A bill that would provide a $12 million incentive package to the Evergreen Packaging paper mill in Canton failed to garner enough votes from the state House.
“I did my best — that’s all I can say,” said Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Haywood, on Tuesday afternoon.
The prospects of Haywood County’s tourism development tax increase making it through the General Assembly in Raleigh this year is highly likely — or perhaps highly unlikely. It depends on whom you ask.
Two weeks after the primary election, an official winner has finally been declared following a recount in an insanely tight race between two prominent Waynesville Democrats for the N.C. House of Representatives.
Joe Sam Queen beat out Danny Davis by a mere 17 votes — less than 0.002 percent of the 9,969 votes cast in the race.
“It definitely shows that one vote can make a difference,” said Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, the director of the Jackson County Board of Elections.
While Democrats were clearly torn on which man they wanted to send to Raleigh, Queen said he is pleased to win.
“I want to pull together because this is an important year,” said Queen, who will now face the Republican opponent Mike Clampitt from Swain County come November.
Queen and Clampitt are vying for the N.C. House seat currently held by retiring Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva. The seat represents Jackson and Swain counties and the greater Waynesville and Lake Junaluska area of Haywood County. The district leans strongly Democratic.
The race between Queen and Davis came down to the wire on election night, with Queen emerging as the top vote-getter by a mere 11 votes. Queen’s margin widened to an 18-vote lead the following week after a few dozen provisional ballots and late absentee ballots were added to the results.
Provisional ballots are cast when poll workers can’t find a voter’s name on the roster of registered voters. They are given a provisional ballot, which is then set aside in a special stack until election workers have a chance to research whether the ballot should be counted.
A few late absentee ballots usually trickle in after the election as well, but as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, they get counted.
Davis then called for a recount — a right entitled to any candidate under state election law when a race is within a 1-percent margin.
In today’s era of computerized voting terminals, however, recounts rarely change the outcome. But, Davis did pick up one extra vote in the recount, discovered by election workers in Jackson County when hand counting a handful of paper ballots from voters who mailed in absentee ballots.
“They just didn’t do the bubble correctly,” Lovedahl-Lehman said. “The scanner wouldn’t read it, but the board members could look at it and see the voter intent was for Davis.”
Queen said he and Davis both ran fair, clean campaigns.
“It is by far the most pleasant election I have been through,” said Queen.
A recount is likely in the race for N.C. House of Representatives between two well-known and prominent Waynesville Democrats, Danny Davis and Joe Sam Queen. The race came down to the wire on election night last week, with Queen emerging as the top vote-getter by a mere 11 votes.
Results on election night are considered “unofficial” for another week, however, until election workers have a chance to weed through a few dozen provisional ballots and late absentees and determine if any should be counted.
Those provisional and late absentees were processed Tuesday but failed to change the outcome of the race.
Davis picked up an additional 13 votes, while Queen picked up an additional 19 votes — so Queen actually widened his margin of victory from 11 votes to 17.
Queen and Davis were vying for the N.C. House seat currently held by retiring Rep. Phil Haire, D- Sylva. The seat represents Jackson, Swain and the greater Waynesville and Lake Junaluska area of Haywood County. The winner in the Democratic primary will face the Republican opponent Mike Clampitt from Swain County come November.
Given how close the race is, Davis said he will likely call for a recount. Under state election law, any candidate can request a recount in any race. The state election board then decides whether one is warranted.
If a race is within 1 percent, however, the state is obligated to conduct a recount if the runner-up requests it.
“There is a reason the state has a mandatory recount if it is less than 1 percent,” Davis said, explaining why he would most likely ask for a recount.
Davis spent 26 years as a District Court judge in the seven western counties. Queen, an architect with a side business managing a vast inventory of rental property, has served six years in Raleigh as a state senator.
Both candidates were holding their breath in the days following last week’s election, curious whether some 115 provisional ballots and a handful of late absentee ballots would alter the outcome of the race.
Provisional ballots are cast on Election Day when poll workers can’t find a voter’s name on the roster of registered voters. They are given a provisional ballot, which is then set aside in a special stack until election workers have a chance to research whether the ballot should be counted.
“Every voter has the right to vote. They are given a provisional and if it is cleared they count. If not, they don’t,” said Joan Weeks, director of the Swain County Board of Elections.
