Better Governing Now » The politics of disasters


The politics of disasters

    Publisher's Note (BCN): This article originally appeared in the Beaufort Observer.

    Editor's note (Beaufort Observer): In the interest of full disclosure we would offer the following introductory comment. In September, 1999 when Hurricane Floyd hit Beaufort County, we, like thousands of people DownEast, lost our home and much of what was in it. We still remember the days and weeks (yes, even a year later) that followed. For days we stayed in a motel. After that we spent countless hours trying to put our lives back together. But of all the memories of that catastrophe the one that is most vivid is the realization that we were fortunate. Others had it much worse. But another of our most vivid memories was how very ineffective "the government" was in helping us and our neighbors. In fact, one of those still vivid memories was the hassle we had in getting permits to replace the destruction we suffered. But that's another story.

    During that traumatic time we still recall Governor Jim Hunt being on TV seemingly every time we turned it on (after we finally got power restored) talking about his caring for what we and our neighbors were suffering. So when one of our neighbors was having a particularly hard time getting help from the state we tried to help. We called the Governor's Office. The objective: To get her power turned on. (There was power on the lines in front of her house, but it had not "been inspected.") And as they say, "you'd never believe what happened..." Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Lots of words and lots of "we'll have someone get back to you..." but if our neighbor had relied on State Government she would have been dead before the first anniversary came around.

    We say all that because it burned an attitude in us that we still have until this day. Government does little real, actual good when disaster strikes. It is more often a hindrance than a help. You see it over and over, whether it is New Orleans after Katrina, the Gulf Coast after the oil spill, mudslides in California or the now infamous pictures of Obama and Chris Christie walking the beach of New Jersey after Sandy.

    So we'll make our point simply. We don't give much credence to politicians doing photo ops after a disaster. Cynical? Indeed. But we can't help it.

    We know, there are those who think getting in an airplane and flying over, or into, a devastated area shows caring and compassion. Bull. What real, actual good does it do those who are suffering? If the politicians were to muster a little authenticity they would realize that the best way for them to do some good to help victims of disasters is to do their job at the office well. And with a Governor, that does not mean pulling his people, who should be doing real work, away from their tasks and flying across the state. Get to the office and see that everybody all down the line is doing their jobs at 110%. No cameras please.

    Perhaps we're jaded. We admit that. Floyd did that to us.

    So when we got the notice that Governor Pat McCrory was coming to Beaufort County the next day to survey the tornado damage we decided it best to not cover that story. Had we done so we would have been compelled to interview those who had lost their homes and an obvious question would have come up about how they felt about the politicians' presser. We didn't want to have to print what we knew some of the responses would be.

    No, we don't think a politician showing up for a couple of hours for a photo op shows they care. No. What it shows, as often as not, is how artificial they are. Spare us. McCrory flew into Beaufort County for a couple of hours. They got Alan Jordan to ride him around a bit and then they all scrambled to get in front of the cameras. So I asked some of the men working out the Disaster Relief trailer behind the First Baptist Church how much help they had gotten from Sheriff Jordan's office and they looked at me like I was crazy. Ditto the lady at the Salvation Army. But the best answer came from a Red Cross volunteer. She smiled and said: "I'm sure they're on the way..." We have reports that Sheriff Jordan's uniform was perfectly spit and shine hours after the tornado hit in contradiction to one of his deputies we saw later that day that had obviously been involved in "hands on caring." But Jordan's picture gets on the tube and the deputy goes unrecognized. You get our point.

    We would suggest to the Governor's handlers that the next time they fly him in to a disaster area that they have him visit the people who are helping the victims, such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, the various church disaster groups etc. and use the cameras to encourage people to donate to those organizations. Pushing politics has no place at such times.
Beaufort County Sheriff Alan Jordan (left), North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (right): Above.     photo by Stan Deatherage

    So now you know why we don't cover these political photo ops.

    But we did have a source at the presser. Hood Richardson attended in his role as county commissioner (but didn't try to get in the pictures). He filed this report which was published in the County Compass as political commentary:

The hustle to be seen with the Governor

        By: Hood Richardson    Click image to expand.

