Lottery and Drones Bring Bipartisan Divisiveness

Are you tired of the partisan divisiveness that is poisoning the political environment of our state and nation?

Do you wish that the politicians from the two parties would work together more often on issues of common concern?

Me too.

Maybe we are getting what we wished for, thanks to the North Carolina lottery and our country’s use of unmanned drone aircraft to target and kill our enemies throughout the world.

Welcome to the world of bipartisan divisiveness?

You might get tired of this form of divisiveness, too.

The legislature, then controlled by Democrats, established the state lottery at the urging of Democratic Governor Mike Easley, whose pro-lottery positions were major campaign planks.

It was a popular issue for the governor, too. Schools needed the money. People wanted to play the games and were going across state lines to buy lottery tickets. A lottery would be a voluntary tax. Free money. 

Most Republicans opposed the lottery’s establishment. So did lots of Democrats. Liberal Democrats agreed with libertarian Republicans that running a gambling business is not a proper function of government.

Government, they said, should encourage its citizens to work and save for their future, not on fostering dreams of getting rich by winning the lottery. Certainly, they continued, government should not stoop to the low level of a carnival barker selling chances on games in which the odds of winning are stacked against the player.

Some lottery opponents argued that having state officials deal with the gaming industry would have special pitfalls. Don’t expect to lie down with dogs and not come up with fleas, they warned.

Today, the lottery is an established part of state government, and there have been fewer fleabites than expected.

But, with Republicans now in charge of state government, they could ditch the lottery.

Will they?

Governor Pat McCrory recommends only a first step, suggesting that the state “reallocate a portion of money away from the bloated and frankly annoying advertising and the large administration costs of the lottery commission.”

Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger and one-time vigorous lottery opponent Representative Paul Stam are not pushing for lottery repeal, only reducing advertising and administrative expenses and fees.

Even these modest proposals have put the lottery back in play. Some Democrats will join Republicans to cut the lottery’s wings. And some Republicans will vote with Democrats to maintain or enhance the lottery’s profits.

More lottery divisiveness, but it is bipartisan divisiveness.

Similarly the bitter partisan divisions in Washington collapsed for a moment last week after Senator Rand Paul filibustered the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Paul used his speaking time to call for accountability and clear policy for the use of drone aircraft for targeted killings. Specifically, Paul demanded to know whether the U.S. president has the authority to direct the killing of some presumed enemy within the United States.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham denounced Paul for trying to tie the president’s hands in the fight against worldwide terrorism. Meanwhile, liberals like Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson supported Paul. Robinson wrote, “The way we use drones as killing machines has to be consistent with our freedoms and our values. For grabbing us by the lapels, Rand Paul deserves praise.”

How much authority should the president have to call for drone strikes against suspected enemies of the country?

The question is divisive.

Bipartisan divisive.

Enjoy it while you can.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch.” During UNC-TV’s Festival, the program airs Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at
Next week’s (Thursday, March 21 at 5 p.m.) guest is Terry Roberts, author of “A Short Time to Stay Here.” (Note the Sunday airing will be preempted by UNC-TV’s Festival programming). The program will also air at Wednesday March 20 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Haven Kimmel author of The Solace of Leaving Early.
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
More about Terry Roberts:
Madison County, north of Asheville and up along the Tennessee border, has been the location of two novels featured recently on Bookwatch: Ron Rash’s “The Cove” and Wiley Cash’s “A Land More Kind than Home.” Now there is a third fine Madison County novel. Terry Roberts’ “A Short Time to Stay Here” is a story of World War I and more than 2,000 Germans interned in a resort hotel in Hot Springs. It is a story of love, killing and conflict of different cultures that come together in explosive and surprising fashion.

"Slicker than that" in Madison County

“Amazing,” I told my friend the other day. “Three of this year’s best North Carolina novels are set up in Madison County, just north of Asheville along the Tennessee line.”

“Interesting,” my friend said, but his eyes were glazing over. He wanted to talk politics, not books.
Still I continued, “And in each of them the county sheriff is an important character.”

My friend perked up. “Was his name Ponder?”

I explained the sheriff characters in these books were fictional and all different.

He said that it would be hard to make up a more interesting character than E.Y. Ponder, who was elected Madison County sheriff in 1952 and served, with one four-year interruption, until 1986.

I told him that it would be hard to be more interesting than the sheriff characters in the three new books.
In Ron Rash’s “The Cove, ” Sheriff Crockett, although a minor character, is part of an interesting episode in which he and his hounds are chasing a mountain bootlegger. The bootlegger takes off his shirt and wraps it around his own dog. The dog runs in one direction, the bootlegger in the other. The sheriff and his hounds, following the bootlegger’s scent on the shirt, chase the dog and lose the bootlegger.