There are several reasons why someone’s name might not show up on the roster at the polls. Perhaps they registered to vote under their maiden name, but give poll workers their married name. Perhaps they thought they registered at some point but in fact had not.
Often, they registered to vote in another county and didn’t realize they have to re-register to vote when they move.
This is particularly common in Jackson County, where college students at Western Carolina University registered in their hometown but show up at the polls on Election Day thinking they can vote in Jackson.
Election workers across the state hold a “canvas” the week after the election, where they go through all the provisional ballots and decide which, if any, are legitimate.
Ultimately, the majority don’t count.
“Legally you can’t say ‘No you can’t vote,’ but in the end most of them are not going to count,” Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, director of the Jackson County Election Board, said.
But there are a few instances where a voter has indeed registered yet doesn’t show up in the official roster at the polls.
Sometimes, people will register to vote at the Division of Motor Vehicles when getting a driver’s license. The DMV then transmits the voter registration to the appropriate county election board. Occasionally, it gets sent to the wrong county or something simply goes wrong with the transfer.
“There are times, albeit rare, when you put a batch of things in the scanner and somebody at DMV had syrup on their hands and two of them stick together and one of them doesn’t scan,” said Robert Inman, director of the Haywood County Election Board.
As for the majority of provisional ballots that never get counted, how that person voted will never be known. Election workers first verify whether the ballot is eligible, and only then is the ballot opened and counted. Whether those not counted could have changed the outcome of the election remains a mystery.
“This is not five card draw where you have to show your hand,” Inman said.
The race for N.C. House of Representatives between two well-known and prominent Waynesville Democrats, Danny Davis and Joe Sam Queen, came down to the wire Tuesday night.
Queen emerged as the top vote getter by only 12 votes. But, Davis said he was not prepared to concede the race. Results are considered “unofficial” on election night and are not certified for another two or three days, after the county election boards are able to verify provisional ballots, a process that can result in a shuffling of few votes here and there.
“Twelve votes is just too close,” Davis said Tuesday night. “I want to wait until we know more about these other ballots.”
Davis spent 26 years as a District Court judge in the seven western counties, what he calls a “front row seat” on the issues affecting people’s lives. Meanwhile, Queen, an architect with a side business managing a vast inventory of rental property, points to his six years spent in Raleigh as a state senator.
While Queen and Davis are both from Waynesville, the candidates had the most at stake in Jackson County — clearly the largest bloc of Democratic voters compared to much smaller Swain County and the fraction of Haywood that lies in the district.
Queen and Davis both spent the day campaigning in Sylva.
“We had a very pleasant day together at the same precinct all day long in the rain and in the sun. We had good sensible conversation, intermittent with shaking hands and trying to win our share of the votes,” Queen said.
Queen said Democratic voters were torn, witnessed by the close vote.
“We are both well-known, well-like Democrats with significant records of public service and loyal constituents,” Queen said.
Queen has been a state senator representing Haywood County but has never been on the ballot in Jackson.
Queen campaigned actively in Jackson County, attending community functions and hosting meet-and-greet receptions with voters.
“Jackson County is half the district, and it was new to me, so it was certainly my battle ground,” Queen said.
The winner will run against Mike Clampitt, a Republican from Swain County, come November.
Two well-known Waynesville Democrats running against each other for a shot at representing mountain people in Raleigh so far are playing fair and keeping the race clean.
But their similar platforms, progressive rhetoric and measured campaigns mean voters deciding between Joe Sam Queen and Danny Davis will likely be left to size up the man behind the race rather than the policies they stand for.
“There is little he wouldn’t say in his stump speech that I wouldn’t say ‘Amen’ to,” Queen said of Davis. “This is a Democratic primary, and Democrats have to choose among their friends. I have heard ‘I like you both’ more than once.”
The two men are vying for a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives representing Jackson, Swain and the greater Waynesville and Lake Junaluska area of Haywood County. The winner will run against Mike Clampitt, a Republican from Swain County, come November.
The seat suddenly came open this year when Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, announced he would retire. Haire has served seven terms. Queen and Davis quickly emerged as Democratic contenders following Haire’s decision.
Both men lament the budget cuts witnessed under Republican leadership as being too harsh and decry Republican leadership for taking the state in a regressive direction.