    The good news is that neither Gregg Dority, Ashley Woolard, Gary Brinn nor Sheriff Alan Jordan got injured in their stampede to be seen with Governor Pat McCrory during his inspection of tornado damage on Whichard's Beach Road on Sunday April 27, 2014.

    Late on Saturday, county commissioners began getting notices about the Governor's visit on Sunday. I did not think much about the visit other than county commissioners should be present for this kind visit (when the Governor visits our county). I did not plan to go until I got calls from other elected Republicans asking me to attend. Stan Deatherage and I went. No other commissioners were present other than Gary Brinn. There were no officials of the Beaufort County Republican Party present nor other local Republican officials. Why?

    Governor McCrory showed up on time with a bevy of state officials including Secretary of Transportation Tata, Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry and gaggle of Highway Patrol troopers. Senator Bill Cook was present to greet the Governor, as well he should have been. They did their tour of the devastation and then did a press conference. Local speakers at the press conference were Sheriff Alan Jordan, Commissioner Gary Brinn and Senator Bill Cook. Television stations and press were there from several places across the state. Everything looks good up to this point.

    The rest of this story is not so good. I felt sorry for the Governor. Arriving in a county that he is not familiar with and having some of the local political players use his good will to endorse Democrats and themselves personally was not very becoming. Yes, I am a partisan Republican. But that is not wholly what this is about. The good name and image of Beaufort County suffered because three people tried to use the good will of the Governor's office for their personal political gain.

    To set the record straight, I do not need exposure with the Governor. Almost every person in Beaufort County knows me or knows who I am. However, had I been standing there when the Republican Governor extolled the virtues of our Democrat Sheriff, I may have walked off. It would have been politically appropriate for the Governor to thank the Sheriff Jordan for his assistance. The Governor went on and on about how great Jordan is. Obviously the Governor did not know what is going on with local politics. I am confident he did not realize he was inserting himself into our local Sheriff's race. I do not expect him to know local politics but someone on his staff or whoever his Beaufort County contact is should provide him with some advice. It was embarrassing to me as a Commissioner and as a Republican. The Governor should have been informed that the essence of this year's Sheriff's race is whether the Jordan Regime will be continued or replaced. Somebody apparently duped the Governor.

    I knew something was wrong when Dority and Brinn zeroed in on Sheriff Jordan upon his arrival and they acted like old friends, back slapping, shaking hands and talking like drinking buddies. "Something's up," I said to myself.

    I have been able to determine from various sources what seems to have happened. Someone from the Governor's office apparently contacted Gregg Dority about the visit to Beaufort County. Dority rounded up his buddies to attend the event. Gregg's buddies are Ashley Woolard and Gary Brinn. No one else, who should have been, was there. Keith Kidwell, the former Chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, was notified about 10:00 AM on Sunday morning by the Governor's office. This is the same as no notice. Proctor Kidwell. Keith's brother and the current Chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party was not notified at all. And never doubt for a minute that this was not a "political event."

    Dority, Brinn and Woolard's behavior is in perfect conformity with their past behavior. Their escapades into the Raleigh Establishment representing themselves as the local Republican power brokers has caused a lot of trouble for us in Beaufort County. These people were behind the Arthur Williams fiasco with Tillis. They seemed to have a hand in getting Delma Blinson removed from the Beaufort County Board of Elections (because as a private individual he endorsed the "wrong" candidate.) They seem to have been involved in the dumping of Shirley Richardson (yes my wife) from consideration to replace Blinson. It was their work that got the moderate Republican John B. Tate, III appointed to the Board of Elections. More on this later.

    There has been much talk about the division in the Beaufort County Republican Party. It is becoming apparent who is feeding this rot from the inside. They and their ilk have done this during the past 18 years, but only one of these people has managed to win but one election. So long as they can operate in the darkness the Republican Party in Beaufort County will not be successful. Exposing their bad behavior to the light of the public is the only cure for these destructive political animals.

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