Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Deceit: onward and upward

It appears that the sneaky, dirty politics don't stop with Pender County Democrats. (I know, I know, any Republicans reading this are probably saying "And that's a surprise how? Didn't you just move down from that state where Hillary Clinton is a senator?" But ya gotta understand that the Republican reputation here isn't exactly stellar either. In fact, that's been one of the biggest excuses by local Democrats for how they went about all this -- "But they did it first!" Yes, very mature and moral high-groundish.)

Strangely, a detailed map of the new districts shoved through by the Democratic commissioners has been kept from everyone who has asked. Even the director of elections and the county management haven't been given a copy. The paper copies provided at the meeting are available, but they don't have enough detail to answer serious questions about the new districts -- you can't even tell which district one of the commissioners is in, even when you look at the map at 300% magnification.

When we (county officials and myself) called Raleigh to get a copy of the map, we were told that Representative Thomas Wright (the Democratic legislator from this area who assisted the local conspirators that went to Raleigh) had given orders that the electronic copy not be released. And Wright never answers his phone, nor returns calls (we've made calls to both his office and cell phone for close to two weeks now, I think.)

But he made the mistake of coming to a photo op Friday in town. Myself and another reporter cornered him when they gave him his piece of cake (thereby inadvertently trapping for a few minutes) and asked him why he wouldn't release the map. He explained that on the one hand, the map was secret from his point of view until it became a bill for the state legislature. He didn't want to release it until the bill was done, in case changes were made (of course, this would prevent citizens from seeing it to suggest changes.) On the other hand, he explained that the map wasn't even really his until he turned it into a bill. "Technically, it's not my map," he said. He hadn't released it, because it wasn't his -- it belonged to the Pender County commissioners. Since they had produced it and voted on it to become a resolution, it belonged to them.

So we asked him, all of them, or just the ones who made it or supported it? He replied that it belonged to all of the commissioners. The only reason he hadn't released it yet was because a commissioner hadn't asked him. We double-checked. Any commissioner, no matter which one, could request the map, and Wright would give it to him? Yes, Wright said. Any commissioner.

So when I got back to the office, I called up George Brown, one of the commissioners who had been ambushed by this whole deal. I told him what Wright had told us. He decided to go to the county manager's office and call Raleigh from there. He went in and called Wright's office and told them that he was officially requesting the map. Of course, Wright was in our area, but whadda-ya-know, he never returned the call.

Then Brown called Raleigh Myers, the cartographer who apparently helped generate the map. Myers said that he could have it and that he would personally send it over that afternoon. In the course of the conversation, he asked Brown if he was one of the commissioners who originally came to produce the map, and Brown said no. Brown asked if that made a difference, and Myers told him no, that he would send the map himself that afternoon.

Brown left the county manager's offfice. About an hour later, Raleigh contacted them and explained that he was terribly sorry, felt awful because he had promised to personally get this sent, but Representative Wright was refusing to allow him to send it to anyone.

I called Research Monday and found that Myers was away. I talked to another worker there, who confirmed that Wright's office had ordered the map withheld from everyone. Somehow, Wright never happened to return the call from the message I left at his office Monday afternoon.

And so it appears that the sneaking sculdudgery goes beyond the Pender County Democratic Party up into the state level. Supposedly, the map in all its details will become public record, available to all, as soon as Wright sponsors the bill it is attached to. (Senator R.C. Soles, also a Democrat, has promised to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. I still don't know if he really knows what all is going on, or if he has been caught up in the local machinations himself. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until I talk to him or he refuses to talk to me. I'm not giving Wright the benefit of the doubt, because there is no doubt about the lack of integrity he has displayed in this matter.) The only reason I can see for withholding the map, especially after he promised to give it out if a commissioner asked, is to prevent the public from scrutinizing it for as long as possible.

He said on Friday that he has been receiving calls from people complaining that "this is wrong." (He said the last in a whiny voice, mocking them clearly.) He went on to say that it wasn't wrong -- "It's democracy." The majority of the commissioners voted to approve this map, and, "Majority rules. Move on." (Ironically, he says he would be opposed to a county-wide referendum on the redistricting -- it's the responsibility of elected officials to make practically all decisions, and the responsibility of the people to deal with the officials. So much for true "majority rules" democracy.)

When Brown confronted him Friday night and told Wright that many in the county opposed the new map, he says that Wright told him, "I'm used to opposition. Bring it on."

Wow. Used to opposition. I'm sure that's true, and often necessary at the state level. But to be that defiant to the concerns of his own constituents, possibly the majority of them, that reeks of an arrogance that despises what is good for the people. And to participate in the deceit that has been practiced here, either speaking a bold-faced lie, or going back on his word within a matter of hours with no explanation, that bespeaks a lack of honesty, integrity, and morality that ought not be entrusted with the good of our state.

I can only hope that the residents of our county, all of them, not just the Republicans or east-siders, remember this deceitfulness and manipulativeness displayed by the Democratic Party (and not just by the three Democratic commissioners and Representative Wright -- this seems to run through the entire upper levels of the party in Pender County) in the next few elections. Scheming, self-serving, dishonest leadership never really benefits anyone in the long run, even if it seems like they are playing for your team at the moment -- as deceitful and self-serving as these men have demonstrated themselves to be, I don't even see how the rank-and-file Democrats of Pender County can trust them to work genuinely on their behalf. And I hope that our voters have enough integrity to demand honesty from all of their elected officials, regardless of which party they are from.


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