But those arguments will play out in excruciating detail come the general election in November when facing an opponent from the other party. For now, in this civil race between two Democrats, Queen and Davis are left trying to convince voters they have the experience needed to get the job done.
Davis spent 26 years as a District Court judge in the seven western counties, what he calls a “front row seat” on the issues affecting people’s lives.
“There is no better training than being a District Court judge when it comes to seeing the problems people in our community face,” Davis said. “If there is a new drug on the street, we are the first to see it. If the economy is bad, we are the first to see it. People lose their jobs and can’t pay their child support.”
Davis has even witnessed the struggle over health care, when people’s insurance runs out, and they turn to credit cards to pay medical bills only to end up with collection agencies after them.
“I wish members of the General Assembly could come to court and see how people really live,” Davis said. “What they do down there has repercussions.”
Meanwhile, Queen, an architect with a side business managing a vast inventory of rental property, points to his six years spent in Raleigh as a state senator.
Queen said it’s easy for first-time candidates to draft legislative wish lists and sweeping campaign platforms. But once in Raleigh, reality sets in, something he learned the hard way his first time around.
“I have been proud, forceful and green before, and you don’t get much done,” Queen said. “I got my pocket picked plenty. There is a learning curve. Experience matters.”
Queen lost his seat in the Senate in 2010 after several hard-fought elections that saw the seat flip-flop back and forth between Queen and his Republican opponent each election cycle. Thus, his six years in Raleigh were served intermittently during the course of the past decade. Nonetheless, Queen said he can get right to work for the region thanks to the experience and relationships he’s already built in Raleigh.
“I know where the landmines are and how difficult it is to pull things off,” Queen said. “We need to have experienced legislators serving us because you get better every year. That is just a fact.”
But, Davis isn’t easily assuaged.
“I don’t think I will miss a beat when I go down there,” Davis said. “I think my experience as a judge gives me instant credibility. I think I have a much stronger background thinking through how legislation is going to affect people.”
Davis says he is familiar with the legislative process and has honed the art of approaching problems with critical and rational thinking.
“Having to sit down with folks and say, ‘Here’s where we are and here’s where we need to get,’ it doesn’t mater if you are a judge or a legislator, the art of negotiating is the same,” Davis said. “I think the best thing I have learned from being a District Court judge is how to listen. No one is ever 100 percent correct, and no one is ever 100 percent wrong.”
Davis also points to the decorum it takes to run a courtroom in a civil, respectful manner while still staying in charge.
Queen countered that his experience doesn’t stop at the steps of the legislative building, but he knows what it means to work in the private sector business world.
“I am an architect, a farmer, a businessman. I have employees and make payroll and deal with business cycles,” Queen said.
While Queen and Davis are both from Waynesville, the race will likely be fought and won in Jackson County — clearly the largest bloc of voters compared to much smaller Swain County and the fraction of Haywood that lies in the district.
Jackson accounts for half the likely voters who will cast ballots in the race. Swain accounts for less than 20 percent. Haywood’s partial territory accounts for slightly more than 30 percent.
The breakdown, an analysis by Queen, factors in registered Democrats as well as unaffiliated voters who typically vote in the Democratic primary.
Davis believes he has strong name recognition in Jackson County, where he served for two-and-a-half decades as judge, a post that spanned all seven western counties. Likewise, he has been serving in Cherokee as one of the three justices on the Cherokee Supreme Court and as a substitute tribal court judge.
Queen said his name is known outside Haywood from his years in the state Senate. Even though his Senate district extended to the north and east of Haywood — and did not include Jackson or Swain — his name was still out there. Queen said he partnered with other mountain legislators to get regional projects accomplished, including initiatives in Jackson even though he technically didn’t represent that county in the senate.
But to make sure, Queen is campaigning heavily on the ground in Jackson and Swain counties. He is pulling out all the stops with a series of meet-the-candidate events, complete with free food and a line-up local bluegrass bands at each. His events have run the gamut from a waffle brunch at an outdoor park in Sylva to an upscale restaurant in Cashiers.
“I have really enjoyed this primary. It has been fun, and I try to make it fun,” Queen said. “I try to have good music, good food and a good vision — the vision excites people.”
The kind of campaign Queen is running also takes money, between hiring bands and feeding anyone who shows up. Queen has a history of tapping his personal finances, spending well over half a million of his own money his later Senate campaigns.
