Lifetimes.” It’s rather obvious the Republicans believe so, but they would appear to be alone in that thinking, at least in Caldwell County.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

How and Where to Vote

According to the Caldwell County Board of Elections, here is what you need to know about voting this year:

If you have not yet registered to vote, you can register when coming to One Stop/Early Voting.

 

There are 2 One Stop/Early Voting Locations:

  1. Caldwell County Alden E. Starnes County Office Plaza
    City/County Chambers
    905 West Avenue NW, Lenoir
  2. Shuford Recreation Center
    56 Pinewood Road, Granite Falls

The One Stop/Early Voting Dates and Time:
Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 29 through Friday, November 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 3 – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (the only Saturday)

The Last Day to Apply for Absentee Ballot – October 30, 2018

Click Here to See 2018 Sample Ballot 

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Memo to W.Va. Governor’s Lawyers: Buy a Dictionary

‘Reside’ is not a new word in the English lexicon

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – According to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “Lawyers for the governor of West Virginia have told the state Supreme Court the meaning of the word ‘reside’ is unclear in a case regarding his residency outside of Charleston.”

Reside definition

From my 1997 copy of Webster’s Universal College Dictionary.

Isaac Sponaugle, a Democratic Delegate who represents parts of Hardy and Pendleton County in the state’s lower eastern panhandle, has asked the court to require Gov. Justice to do as the West Virginia Constitution requires and “reside at the seat of government,” – in the state capital of Charleston. Presently, Justice lives at his resort in Lewisburg.

Webster's DictionaryGood grief, Charlie Brown!

Those who wrote the West Virginia Constitution did not need to define “reside” because they had dictionaries – regular old ones that average people can use. Indeed, “reside” is hardly a new word in the lexicon. It is late Middle English with roots in French and Latin.

My copy of Webster’s Universal College Dictionary” from long ago offers the following definitions:

  1. “To dwell permanently or for a considerable time; live”
  2. “To be present habitually”

The word games the governor’s lawyers are using – and the arrogant taunt to the people to “impeach him” if they don’t like it – is why average people have had it with politicians.

While we’re struggling to live paycheck to paycheck, or on fixed incomes, or affording to have our gallbladders removed or ruptured disc repaired or replace the old tires, mincing words is insulting and pathetically self-serving.

Move the Mission

This is how the poor and vulnerable are greeted in Clarksburg, W.Va. by some merchants.

Jim_Justice

Jim Justice

So, Governor Justice, if you think the mansion overlooking the Kanawha River is beneath your lifestyle, go visit some of the struggling in the hills and hollows or the homeless in Charleston, Huntington, Clarksburg or Richwood. Then, get back to the “People’s Capitol” and get about their business. It’s what you signed up to do – “To dwell … and be present habitually.” Anyone that can read a dictionary understands that.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Where are the Democrats?

Is Appalachia heading towards another red autumn?

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – If the Democratic Party is going to enjoy a “Blue Wave” in this year’s mid-term elections, it isn’t going to start in Caldwell County. That is if the campaign activity – or the lack thereof – by the Democratic Party and its candidates at the One-Stop (early) Voting location in Lenoir is any indication.

GOP poll workers

GOP volunteers work the Lenoir early voting location on the first day of voting, Oct. 17.

Also, the first day of early voting totals reveal an energized Republican base. At the county’s two early voting locations in Lenoir and Granite Falls, a total of 1,217 voters turned out. Of those, 632 were Republicans, making up 52 percent of the total vote. The 329 Democratic voters accounted for 27 percent of the vote, numbers consistent with their registration levels. Unaffiliated voters accounted for 251 ballots, making up 20 percent of voters. Less than one percent cast ballots as Libertarians.

Also of note is that of the total votes cast, 473 – 39 percent of the voting – took place in the predominantly Republican south end of the county at the Shuford Recreation Center in Granite Falls. The only precincts in the county that could be considered remotely favorable for Democrats are centered in and near Lenoir. Low turnout there combined with the absence of Democratic candidates and poll workers would not seem to lend itself to a Blue Wave anywhere in the county.

Also, in the year of the #MeToo movement, women were outvoted by men yesterday by about four percent. Women cast 48 percent of the ballots – a total of 580. Men cast 633. Blacks cast 70 ballots, nearly six percent, a number relatively consistent with population totals in the county.

Mark Cook and Sherri Yi.jpg

Mark Cook and Sherri Yi campaigned for Kim Clark on the first day of early voting in N.C.

The Democrats did not have a tent set up as customary, and only two people were actively campaigning for a Democrat. Incumbent Clerk of Superior Court Kim Clark had two people volunteering for her, but they were both Republicans. And one was her husband, Mark Cook. The other was Sherri Yi.

Ironically, the only incident of acrimony I witnessed was when Cook and Yi attempted to hand some campaign literature to a voter wearing a Trump hat. Flipping his hand towards them like he would a bothersome cat, he grumbled, “She’s a Democrat. I don’t vote for Democrats.” Yi simply replied, “Yes sir,” and backed away.

Nathan E Dula

Nathan E. Dula campaigns for School Board candidate Elaine Setzer-Maxwell on Oct. 17

School Board candidate Elaine Setzer-Maxwell had a campaign volunteer out, Nathan E. Dula. He had positioned himself under a small shade tree and was approaching potential voters alone without having to compete with other volunteers. Closer to the doors of the ground floor of the City/County Chambers on West Ave., though, no less than a half-dozen GOP workers approached every voter. Some voters strolled on by, but many stopped to chat and take a copy of the party’s sample ballot.

Speaking of which, when I went into vote, there was a Republican sample ballot in the voting precinct on top of the stack of county’s official ballots. The two look virtually identical. However only official ballots are allowed. It isn’t clear if it was placed there inadvertently by a voter or intentionally, but when it was pointed out to election officials, it was thrown in the trash.

The official ballot can be seen here. It is printed in yellow, as is the GOP sample ballot. So, look at the top of the ballot on the left-hand corner. It should have Sample Ballot, Caldwell County printed on it, with a bar code in the top right-hand corner. The GOP sample ballot has Republican in the top left-hand box and no bar code in the right. And, of course, they’ve marked the ballot for you. So, be on the lookout for that.

