Time for Robeson to shed the labels

June 30, 2014

District Attorney Johnson Britt recently said Robeson County should “put away the labels.” He’s right.

Although he was specifically referring to the sheriff’s race, the point is well taken across the spectrum. For example, Gov. Pat McCrory is not on the ballot again until 2016. Even in the remote chance Roy Cooper captures the Governor’s mansion, both legislative houses are expected to be under Republican control at least another four to six years.

Unless you’re just seeking a balanced voice, picking candidates solely on their race or party affiliation is counterproductive. Because you’re otherwise stuck. Former high school ag teacher Danny Kinlaw referred to this concept as “picking your wave and riding it.” It’s valuable advice.

Surfers decide which wave to ride. But once committed to a wave, they have no choice but to ride it. Now they might crash among the waves, get thrown onto some rocks or may ride it gloriously to the shore. Either way, you pick it and ride it.

District 46 replaced Rep. G.L. Pridgen, a Republican, with Rep. Ken Waddell, a Democrat, two years ago. That’s democracy.

But understand that in just two years, Pridgen was one of the most effective legislators to represent the district. Waddell has accomplished little — though it’s not Waddell’s fault.

Pridgen was a Republican legislator in a Republican-controlled House. Waddell is a Democrat, but is no Sen. Michael Walters, also a Democrat but a statesman who works across the aisle. Therefore, as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled House, we can good-naturedly assume that all he can do is run to the end of his chain and bark.

Columbus largely picked Waddell for no other reason than he was their hometown guy with Robeson supporting Pridgen. Few considered a Republican is more effective in a Republican legislature. Picking a good guy from home was ineffective.

This year District 46 has a choice in Brendan Jones, a Republican who is challenging Waddell and is also from Columbus. Columbus gets to pick their wave between a dissenting voice or an effective voice. Jones is already meeting with Republican legislators in Raleigh.

But Johnson Britt’s point is more specific to Robeson. Britt is one the most respected district attorneys since Joe Freeman Britt. His advice is eerily similar to the formula for success that made former Sheriff Malcolm McLeod an icon. McLeod teamed up with then District Attorney Malcolm Seawell in 1950. The success of that teamwork is legendary.

Today history repeats itself. The current sheriff isn’t a bad guy just as Malcolm McLeod wasn’t running against bad guys in 1950. Instead, McLeod ran on digging the Sheriff’s Office out of the past. Certainly today that past is again tarnished and Randy Hammonds, a former captain with the state Highway Patrol, will soon run a similar campaign.

Britt’s point is that for a McLeod campaign to work, citizens must put aside the labels of race, party affiliation or whatever holds them back from picking a wave out of the past and into the future.

It was a risk in 1950. McLeod had no law enforcement experience unlike present candidates. But similarly, pre-1950’s sheriffs were linked to bootlegging corruption like today, rightly or wrongly, the current administration is linked to Tarnished Badge.

Robeson had a choice between sticking with the past or siding with McLeod, who represented the future. Putting aside the labels and picking McLeod resulted in a new Sheriff’s Office and resembles Hammond’s forward leaning vision to put the past behind us.

McLeod served for the next 28 years, followed by Hubert Stone, whose son is now running for Nash County sheriff as a Republican. Even the Democratic Nash sheriff supports Stone. Nash County is putting aside the labels.

The point is that we have too many labels in Robeson. From now on, success means putting aside the labels in every political race, because in the end, Robeson must pick its wave and ride it.

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.