Davis is hosting two campaign events compared to Queen’s eight.
There’s more than sheer population that makes Jackson a heavy-hitter in the Queen-Davis race.
Jackson County might see higher voter turnout than its neighbors thanks to a ballot measure on whether to legalize alcohol sales countywide (see article on page 12).
Democratic voters in Jackson County also have a primary contest for county commissioner, unlike Haywood or Swain.
It’s hard to predict what kind of voter turnout Davis and Queen can expect. Primaries generally don’t draw a lot of attention.
While there’s not likely to be nearly the interest as in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were duking it out in the Democratic primary, it’s not exactly a sleeper either.
For starters, there’s the referendum on a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages and civil unions that is bound to turn out voters who otherwise would sit out the primary.
Democrats also face the task of picking their nominees to run for governor and congress, in the wake of the political retirement of Gov. Beverly Perdue and Congressman Heath Shuler.
Yes, if you live anywhere in Jackson and Swain counties. Also yes, if you live in the greater Waynesville area, Lake Junaluska or Iron Duff in Haywood County.
The answer gets tricky if you live in Maggie Valley, as the Ivy Hills precinct lies in two different N.C. House districts. The best bet for Ivy Hills voters is to call the board of elections at 828.452.6633 and ask them to check your address. But as a rule of thumb, the Dellwood area of Maggie votes in this race. Residents of Maggie Valley proper and Jonathan Creek do not.
The Smoky Mountain News begins an information-packed month of election coverage this week. Stay tuned for coverage of county commissioner races, U.S. Congress, the same-sex marriage amendment and Jackson County’s alcohol vote.
Early voting starts April 19. Election Day is May 8.
Voters can cast ballots in either the Republican or Democratic primary but not both. Unaffiliated voters can chose which party’s ballot they want when they show up to vote.
Two well-known Democrat senators from the mountains who lost in 2010 and hoped to reclaim their seats this year faced a conundrum.
Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville and John Snow of Murphy both wanted to run for the Senate again, hoping to take back the seats they lost to Republican challengers two years ago. But they found themselves at a stalemate after suddenly landing in the same political district when new legislative lines were re-drawn following the Census.
Queen’s home turf of Haywood County — once part of a jumbled legislative district that reached as far north to Mitchell and as far east to McDowell County — was grouped into a new district neatly comprised of the seven western counties. It put Queen and Snow in competition in their bid for office.
The upshot: only one of them would ultimately have their name on the ballot come November. Their choice: former political allies would have to run against each other in the May primary or one of them would have to gracefully concede.
As the clock ticked toward the opening day of candidate registration in February, no easy resolution was on the horizon.
“I think we are both electable,” Queen said as recently as last week. “I am not going to run against John and he is not going to run against me. We will evaluate which one of us should run.”
But the two political allies found an easy out after all. The unexpected and sudden news that Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, would retire after 14 years in the legislature presented a solution.
Queen called it a “game changer.”
Rather than make a bid for the Senate, he would instead run for Haire’s old House seat.
“If (Snow) really has the fire in his belly and wants to do it, I will support him and run for Phil’s seat,” Queen said. “It is an attractive choice. It is serendipitous. It keeps experienced legislators in the game with the opportunity to serve.”
The Democratic Party is likely relieved by the development. At a regional meeting of the Democratic Party leaders from 12 counties last week, Brian McMahan from Jackson County cautioned against wasting political energy and money in a primaries against their own.
“Let’s harness our energy,” said McMahan, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Jackson County. “We don’t need to worry about primaries. Nov. 6 is Election Day. That’s where we need to make a difference.”
Queen said the party needn’t have worried.
“I assure you we were going to work it out because that’s what kind of guys we are,” Queen said. “I certainly would not have run against him.”
In the end, had it not been for the Haire “game changer,” it appears Queen would have had to be the one to acquiesce regardless. Snow said that he was committed to run for the Senate regardless of what Queen decided, however.
“To be real honest with you, I was willing to go through a primary if I had to,” Snow said. “I think it is obvious I would be the stronger candidate.”
Snow believes he has better name recognition in the seven western counties than Queen would have had. As a judge, Snow presided over court in those same seven counties for 30 years, plus served for six years in the legislature representing those counties already.