The Republican workers were jovial and talkative. When I asked where the Democrats were, they mentioned the name of one veteran Democrat, saying he had stopped by for a while. Meanwhile, the GOP workers had several of their candidates popping in and out.

Oh, and there was no shortage of poignant bumper stickers.

Taking Back the Rainbox and Trump 2020 signs

One day does not an election make. However, for a party that is supposed to be energized to send Freshmen legislators to Raleigh to help Gov. Roy Cooper and to break the 5-0 hold the GOP has on the county commission, one would expect to see a blaze of blue at the polling places. The only thing I saw blue was the clear sky above me – perfect for greeting voters.

How and Where to Vote

According to the Caldwell County Board of Elections, here is what you need to know about voting this year:

If you have not yet registered to vote, you can register when coming to One Stop/Early Voting.

There are 2 One Stop/Early Voting Locations:

  1. Caldwell County Alden E. Starnes County Office Plaza
    City/County Chambers
    905 West Avenue NW, Lenoir
  2. Shuford Recreation Center
    56 Pinewood Road, Granite Falls

The One Stop/Early Voting Dates and Time:
Wednesday, October 17 through Friday, October 19: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 29 through Friday, November 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 3 – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (the only Saturday)

The Last Day to Apply for Absentee Ballot – October 30, 2018

Click Here to See 2018 Sample Ballot 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Today, Help N.C. Advance Again

One Stop or ‘Early’ Voting Begins Today; Do Not Wait

FDR“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address in 1933.

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – One Stop or “early” voting begins today in North Carolina and runs through Nov. 3. Election Day is Nov. 6.

So, as you ponder when (or God forbid, if) you are going to vote, consider the echo of President Franklin Roosevelt’s words in your ears. We are not a fearful people! We are the children and grandchildren of the Greatest Generation. Sacrificing all, putting lives on hold for years, families disrupted and changed forever, they defeated Fascism and Communism.

In short, the Greatest Generation left us a legacy of courage and sacrifice. They were able to do so because they understood the consequences of defeat. They were inspired by their president, fearless in their determination to save the world.

FTR Vote Today joshua-j-cotten-1069021-unsplash.jpg

Honor their legacy. Vote today!

But be ready.

The Republicans will have their fear peddlers working the polls; they certainly did in 2016. Ignore their cajoling threats of doom and destruction under the Democrats and wish them a blessed day. Then, bless our state and nation by voting Democratic.

The modern Republican Party insults the legacy left by our courageous parents and grandparents you see in those fading photographs on your wall. Look into their eyes. Do you see fear or determination? Do as they did; live courageously.

After voting, stop for a moment to talk to the Republican poll workers. Each one will likely identify as an evangelical Christian. Remind them of this verse: “Be strong and courageous.” It’s a command given to Joshua repeatedly by God according to the Old Testament. Thank them for their active citizenship and let them know you voted courageously – for Democrats. (I am close to digressing into a history of the song “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie, but for now, just know that if we all stopped and repeated that scripture verse to every GOP poll worker, they’d wonder just what sort of movement is going on. That just seems like too much fun to pass up).

In any event, don’t argue. Just thank them, then talk to your neighbors, families and friends and “Speak out! Speak out against the madness. Speak your mind, that is if you still can and still have the guts to.”

Remember when our state’s teachers tried to get the attention of Republican lawmakers? Who will forget the image of those suits looking out windows at the throngs and cancelling short their session. Regardless of their excuses, men and women of courage don’t hide; they welcome their adversaries and seek compromise. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to function in a Republic.

You’ve seen Republican party officials and lackeys jerk the phones out of hands of college students. You have heard the constant drumbeat of fear, calling us – the people – a mob for opposing a rigged Supreme Court nomination process (I refer not just to Brett Kavanaugh; the stonewalling on Merrick Garland’s nomination was reminiscent of the former Soviet Politburo).

Fear girl in bed alexandra-gorn-471463-unsplash.jpgI’ll be writing more on their fear-mongering soon, but until then, remember what American Poet Carl Sandburg wrote. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Sandburg spent his career celebrating what he considered the attributes that made America great. Here is one brief sample from his poem, “I Am the People, the Mob.”

I am the people – the mob – the crowd – the mass.

Do you know all the great work of the world is done through me?”

So, we the people have a great work to do. You must convert retreat into advance. We can’t do that if we fall prey to fear.

Don’t allow it. We’ve been called a mob, whether protesting sexism, racism or bigotry – all on full display through the legislation of the GOP super majority in the N.C. General Assembly. So, let them call you a mob. Just show them what great work can be done through you – through me.

How and Where to Vote

According to the Caldwell County Board of Elections, here is what you need to know about voting this year:

If you have not yet registered to vote, you can register when coming to One Stop/Early Voting.

There are 2 One Stop/Early Voting Locations:

  1. Caldwell County Alden E. Starnes County Office Plaza
    City/County Chambers
    905 West Avenue NW, Lenoir
  2. Shuford Recreation Center
    56 Pinewood Road, Granite Falls

The One Stop/Early Voting Dates and Time:
Wednesday, October 17 through Friday, October 19: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 29 through Friday, November 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 3 – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (the only Saturday)

The Last Day to Apply for Absentee Ballot – October 30, 2018

Click Here to See 2018 Sample Ballot 

While voting, ‘Nix All Six’

Nix-Six-Amedment@4x

Speaking of fear-mongering, the GOP has placed six “constitutional” amendments on the ballot to frighten – and hence – turn out their base. StrongerNC, Inc. has developed a website that explains the dangers inherit in every amendment on the ballot. They write, “These amendments will affect your rights and radically change the structure and separation of power in our state government indefinitely.” To learn why, visit their Nix All Six Amendments website.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Flag photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash; Photo of girl hiding under sheets by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

 

 

 

Art Sherwood Seeks to Change State’s Direction in N.C. Senate

Retired biomedical engineer, active Baptist focused on education, healthcare, jobs and Voting Rights

Voting Begins Tomorrow!