The action in “The Cove” takes place during World War I. “A Short Time to Stay Here” by Terry Roberts takes place in the same county during the same time period. However, the sheriff has a different name, Roy Robbins. Robbins is bad to the core. He takes advantage of girls and abandons them when they become pregnant.  He conspires with bootleggers and other criminals and with certain German internees who are detained in a hotel in Hot Springs.

The Madison Country sheriff in Wiley Cash’s “A Land More Kind than Home” is as good as Roy Robbins is evil. Sherriff Clem Barefield thinks of himself as an outsider in Madison County even though he has lived there for 25 years. Part of the story is told in Barefield’s voice. Cash has him tell how he faces the novel’s villain, Pastor Carson Chambliss, a handler of snakes and a manipulator of people, who seems willing to do anything, including killing anybody who gets in his way. Sheriff Barfield faces him down again and again, finally at the novel’s bloody conclusion.

“So,” I said to my friend. “What do you think of these three sheriffs of Madison County?”

“E. Y. Ponder would be a better character than any of the three,” he said.

Maybe my friend is right.

Elymus Yates Ponder and his brother Zeno dominated Madison County political life for almost a half-century. Critics called them dictators. Friends sung their praises. Those of us who want to understand the complexities of small town North Carolina politics could learn from the Ponders about the mixture of public service and power that we call politics.

John Ledford, currently in the news as North Carolina’s Alcohol Law Enforcement director, previously served as Madison County sheriff. In a 2001 interview with Rob Amberg in the Southern Oral History Program Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, Ledford said that people called him “the little E.Y.”

Describing the challenges a sheriff in Madison County faces, Ledford alluded to the time King Solomon threatened to cut a baby in half to settle an argument between the two women who claimed be the mother.

“In Madison County,” Ledford said, “half the people would say, ‘Saw it up,’ and they’d start fighting over who got the head or the feet. That wouldn’t work in Madison County. You’ve got to even be slicker than that.”

“Slicker than that,” whether you are the real or a fictional sheriff in Madison County.

Wiley Cash's "A Land More Kind than Home" on North Carolina Bookwatch

What is it about Madison County this year?

At least three important North Carolina novels this year are set in that mountain county, which lies along the Tennessee line. Why all this literary attention to this isolated county, that is mostly known as the home of Mars Hill College, the site of the Civil War massacre at Sheldon Laurel, and the home of the practical political genius, Liston Ramsey, who served for eight years as speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives and was one of the most influential political leaders of the last century?

Two of these new novels, Ron Rash’s “The Cove” and Chapel Hill’s Terry Roberts’s “A Short Time to Stay Here” are set in Madison County during the time of the First World War. Both are connected to characters from a massive German interment camp in the county at the resort community of Hot Springs. Both books have gotten very good reviews.

The third of these Madison County novels will be featured on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch this weekend (Friday at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. Wiley Cash’s “A Land More Kind than Home” is set in more recent times, the 1980s. But recent times in the mountains can take you a long way back from modern times in other parts of the state.

The novel, Cash’s first, has attracted favorable attention across the country, and critics are suggesting that he can already be included as one of North Carolina’s great writers.

Pamela Miller, writing in the Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul) about what she calls “a spellbinding debut,” explains, “The story draws you in like an undertow, lulling you one moment, horrifying you the next. It never overexplains or overjustifies, never tries to be more than a ripping good yarn, and for that reason, it succeeds at being a lot more.”

The novel revolves around the complex and conflicting attachments people in a small church feel towards their pastor as he speaks his version of God’s word. This pastor, guided by the words of Mark 16:18, leads his congregation into handling snakes and drinking poison to demonstrate and test their faith. The pastor attempts to bring God into miraculous healings using rough methods. Most of this preacher’s congregation follow him even when their activities fail and result in multiple deaths.

Three people resist the pastor. Nine-year-old Jess Hall, whose beloved autistic brother is a victim of the pastor’s attempted cures; Adelaide Lyle, the town’s midwife and loyal church member, who tries to protect the church’s children from the dangers of the pastor’s methods; and the local sheriff, Clem Barefield, whose common sense approach to law enforcement is frustrated by the pastor’s congregation’s protection of his criminal activities.

Jess, Adelaide, and Clem are not only major characters. They are also narrators. Cash uses their voices to tell his story. Each brings his or her situation and limitations into the storytelling, giving to the reader the rich challenge of figuring out what actually happened.

Although he now lives and teaches in West Virginia, Cash expresses deep love for “my native state of North Carolina, especially its mountains. I hope my love for this region is evident in ‘A Land More Kind than Home’s’ portrayal of western North Carolina’s people, culture, and religious faith. While ‘A Land More Kind than Home’ revolves around a young autistic boy who is smothered during a church healing service, the novel’s three narrators all represent my experience of growing up in North Carolina and being raised in an evangelical church.”

Don’t miss the chance to get to know the newest leading North Carolina writer when he visits North Carolina Bookwatch this weekend.