Queen, 61, pointed out that he is nine years younger than Snow. He believed he likely had more years of political service ahead of him — and in Raleigh, tenure can be everything.
“The biggest difference between John and I was our age. Who is going to claim this seat for a decade?” Queen asked last week.
Snow, meanwhile, pointed to his record as a more socially and fiscally conservative Democrat, a leaning that squares with voters in the seven western counties.
“Anybody that looks at my record can see I am probably one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate,” Snow said.
Just as Rep. Heath Shuler is one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress, Snow said.
“That is a reflection of the people we represent,” Snow said.
Queen’s decision clears the path for Snow to emerge as the Democratic candidate in a November rematch against Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, who squeezed out a narrow victory over Snow by just 161 votes two years ago.
Queen, however, will face a primary election against long-time judge Danny Davis of Waynesville, who has also announced plans to run for the seat formerly held by Haire.
Snow said that he would back Davis in the primary race as he and Davis both served on the judicial bench together for years and are personal friends.
Republicans aren’t the only ones who will have a reason to head to the polls in the May primary.
While Republican voters sort out who their presidential nominee will be, Democrats have a race of their own to narrow down, although with a much-more homegrown flare.
Two well-known Waynesville men are vying for the seat soon to be vacated by long-time N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva. Joe Sam Queen, an architect by trade, and Danny Davis, a former District Court judge, both formally announced their candidacies this week.
The 119th House district includes all of Jackson and Swain counties, as well as Waynesville, Lake Junaluska and part of Maggie Valley in Haywood County.
The political rumor mill has been churning in the two weeks since Haire announced he would retire. But so far, only Davis and Queen have committed. No other candidates have emerged.
When it comes to politicking, Queen has plenty of experience. He served six years in the state Senate and has five elections under his belt, each of them hard-fought races. He is looking forward to what he calls “on-the-ground retail politics,” which puts him in touch with the people of the mountains.
“I like to give stump speeches and shake people’s hands and ask them for their vote,” Queen said. “I like to have some barbeques and square dances and the whole nine yards.”
Queen’s former sprawling Senate district extended as far north as Mitchell County and as far east as McDowell, making a horseshoe around Buncombe County. He became a seasoned road warrior in such a vast district. He also had to raise lots of money to campaign across so many counties, spending around $600,000 or $700,000 each race.
Queen estimates spending only a fraction of that in the House race.
“I don’t think this will be a high-dollar campaign,” Queen said.
While Davis is new to politics, he says there is no better experience than his 27 years as a District Court judge in the seven western counties.
“It is like a front row seat to the picture window of society,” Davis said of his judgeship. “I see how drugs affect families. I see what happens when they lose their job, and they start drinking, and we have to take their kids. I see what happens when they don’t have enough money to pay their bills or child support even though they are working two or three jobs.”
As a judge, Davis couldn’t make position statements or voice concerns over the issues that he felt affected the people of Western North Carolina. Now, he will finally be able to speak out, and his ideas for improving the lives of people and fixing the inner workings of government are voluminous enough for a dissertation, he said.
“I can finally say this is what we need to do and how we need to help these folks,” Davis said.
Davis said he had already been thinking about running when Haire retired.
Davis contends that he is better known in the district than Queen, since he served not only in Haywood but also Jackson and Swain as a judge for so many years.
Queen disagrees, saying he is equally well known outside Haywood.
“I am a homegrown mountain fellow,” Queen said. “I have as strong a name recognition as any politician in the west. I have the polling data to show it.”
Besides, the district is his “own backyard,” compared to the sprawling Senate district he had to work.
Queen, 61, and Davis, 58, both played up their ties to the region. Both men come from a long Haywood County lineage. The Davis and Queen names are both established and prominent Haywood families
For now, Davis and Queen seem to have the primary race to themselves. Many initially looked to Troy Burns from Bryson City as a possible candidate, as he ran against Haire 10 years ago. But, Burns said this week he has decided not to run. Burns said both Davis and Queen called him over the past few days to find out where he stood on a possible candidacy.
“It is a mutual thing out of respect,” Burns said of his decision not to run.
From Jackson County, the chairman of the county Democratic Party Brian McMahan was also bandied about as a possible candidate, but McMahan said he won’t be running. He has a one-year-old and doesn’t want to spend the time away from home.