LENOIR, N.C. – In late 2011, Art Sherwood retired from his career as a biomedical engineer helping veterans recover from spinal cord injuries. But he did not retire from his vocation of helping to analyze and solve problems. Indeed, after retiring, he immediately began devoting more time to politics until in 2016 he made his first run for public office, when he ran for State Senate in old District 45.

Art Sherwood primaryThe reasons he ran two years ago have not changed; in fact, they’ve intensified, so he’s at it again, this time seeking to represent redrawn State Senate District 46, which includes Burke, Caldwell and Avery counties. He is looking to unseat Republican Warren Daniel.

Perseverance, it seems, is a family tradition. Sherwood’s great-grandfather, the Rev. James Justice Lafayette Sherwood, helped establish First Baptist Church in Blowing Rock and served as pastor at First Baptist Church in Boone twice, from 1893-1895 and 1904-1906. Like his great-grandfather, Sherwood is a man of active faith. He served two five-year terms as a trustee of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and he has provided leadership in local congregations wherever he has lived.

Following completion of his doctorate in biomedical engineering from Duke University in 1970, Sherwood devoted his career to helping veterans and others with spinal cord injuries maximize their ability to function independently. He worked for three decades in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and concluded with a decade in Washington, D.C., where he helped formulate research policies to aid those who have sustained life-altering disabilities.

Sherwood has clearly devoted his life to helping others. And, being retired, he could do anything. Instead, he has decided to run again.

Why Run?

I was first motivated to seek election to the North Carolina State Senate so that I could be part of restoring North Carolina’s public education system to its former prominence and student-focused outlook. … I am further motivated by the GOP-led assault on Voting Rights in this state. It is shameful – and as the courts have repeatedly said – unconstitutional.”

In far-ranging discussions we’ve had during the past several months, I’ve asked Sherwood the first question I am sure his family members and friends asked – Why have you decided to run again? He explains, “I was first motivated to seek election to the North Carolina State Senate so that I could be part of restoring North Carolina’s public education system to its former prominence and student-focused outlook.” He continues, “I am further motivated by the GOP-led assault on Voting Rights in this state. It is shameful – and as the courts have repeatedly said – unconstitutional.”

Child painting kasturi-laxmi-mohit-1101453-unsplash (1)

Still, he was not inclined to run again. That is, until a call one late evening early this year from Governor Roy Cooper changed that. He told Sherwood that the Democratic Party was determined to compete for every legislative seat, and that Sherwood’s campaign in 2016 positioned him well for this cycle.

So, on the ballot he is. Sherwood argues, “My background, my family history, and my faith all guide me as I identify and work towards legislative priorities to offer solutions to the problems I’ve identified.” Still, he resisted prioritizing the many issues he wishes to address. “Trying to say one issue is more important than another is absurd. All are vital topics of the day.”

Sherwood also wishes to focus on how the local businesses and artisans can build a local sustainable economy that is immunized from the boom-and-bust cycles of the furniture, textile and other manufacturing enterprises.

Finally, as a person that has spent his life in healthcare – as has his wife, Gwen – he knows that people are suffering because they cannot access proper healthcare. As he notes, the United States doesn’t have a healthcare system; rather it has a health delivery industry. It is uncoordinated and profit-motivated, thus causing its ostensible purpose – to alleviate and heal the suffering of people – to be subverted to lobbyists for the pharmaceutical, hospital, insurance, medical equipment and related industries.

Voting Rights

There is nothing more fundamental to our Republic than the voting rights of her people. Without that right, we are mere pawns. … I will vigorously oppose gerrymandering by supporting the establishment of an independent commission to draw congressional and General Assembly districts.”

He pointed to the assault on Voting Rights as a classic example of the challenge of deciding which issue is the most urgent. He explained, “There is nothing more fundamental to our Republic than the voting rights of her people. Without that right, we are mere pawns. Therefore, I will work to ensure open and convenient access to polling places for all voters and eliminate burdensome requirements designed to suppress voter turnout. I will vigorously oppose gerrymandering by supporting the establishment of an independent commission to draw congressional and General Assembly districts. Republicans, including our own House representative, argue that gerrymandering is constitutional.

MeToo mihai-surdu-415698-unsplash

Sherwood argues, “Considering the many court rulings saying otherwise, Raleigh Republicans have forfeited their right to hold office. It’s not a stretch for me to promise voters I’ll protect their rights. I’m quite confident that is what people from our founders to Martin Luther King Jr. to those in the #MeToo and #IfIDieInASchoolShooting movements rightfully expect that of public servants.”

Education

“Regarding the many challenges facing public education, in particular front-line teachers, I will work to ensure that public schools are properly funded, teachers paid a fair and living wage, classroom management is not held hostage to standardized testing, and local control is restored. I will work to ensure adequate funding and forward-looking technical and liberal arts curricula in the district’s community colleges,” said Sherwood. He added, “It is time to develop a teacher pay structure consistent with that outlined by NC Policy Watch. It is time to provide teachers with the assistants they need to serve our children, and it is time to move North Carolina to the top of the nation in terms of per-pupil funding.”

HealthCare

It is understandable that a man who devoted his life to alleviate the suffering of others would have some expert insight into healthcare. “I support universal health insurance that will permit people to seek medical care in a timely manner, and to optimize the care provided at all stages of life, from prenatal to geriatric. I will work diligently to move us to a single-payer system to put the focus where it belongs, on improving the health of North Carolinians, which would also simplify and streamline the accounting, thereby reducing costs. And, I will work tirelessly to minimize government intrusion on interactions between patients and properly-licensed providers.”

The North Carolina General Assembly had a chance to expand Medicaid with federal funding and declined, leaving billions of dollars on the table and the people it was intended for in distress. Clearly, the Republican controlled super-majority in the General Assembly does not support affordable health care.”

He continued, “The North Carolina General Assembly had a chance to expand Medicaid with federal funding and declined, leaving billions of dollars on the table and the people it was intended for in distress. Clearly, the Republican controlled super-majority in the General Assembly does not support affordable health care.”

Jobs

On jobs, Sherwood argues, “Because of the damage done to the workers and families in the district by large manufacturers closing and abandoning the community, it is up to local leaders in the arts, nonprofit sector, towns and county to come together with a list of priorities for the legislature to support. Lenoir is quickly becoming known as ‘A funky little town’ because of our strong musical and arts heritage. We can and must continue to build on that. The same is true for Morganton and other towns in the district. And, it’s always good to have artists around, for they are the most fearless when it comes to speaking truth to power.”

He continued, “We also have to be judicious as we look forward. Many economic forecasters say that in roughly a decade, one-third of our nation’s workers will have to learn a new trade to remain employed. We need to prepare now by enhancing continuing education opportunities and providing broadband internet everywhere. Together with renewable energy jobs, that will provide a huge pool of good jobs to assure economic viability.”

The Environment

“We must protect our environment. That means acknowledging that Climate Change is real and aggravated by human activity. We need not waste time with attempting to change the minds of climate change deniers; in time, Mother Nature will do that for us. Instead, we must simply work to reverse the primary cause of Climate Change – our dependence on fossil fuels. That is why I support a moratorium on fracking and related pipeline development. I will fight to require municipal ownership of public water sources so that money is reinvested in infrastructure, not sent to out-of-state investors. And, I will work to re-empower the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to provide strong oversight of the fossil fuel industry in North Carolina. The presence of coal ash in our tributaries, streams and the Atlantic Ocean from Hurricane Florence is a sentinel call to our state to make ecological preservation a priority.” Sherwood notes also, “Our climate is ideal for solar and wind power. In fact, the solar industry now employs more people nationally than the coal industry. We must tap into that future. It is also the responsible thing to do to reduce our ecological footprint.”

Other Issues

Sherwood pointed to other issues that the General Assembly should address. “As we look at our abandoned buildings in the district, which distract from our region’s natural beauty and hard-working entrepreneurs attempting to revitalize the district, we must adopt a balance of tax incentives for these small, sustainable private entities and designate public funds to demolish or repurpose abandoned buildings.”

Suggesting a way to mitigate the impact of the box store and fast food cluster on U.S. Hwy 321 north of the Lenoir Crossroads, Sherwood shares, “We need to find a location to build a Visitor’s Center like the one recently built on U.S. 421 between Wilkesboro and Yadkinville. We can work with the Chamber of Commerce to promote the museum, the arts council, our natural beauty, Fort Defiance, the Wilson’s Creek Visitor’s Center, our ‘funky little downtown,’ and ideas just waiting to be developed by our artists and musicians.

Conclusion

Asked if he has anything else he’d like the voters of Caldwell, Burke and Avery counties know about him, Sherwood says simply, “I will strive to reverse decades of polarizing politics to find compatible folk on both sides to work with for the common good.”

Voting Begins Tomorrow!

One Stop/Early Voting begins tomorrow, Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 3. Election Day is Nov. 6.

According to the Caldwell County Board of Elections, here is what you need to know about voting this year:

If you have not yet registered to vote, you can register when coming to One Stop/Early Voting.

There are 2 One Stop/Early Voting Locations:

  1. Caldwell County Alden E. Starnes County Office Plaza
    City/County Chambers
    905 West Avenue NW, Lenoir
  2. Shuford Recreation Center
    56 Pinewood Road, Granite Falls

The One Stop/Early Voting Dates and Time:
Wednesday, October 17 through Friday, October 19 : 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 29 through Friday, November 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 3 – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (the only Saturday)

The Last Day to Apply for Absentee Ballot – October 30, 2018

Click Here to See 2018 Sample Ballot 

 © Michael M. Barrick, 2018. #MeToo photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash; photo of girl painting by Kasturi Laxmi Mohit on Unsplash; Star-Spangled music notes by Ministries Coordinator on Unsplash

Editor’s notes offered in the spirt of full disclosure:

  1. I served on the Caldwell County Board of Education from 1998-2001 while a Republican. I was the Republican nominee for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2000 and a candidate in 2003 before dropping out because of a friend’s terminal illness. I have volunteered or worked as a paid staff member in no less than eight Republican campaigns from municipal to federal elections, not counting my own. Right now, the Republican Party is doing all it can to destroy our state government. I am ashamed of it and plead with moderate Republicans and unaffiliated votes (like myself) – to choose the best candidate. As a former candidate, I can promise you that Art Sherwood, Amanda Bregel, other Democratic candidates and their volunteers are among the hardest working people in North Carolina right now. For that determination alone they deserve your support. Most importantly, they represent true North Carolina values.
  2. I was the campaign manager for Art Sherwood in 2016. We have forged a relationship out of that battle that continues to this day. It goes beyond politics. We are friends. But he also knows this article wouldn’t be written if I didn’t believe in him.

N.C. Gerrymandering No Laughing Matter

Rep. Destin Hall’s vigorous defense of Republican gerrymandering causes stunned laughter from audience at NAACP forum in Lenoir

LENOIR, N.C. – Destin Hall, Caldwell County’s representative in the North Carolina General Assembly, was greeted with stunning, uproarious laughter from the audience at the NAACP candidate forum on Oct. 6 when he vigorously defended the Republican legislature’s gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative districts.

Despite repeated court rulings that the gerrymandering is unconstitutional, Hall said otherwise. Fortunately, his remarks were recorded on video, which you can see here.

And I can tell you that the way the maps are drawn now are much, much, much more fair than they ever were.” – Destin Hall

He was asked by an audience member, “What would you do to fix the gerrymandering problem in this state?”

Hall responds, “So in my opinion, partisan redistricting is what the Constitution calls for.”

NC Nothing comparesHe then continues speaking, making unsupported claims of gerrymandering being historically constitutional, and essentially arguing that those opposing the GOP’s efforts in Raleigh are sore losers.

He also proudly states, “This is actually a topic I know something about.”

That’s because he, no doubt, like every Republican member of the General Assembly, saw no problem with drawing maps to exclude minorities and members of the opposition party. Hall’s comments that gerrymandering is legal is laughable, as you will obviously see in the video. More chilling though, is that Hall did what the GOP is becoming expert at. Telling the big lie.