The primary between Queen and Davis could prove a tougher battle than the general election in November.
Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1 in the district. So on paper at least, whoever wins the Democratic primary could have an advantage over their Republican opponent in November.
“It is a solid Democratic seat,” Queen said.
Davis, however, isn’t so sure.
“I don’t think they are going to concede this seat,” Davis said of Republicans. “In this day in time, I don’t think it can be politics as usual. I think you are going to have to work very hard to retain the Democratic votes you have.”
Only one Republican has formerly announced his candidacy. Mike Clampitt of Bryson City stepped up to run within hours of Haire’s announcement.
The race for the state’s 50th Senate District, a seat currently held by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon County, is shaping up as a potentially epic political battle next year in Western North Carolina.
The only question for Democrats is whether the party’s choice to try to dethrone Davis will be former Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy, or former Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville.
Davis beat Snow in last year’s election; state political newcomer Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine, ousted Queen. Hise now represents the 47th Senate District, which currently includes Avery, Haywood, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell and Yancey counties.
Snow and Queen confirmed they each want to run, but the two friends said they would not compete directly against one another in a primary. Instead, it will be one man or the other, decided somehow in a yet-to-be-determined manner.
“That’s sort of the gist of it right now,” Queen said. “We are both willing to run, and are both available to run, but we have to come up with the best solution.”
Snow said he and Queen have agreed that “whichever way the decision is made, the other will help the other.”
Snow, however, a longtime judge whose district encompassed the exact political boundaries now comprising the 50th Senate District, is cautious about getting ahead of potential court challenges.
“Our district would be upheld without question, but if others are in contest, you won’t go forward on any of the changes,” Snow said. “It would revert us back to the old district. And that has happened before.”
In other words, the 2012 race could take place using current boundaries while court challenges play out.
Snow brightened when talking about the possibilities, however, of campaigning in this new Senate district.
“I think this does create a better district for me,” he said. “It is exactly the same district I held as a judge, and I’m familiar with the people.”
All is fair in love and war, but apparently not in politics.
Former state Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, is suing his opponent in the last election for violating state campaign finance laws.
The suit claims Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine – who beat Queen in November – misled voters about who paid for a series of television commercials. In a tag line at end of the commercials, Hise said that he paid for the ad, when in fact the state Republican Party did.
If true, it is a violation of the state law known as “Stand By Your Ad,” which requires whoever pays for a political ad to identify themselves. By falsely stating Hise paid for the ad when he didn’t, the commercials got a price discount only available to candidates and potentially curried more favor with voters, according to the suit.
“He’s got to play by the rules and be fair. If he doesn’t, then we have no recourse but to file a lawsuit,” Queen said.
Hise is one of 10 Republican state Senate candidates accused of the same misstep, and one of three being sued for it. Hise said the suit has no merit, however, as did his attorney.
“We deny the allegations of the complaint. We think the lawsuit has no foundation in fact or law,” said Thomas Farr, a Raleigh attorney representing Hise and the other Republicans targeted by the same suit. “We are confident the Republican senators will be vindicated.”
The N.C. Republican Party is also named in the suit, and likewise rejected the accusation.
“We believe this is a frivolous complaint and deny the allegations,” said Mark Braden, spokesperson for the state Republican Party. “We are confident that the N.C. Republican Party and Sen. Hise will prevail.”
The N.C. Republican Party bought $1.4 million worth of television commercials for 10 Senate candidates across the state, all of whom won their seats. Hise got more than most, with $277,000 in commercials advocating him over Queen.
When buying the ads, the Republican Party used an advertising agency called American Media and Advocacy, based in Virginia. The agency arranged for the commercials to air on various TV stations, but when doing so, misrepresented who was paying for the ads, according to the suit.
American Media told the TV stations the ads were being purchased by candidates themselves, rather than by the Republican Party.
“That is not a trivial matter. That is a fundamental violation of the campaign finance law,” said Frank Queen, a Waynesville attorney representing Joe Sam Queen.
N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, is among those that ran commercials saying he paid for them when in fact he didn’t, according to the suit. Davis defeated former state Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy, but Snow has not joined in the suit.
Democrats took a beating in the election last fall, losing control of both the N.C. Senate and House for the first time in over a century.