He concluded his remarks by saying, “And I can tell you that the way the maps are drawn now are much, much, much more fair than they ever were.”

The audience wasn’t buying it, as they responded with uproarious, spontaneous laughter.

Unfortunately, it’s no laughing matter, but one can understand why the audience laughed in his face; it’s better than crying. Ironically, he smiles in response, either clueless or arrogant. The latter wouldn’t be surprising, as shortly after Republicans took control of the N.C. General Assembly in 2011, courts ruled they gerrymandered districts along racial lines. Then, earlier this year, by their own admission, Republicans were again found to have gerrymandered districts unconstitutionally, this time along party lines. Indeed, if you will look up the phrase North Carolina unconstitutional gerrymandering on the Internet, you will discover at least 86 articles written about these and other cases since the 2010 takeover of the North Carolina General Assembly by Republicans, including this one that ranks our state just above Cuba as a “deeply flawed democracy.”

NC State MottoThis can be reversed though. Early voting begins next Wednesday, Oct. 17. It is time for our state’s leaders to live by its motto – “To be, rather than to seem.” The Republican Party in North Carolina clearly doesn’t believe that.

I think our people do though. If you agree, you might want to take a look at Hall’s challenger, teacher Amanda Bregel.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Amanda Bregel Looks to Represent Caldwell County in NCGA

Fourth generation teacher motivated by concern for students and families, enjoys strong volunteer support

LENOIR, N.C.Amanda Bregel, a teacher of English and Caldwell County Studies for sophomores at the CCC&TI Early College High School, is looking to unseat Destin Hall in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). Hall represents House District 87, which includes all of Caldwell County.

Amanda BregelBregel, a Democrat and quick learner supported by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, is undaunted by the task of trying to unseat a Republican incumbent in Caldwell County, where the GOP enjoys a significant voter registration margin. Referring to questions about her experience to challenge Hall and serve if elected, her answer could be that of any teacher: Anybody that can successfully manage a classroom of 20 students, work a 12-hour day and have a 10-minute lunch break can handle just about anything. Indeed, Bregel has proven she does indeed manage a classroom well, for she has been Teacher of the Year and earned a Teacher’s Fellowship.

Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all teachers. In fact, her great-grandmother taught in a one-room school house. She emphasizes the importance of being a lifelong learner, so it’s not surprising that she had many thoughtful insights when I sat down with her earlier this week for the following interview.

Q: Why have you decided to seek this office?

A: I am running to stand up for my students and families because I spend everyday to help the children in our county. My fellow teachers and I do what we can to provide for the children with so little. I realized I could help them not only in my classroom, but also another way – by influencing the laws that impact our students. I have the knowledge about our needs and want to have influence on the state budget, as 50 percent of the state’s budget goes to education and 65 percent of the budget for Caldwell County Schools comes from the state.

I think a teacher’s perspective is needed on the floor of the House. Right now, they can just look out the windows at teachers as they did earlier this year. With teachers in office, they will have to listen to people with experience in the classroom.

Q: If elected, what would be your legislative priorities?

A: People. I am focused on supporting people, so I’m focused on education, healthcare, and rural support. We must also ensure that we have a transparent state government.

I would vote to expand Medicaid to help with the opioid crisis and address many of the health issues, such as cancer rates. To me supporting the rural community means paying attention to NCDOT decisions early and speaking up when laws favor big business. This means supporting environmental protections since so much of our county is rural, natural beauty.

Q: What would be your priorities for public schools, community colleges and our universities?

A: I will pay attention to their legislative priorities. I know the legislative priorities of CCC&TI and Caldwell County Schools (workforce development and teaching assistants, calendar autonomy, and money owed from the state). I support Governor Cooper’s initiative to make North Carolina a Top Ten Educated State by 2025 – emphasizing early childhood education, increasing enrollment in pre-kindergarten, improving our high school graduation rate and increasing the percentage of adults with a higher education degree. Although I work at the Early College High School, I do not believe all high school students in Caldwell County need to be enrolled at a four-year university after high school. We need to give teachers the breathing space to create relationships with students-at all levels so they can get to know children and help students figure out their strengths and possible career path. Apprenticeship programs are something so many businesses in this area are interested in, so why aren’t we developing these programs?

I think a teacher’s perspective is needed on the floor of the House. Right now, they can just look out the windows at teachers as they did earlier this year. With teachers in office, they will have to listen to people with experience in the classroom.

Q: Do you support term limits for legislators?

A: No. Term limits can be seen as a way to limit the people’s vote. The people aren’t choosing their representative if he or she is being forced to retire. What I really believe that legislators who have been in office should be doing is “building a bench” as they say or finding and strengthening the next generation of leaders instead of staying in office for so long. You don’t want all of your experience leaving office and leaving only the lobbyists, full of knowledge about their cause and no cap on their number of years in the job, ready to influence new politicians. I do support more voter education and new legislation on campaign finance and transparency.

Q: If you were to give a “The State of North Carolina” speech, what would you say?

A: The North Carolina Constitution directs the governor come to the legislature to “give to the General Assembly information of the affairs of the State and recommend to their considerations such measures as he shall deem expedient.” Right now, what would be really expedient is to support the people. We can only really support the people by working together. North Carolina is represented equally by both political sides. We should be a beacon of bi-partisanship. We must praise examples of bi-partisanship, reach out and stop blaming each other’s parties.

Q: What is your vision for Caldwell County and North Carolina?

A: My vision for Caldwell County is a place where we can preserve our heritage and natural beauty while also providing people with the tools and support they need to thrive. I want us to keep growing and improving. I tell my students that Caldwell County is a special place because there are so many people here working so diligently to improve daily life. My vision is a county where these hard-working visionaries have the tools they need from the state and county to complete their projects and we can foster partnerships to benefit the people.

Q: There is no denying that the furniture industry was the primary driving force in Caldwell County’s economic development during the 20th Century. However, it also created a mono-economy that essentially caused great distress to the county in the 1990s because of NAFTA and other trade agreements passed by Congress. What can you do in the North Carolina General Assembly do to insulate communities throughout our state from this happening again?

A: This ties into the education question because we need to emphasize a diverse education and completing a program that trains you for a job in our area. We must adopt Skills-Based approach to fulfilling workplace needs. There are jobs available here, but can we house people so they live in Caldwell and invest here? Can we train them to fill those jobs and be able to provide for their families? We can if we keep using incentives from the state to bring in businesses like the building reuse program, which has been used in over 30 projects since 2006 and the OneNC Fund from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Q: From its inception, when Lenoir was known as Tucker’s Barn, music has been an important part of the city’s culture and growth. Doc Watson was heavily influential in the city, and the city and county has and continues to produce hundreds of musicians (as demonstrated by the success of the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase and Happy Valley Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention). Are you committed to champion and fund the arts community in the NCGA? How?

The creative industry contributes to North Carolina beyond our economy. Value creativity is essential to our quality of life, appreciation of our heritage, and pride in our community identity. The arts, history, and libraries are integral to our strong education programs and unique sense of place. So, I will strongly support the North Carolina Arts Council.

A: Yes. Arts in schools is a big need. We must protest when cuts to arts come up. We need to recognize the impact the arts have on our state’s economy. The creative industry contributes to North Carolina beyond our economy. Value creativity is essential to our quality of life, appreciation of our heritage, and pride in our community identity. The arts, history, and libraries are integral to our strong education programs and unique sense of place. So, I will strongly support the North Carolina Arts Council.

Q: About 20 years ago, the EDC brought in local consultants to help the county after the furniture industry abandoned it. One of the key points these outsiders identified was the appearance of the county, in particularly abandoned buildings. Yet still today, there are dozens of large abandoned factories and other businesses. It would seem this problem has been kicked down the road during that time. What can you do in the NCGA do to mitigate the effect of so many shuttered and dilapidated buildings and businesses?

A: A lot of our vacant buildings are superfund sites, so I support economic cleanup and environmental protections. They are dangerous and are health, safety and environmental concerns. I am proud that the City of Lenoir is working to get grants to clean up superfund sites. Still, vacant buildings are a concern, especially since it costs so much for a city to demolish a site and that’s taxpayer money for a site owned by a business or person. I’ve learned it costs about $10,000 just to demolish a vacant home.

As a member of the NCGA I would vote to re-fund the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and reinstate regulations that were rolled back the last few years. We can follow the lead of towns in other states that are using grants from environmental groups to knock down vacant houses. We can also capitalize on technology to find abandoned buildings and owners. We must make businesses responsible for the messes they make so that 50 years down the road the next generation isn’t dealing with the problems we are creating today like we are.

I tell my students that Caldwell County is a special place because there are so many people here working so diligently to improve daily life.

Q: Western North Carolina continues to grow as a tourist destination. What can you do in the NCGA do to ensure that it is a community that not only benefits from this growth, but helps facilitate it?

A: We should not always indulge the tourism industry right away. They don’t always have the best intentions for small towns like ours at heart. I will do all I can to make sure projects like the 321 superstreet doesn’t leave Caldwell behind. Becoming more involved with the NCDOT however I can is going to be a big priority. Communities know their needs, so as the representative I should vote for ours, not along party lines. Protecting our environment also helps with Western North Carolina tourism.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like voters to know that I have not asked?

A: Yes. I know as a teacher you never know what your day is going to bring. I’m not used to having a lunch break. I work every moment of my day for other people. Teachers work a 12-hour day. I will work!

Also, as a teacher I am a constant learner. You can only be a good teacher if you are constantly learning. The same is true with our state representative.

Amanda for NC House jpgWant to know more? Visit:

amandafornchouse.org
facebook.com/abregel

 © Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Monday Musings

Views on relevant stuff by the Curmudgeon-in-Chief

LENOIR, N.C. – Well, didn’t we have an interesting week last week? So, lets start with the obvious …

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin Tosses Principles Aside – Again

After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School several years ago, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin promised to work towards reasonable controls regarding access to guns, such as background checks at gun shows. That is until the NRA reminded him who was who in the zoo. So, he caved in, clearly more concerned about re-election than the lives of children.

Joe Manchin

Manchin

Well, he’s done it again in voting to seat Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Supreme Court. Manchin briefly achieved his objective – his poll numbers improved a bit in his re-election bid again Tea Party tool Patrick Morrisey. That won’t last though. He has betrayed the Constitution and spit in the face of women.

Manchin has made a terrible misjudgment. He thinks that by siding with Donald Trump – who visits West Virginia regularly to campaign for Morrisey – he will be re-elected. He won’t. Nor does he deserve to be.

His “family tradition” has not been to help the people of West Virginia. His daughter, Heather Bresch, is the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, the company that raised the cost of EpiPens by 400 percent. She would not have that job if not for her dad’s connections and a questionable resume. West Virginia University cast doubt upon her claim that she had a master’s degree from the state’s flagship university. You can read about it all here.

Manchin has a net worth of over $3 million and has investments in the coal industry. In light of today’s report that we are literally killing the world (and hence ourselves) because of our addiction to fossil fuels, his wealth and ties to the coal industry reveal a man devoted to one cause – himself.

WV State sealPatrick Morrissey – like all Tea Party tools – is not good for America. They are the modern version of the Flat Earth Society.

Nevertheless, it’s time for the voters of West Virginia to retire Manchin. He certainly does not represent the people or state motto – Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are always free). Indeed, the opposite is true. He is a slave to power; as such, he has betrayed his calling to represent the people of West Virginia.

Missing the Greatest Generation

I am again reading “The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections” by Tom Brokaw. The follow-up to “The Greatest Generation,” Brokaw said the second book came about because of “ … the avalanche of letters and responses touched off by that (first) book.” The generation of my late mom and dad truly was our nation’s greatest. What made them so? A common purpose. A belief that good must triumph over evil, but to do so requires tremendous sacrifice by people. It doesn’t just randomly happen.