Despite how it might look, the lawsuits are not a case of Democrats being sore losers, according to John Wallace, a Raleigh attorney representing all three Democrats who chose to file suits.
When North Carolina created the Stand By Your Ad provision in 1999, it was only the second state in the country to make such a law.
The law was inspired by the rise in ugly attack ads. It forced those running ads to clearly identify themselves “so voters can hold the sponsor of the ad accountable,” Wallace said.
The popularity of Stand By Your Ad grew, and a version of it eventually became federal law in 2002.
“I think it is possible it keeps people honest,” said Chris Cooper, political science professor at Western Carolina University. “It doesn’t allow you to shoot at the opponent and not say who you are.”
Voters often view ads run by the candidate more favorably than ads backed by the party.
“In many markets, it is advantageous to the candidate to purchase purportedly in his own name,” the suit states.
A study of the Stand By Your Ad law by Brigham Young University showed voters put more stock in ads that were endorsed by the candidate himself. Ads endorsed by the candidate instead of a political party may curry more favor among independent voters, according to Cooper.
Cooper pointed to Congressman Heath Shuler, D-N.C., as a prime example. In his conservative leaning district, an ad paid for by the Democratic Party is the last thing Shuler would want, Cooper said. In fact, he bent over backwards to distance himself from the national party.
If Hise wanted to take credit for the ads, the Republican Party should have first donated the money to Hise, and then allowed Hise in turn to buy his own commercials. But for whatever reason, the party chose to control the ad buys.
“There are circumstances in which parities may determine that it is safer, better or faster not to contribute money to candidates,” Wallace said.
In some cases, the party may want control the ad in order to control the message, according to Cooper. Or, the party may think it can do a better job than the candidate.
“You have decades of experience at the state party level so the candidate might prefer that, too,” Cooper said.
If the party had donated the money to Hise and let him buy his own ads, the donation would have showed up on Hise’s campaign finance reports.
Donations received through September are reported on a candidate’s third quarter fundraising report. During October, a candidate must report any contribution over $1,000 within 48 hours. The disclosure alerts other candidates what kind of spending their opponent has at his disposal.
“Anybody can see the money coming in and out,” Frank Queen said.
But since the money for the TV commercials didn’t come to Hise first, it didn’t show up in his fundraising reports. While the spending was indeed reported by the N.C. Republican Party, it is harder to track outside spending on a candidate’s behalf, known as soft money, as opposed to hard money spent by the candidate himself, Frank Queen said.
Since Queen monitored Hise’s fundraising reports, when a plethora of commercials began showing up in the final weeks of the campaign, he realized that Hise didn’t have the money to be paying for the ads himself.
Queen sent Hise a warning letter, which Hise received through certified mail on Oct. 29, asking him to stop running the commercials with the false tag line bearing Hise’s name.
In the letter, Queen told Hise he was “misleading the voters of the district in which you are running for office.”
“Furthermore, this misrepresentation of who is paying for the advertisement is in direct violation of the Stand By Your Ad laws, which require the group or candidate paying for each ad to specifically identify themselves and to take responsibility for the content of those advertisements,” the letter stated.
But the ads continued to run through Election Day.
Candidates are entitled to cheaper television advertising rates than third parties buying an ad on the candidate’s behalf. By law, candidates buying political ads are entitled to the lowest rate tier that a station offers.
The ads were 20 to 50 percent cheaper under the lower rate tier than it could have had the commercials been bought by its own name rather than Hise’s, the suit claims.
“By falsely representing that it was paid for by the candidate’s committee, they qualified for and indeed paid the lowest rate that was available, lower than they would have otherwise,” Frank Queen said.
While complaints have been filed with the N.C. Board of Elections, the state statute spells out an interesting recourse for violations: the other candidate is instructed to file a civil lawsuit. Thus the suit being filed by Queen is the only mechanism of enforcing the law, Frank Queen said.
What does Queen stands to gain? He won’t get his seat back, but if victorious Hise would be required under state statute to pay Queen an amount equal to the cost of the ads that carried the false tag line, as well as attorney fees Queen incurs in waging the suit.
Hise and the N.C. Republican Party will file a response to the suit in early April, Farr said.
The Smoky Mountain News Intern DeeAnna Haney contributed to this article.