My generation has, in short order, undone much of the miracles performed by our parents. We are not the greatest country in the world. Not even close. As we see in this iconic scene from the TV show “The Newsroom” starring Jeff Daniels, “It sure used to be … (but) America’s not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

We have failed our parents. We have failed our nation. We won’t sacrifice because we don’t even agree anymore what the United States stands for. As Abraham Lincoln said two years before being elected president, “A nation divided against itself, cannot stand.”

We owe our parents – and our children and grandchildren – more than “working for the weekend.” Leisure has its place. However, it can quickly devolve into apathy, especially if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the toys and gadgets we accumulate.

Enough. It’s time for us to grow up. That means we are going to have to fight evil just like our parents did. Only this time, the enemy is within – in the Oval Office. The first challenge is to recognize the evil. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking. The second – and this is imperative – is to challenge and defeat Donald Trump peacefully and constitutionally.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wanted to pick up the phone and call mom or dad to seek their wisdom. But, there are no telephones in heaven. However, Tom Brokaw has done us a great service in capturing their voices and the sacrifices they made without complaint. I suggest you pick up a copy.

On the Brink

On the Brink of EverythingSpeaking of books, one of my dearest and oldest friends makes sure my library continues to expand. So in my mail last week was, “On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old” by Parker J. Palmer. I have just begun reading it, and it’s slow going because of the time spent underlining sentences, circling words and writing notes in the margin. In it, Palmer writes, “When young and old are connected like the poles of a battery, the power that’s released enlivens both parties and helps light up the world.”

I can testify to that. Most of my friends are in their 20s and 30s, introduced to me by our 30-something children. They brighten my world. They challenge my thinking. They respectfully listen!

However, there is darkness in the conversations. They are concerned about the future. Again, as we learned today, we are on the brink of extinction if we don’t address climate change. Hence, we might be well served to ponder this insight from Palmer: “But isn’t it possible we’re on the brink of flying free, or discovering something of beauty, or finding peace and joy”? Though he is referring to our last season of life, he could just as easy be referring to our nation; we are indeed, “on the brink.” My artistic, musical and philosophical young friends understand that. They, as a lot, remain hopeful.

I, however, can’t say the same. Experience or pessimism? I don’t know. I would like to believe that the optimism in Palmer’s outlook is applicable to our current national crises, and is well-founded. That, however, requires the end of tribalism and an embracing – not just tolerance – of the “other.” There are few signs of that though. Still, I look for the signs of us being on the brink of a revival of civility and cooperation. But I do so with quite low expectations.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. 

Monday Musings from the Curmudgeon-in-Chief

Rants on relevant stuff by an old coot

LENOIR, N.C. – I try not to write on the weekends. Generally, I don’t. The problem with that, however, is that by Monday I have notes on various topics stuck all over and around my desk. So, I’m trying something new. Every Monday (more or less) I’ll be offering brief musings on a variety of relevant stuff. So, here we go …

Is Critical Thinking on Sabbatical at NPR?

In a story published today on NPR, “The American Dream is Harder to Find in Some Neighborhoods,” writer John Ydstie accepts as fact that the so-called American Dream is something to which we all aspire. In at least two places, he refers to the American Dream without any critical thought. In short, he has assumed that everyone knows what it is (probably, in a vague sense) and aspires to it (wrong!). He also quotes a source that doesn’t critically question the concept of the American Dream.

Maybe it’s because I write about the health care industry, public health and the environment so much that I always look for a root cause to any problem. I certainly do my best to not make assumptions. In this case, Mr. Ydstie has demonstrated that critical thinking is on sabbatical at NPR. If people are no longer able to aspire to the American Dream as reported in the article, perhaps it wasn’t a dream at all. Maybe it’s a nightmare.

Mon rant 1 sharon-mccutcheon-665638-unsplash

I know what is implied with the term American Dream. It boils down to essentially working ourselves to death to stockpile toys and gadgets that we don’t need – and indeed interfere with our interaction with other people and the environment in which we live. That is not my dream. Mine is to live simply, consume only what I need, be self-sufficient, limit my ecological footprint, and live in harmony with others.

It seems to me that our sad state of affairs today – acrimony, incivility and mass shootings just to name a few – would have us at least questioning the root causes of these problems. If we were, we would quickly find that one of the root causes is our obsession with “achieving” the American Dream. As we all reach across the table for our share of the pie, we compete for power and we exclude the most vulnerable – always.

So, is it a dream or is it a nightmare? You will have to answer that for yourself, but NPR should at least be asking the question, as should all journalists. But, as usual, the artists are ahead of elected officials and the so-called “Fourth Estate.” Check out this music video, “American Dream,” by the Christian contemporary rock group, Casting Crowns. Notably, this song was released in 2003 on the group’s self-titled debut album. They got it – 15 years ago!

Trump Insults all Korean War Veterans with His Revolting New Love Affair with Kim Jong Un

George Barrick

Lt. George M. Barrick Jr.

Speaking in my home state of West Virginia in the northern panhandle city of Wheeling on Sept. 29, Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jun Un, “He wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

I don’t know who disgusts me more – Trump or the West Virginians that fall for that line of crap. I suggest they all pay a visit to Charleston, the state capital, and visit the monument to fallen veterans from West Virginia in our 20th Century wars. Among the hundreds of names of those killed in Korea is my Uncle George. He was killed in a delaying action in the first days of the war – as were many West Virginians. You can read about him here.

What you won’t read in that article are the circumstances of my uncle’s death. I’ve never printed them out of respect for my father, who did not want to know the horror of how his brother met his end on the battlefield. Dad died three years ago, so here’s a brief account of my uncle’s murder at the hands of the North Koreans:

Lt. George M. Barrick was reported killed in the Chockiwon area of South Korea on July 12, 1950, while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. Decades later, R. E. Culbertson, a member of Barrick’s company, recalled that Lt. Wadie Roundtree, also a member of that company, stated that he had seen George lying beside the road. His head was bleeding, and he appeared mortally wounded. Although a prisoner and unable to stop, Lt. Roundtree was able to ask George if the North Koreans were responsible for his injuries. The reply was ‘yes.’ Culbertson later saw Barrick’s body in the same place and reported that he looked as though he had been run over by a tank.” (Source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History).

You say that was a long time ago? Yes, it was. However, we know the regime has not changed its human rights abuses.

WV State sealNorth Korea is our enemy. At one time, every red-blooded Mountaineer knew that Communists were our enemies. So, I am stunned. I reckon many of my fellow West Virginians only understand Trumpese Twitter shorthand. So, here’s what you need to know: Communists Bad. Lovers of Communists are traitors. I think you can figure out the rest. Still, I have to ask, what happened to “Mountaineers Are Always Free”?

Lindsey Graham the Poster Child of GOP Hypocrisy

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), said to Democrats during the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, “Y’all want power really bad.”

Good grief, Charlie Brown! That’s exactly what politics is all about, especially in a Republic where we get to choose our representatives. So of course, in a nation of 330 million people and nearly as many tribes, the stakes will always be high. So when one considers that the Republican Party refused to even have hearings for Merrick Garland, Graham’s words ring hollow, self-serving and of course, ironic. Sadly, that is today’s GOP (though Democrats don’t exactly have halos over their heads).

Easier is not Always Better

This little rant is minor in comparison to the other topics, but it is still a systemic problem in our nation, so its relevant. It is rooted (there’s that word again) in our dependence upon the internet. I am constantly refusing to bank or conduct business online. Why? Because billions of dollars have been stolen that way, not to mention personal data. And, I reckon because my writings upset a few people, attempts to hack into my email have occurred several times. In any event, an ongoing exchange with our auto insurer illustrates this conundrum. They want us to do everything online. I refuse. I hear the programmed response from what I think is a real person, but can’t say for sure: “But it’s easier.” I ask in return, “But is it better?” Dead silence. 

“Just mail me the bill,” I conclude. “Well, OK, but that will increase your rates.” I didn’t ask the programmed person what immediately came to mind, “What the hell does me not using the internet have to do with my insurance rates?” The only legitimate reason for higher rates is because I’m a lousy driver, not stubborn. 

But, such is the life of a curmudgeon. Talk to you again next Monday – but only if I feel like it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Catholic Committee of Appalachia Calls for Full Investigation of West Virginia Diocese

In wake of Bishop Michael Bransfield scandal, group calls for ‘specific, achievable actions’

CCA also claims that Archbishop Lori cannot be trusted to be an impartial investigator

By Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael J. Iafrate

WHEELING, W.Va. – As the Roman Catholic Church reels from new revelations of the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, thousands of Catholics from various corners of the church have loudly demanded the mass resignation and/or dismissal of U.S. bishops in order to “clean house.” In the midst of this turmoil, Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston offered his resignation to Pope Francis, not as penance, but in the manner customary for bishops who have reached the age of 75. (Bransfield turned 75 on September 8th.)

Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in a matter of days and appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore as temporary administrator of the Diocese. Further, the Vatican charged Lori with the task of conducting an investigation of Bransfield’s alleged sexual harassment of adults.

Jeannie headshot

Jeannie Kirkhope

The swift acceptance of Bransfield’s resignation and subsequent investigation is not surprising. Abuse allegations have haunted Bransfield, resurfacing most recently during the criminal trial of Catholic priests in Philadelphia in 2012. But more, Bransfield’s lavish lifestyle and flaunted political allegiances marked his episcopacy with signs of clerical privilege and entitlement that are the root cause of abuse by members of the priesthood, including sexual misconduct.

As lay leaders who represent many Catholics in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia, we certainly welcome a full investigation into any alleged sexual harassment of adults by Bransfield, both during and before his time as Bishop. We also urge an investigation into the unresolved allegations of past behavior while working in a Philadelphia high school and into his time serving as a senior cleric in Washington D.C. under the leadership of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including any knowledge Bransfield had of McCarrick’s abusive behavior.

Nevertheless, we have serious reservations as to whether Archbishop Lori would be an impartial party to head up such an investigation, having been Bransfield’s guest at a “Red Mass” celebrated for lawyers and government officials in January 2017. Ordinary lay Catholics and women religious from the state should be an integral part of any internal church investigation. Most importantly, beyond a church investigation, all files related to allegations against Bransfield must be turned over to the proper civil authorities.

Michael Iafrate headshot

Michael J. Iafrate

Those familiar with sex abuse in the Catholic Church know that Bransfield’s alleged actions are likely the tip of the iceberg. Last week, Catholics gathered at St. Michael’s Parish in Wheeling to discuss the abuse crisis. Comments given there by diocesan spokespeople (including diocesan attorney James Gardill) signaled deeply entrenched defensiveness, denial, and an accusatory posture toward “the media” as supposed “persecutors” of the Catholic Church. The claim was repeatedly made that this diocese has not been affected by sexual abuse as “other dioceses” have. Claims that minimize abuse have almost always been proven false, most recently in the Diocese of Buffalo where the opening of diocesan secret archives revealed over double the previously self-reported number.

Church and civil investigations must go beyond Bransfield and open the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston itself to deeper scrutiny. In the strongest terms possible, we urge the Diocese to implement the following specific, achievable actions:

  • publish the names of credibly accused abuser priests, religious, and lay pastoral workers on the diocesan website (dwc.org);
  • willingly open diocesan records related to sex abuse to State and/or Federal authorities before any inevitable forced investigation takes place;
  • apologize for the past statements of diocesan spokespeople which accuse secular media of inventing and/or exaggerating the severity of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church;
  • denounce the continued scapegoating of gay priests relative to sexual abuse; and,
  • establish a permanent system for diocesan staff and clergy to speak up without retaliation.

The legacy Bransfield leaves to West Virginia is uncertain, and ambiguous at best. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s handling of the allegations against Michael Bransfield will shape the church’s legacy as well, speaking volumes about what kind of church we want to be and whether we really want to break with the destructive and abusive clericalism of the past. Together with other concerned Catholics, we raise our voices in faith and in hope for truth, transparency and accountability in the church we love, and for the justice and healing of her abuse survivors.

© Catholic Committee of Appalachia, 2018. Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael J. Iafrate are the Co-Coordinators, Catholic Committee of Appalachia