Friday, September 12, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Chowan’s Watermelongate

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Growing up in a small town, many hours were spent with friends outdoors. Farmers’ crops were often adjacent to the fields where we played. Apple and pear trees, tomatoes and grapes were often within reach. Sometimes we’d enter the orchards to grab a piece of fruit. The farmers who caught us would often yell things like, “How do you like the apples boys?”

Driving back from the airport recently with guests who were visiting from New York, we passed a field where cotton was being grown. I pulled my vehicle off to the side of the road, exited the car and broke off a branch of cotton to show our visitors. I didn’t know I risked being arrested and charged with a felony.

North Carolina General Statute 14-78, on the books since 1811, says that taking any “ungathered” crops from someone’s field is a Class H felony with a maximum penalty of 30 months in prison. How many folks know that?

Alvin Park’s recent column in The Salisbury (N. C.) Post entitled “Confessions of a watermelon thief” describes one of the rights of passage for a young man growing up in the south in the ‘50s and ‘60s was to steal a watermelon out of a watermelon patch and eat it. How many men who grew up there remember that? Anyone ever arrested?

On August 21 Dana Soles, a candidate for Chowan County commissioner from Rocky Hock, was caught picking up a watermelon in a field, which police reports indicate was harvested. Soles said he was bringing it to a friend’s family who has been out of work.

According to The Virginian-Pilot, Chowan County Deputy Sheriff John McArthur, son of the clerk of Chowan’s Superior Court Mike McArthur, pulled up along side of Soles vehicle parked next to a watermelon field leased to Willis Ray Byrum. The deputy asked if Soles needed help. Soles said no. Soles said McArthur asked him if he was stealing watermelons. Soles said no but ultimately admitted he had taken just one.

According to Soles, the deputy then asked him if he knew that stealing a watermelon was a felony. Soles said “absolutely not” and offered to pay for it. Soles also told the deputy that he was running for county commissioner in Chowan and that he wasn’t aware he was committing a felony. He said he’d witnessed others in recent days doing the same thing in various watermelon fields he’d pass so thought there would be nothing wrong with stopping this once to pick one for a friend. Soles was wrong for not checking with the farmer first, regardless of what he may have previously observed. In the strictest sense of the word, it’s still taking something that doesn’t belong to you.

Soles said that after McArthur learned he was a candidate for county commissioner, he went back to his patrol car. When he returned, the deputy said he had spoken with the sheriff personally and that the sheriff would be handling the situation going forward. Soles was free to go.

The sheriff of Chowan County is Dwayne Goodwin. Goodwin’s brother is Chowan County Commissioner Kenny Goodwin who is running for reelection in Rocky Hock against Alex Stallings. Soles is running for the other Rocky Hock seat against former County Commissioner Emmett Winborne. The Goodwin boy’s late father was a county commissioner from Rocky Hock.

Eight days after McArthur first encountered Soles with the watermelon, he arrived on his doorstep with a warrant charging Soles with a felony. The warrant was signed by McArthur and Chowan County Magistrate Jim Bubela. The delay of eight days and the fact McArthur, an experienced lawman, did not issue a citation on the spot, choosing instead to hand it off to Sheriff Goodwin, appears suspicious as to motive.

Dana Soles took a watermelon. He was wrong. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” he said. “Watermelons were rotting out there and I honestly didn’t know it was a crime to remove one.”

National Public Radio, United Press International and the Associated Press picked up this story and fed it to newspapers and other media outlets across the country. I doubt they did so because this was a shining example of stellar law enforcement to share with the world.

Byrum told me he didn’t know the charge was categorized as a felony and that when Sheriff Goodwin contacted him to see if he wanted to press charges he replied, “Just do what you gotta do.” Byrum added, “I just left it up to the sheriff.”

I asked Sheriff Goodwin if a family member, friend or one of his deputies were caught taking a single watermelon from a field would he charge them with a felony. He incredulously answered “yes.” His wife might be surprised to hear that.

Earl Roundtree of Gates County said this arrest was “ridiculous” and appeared “suspect” given the upcoming election.

Dianne Layden of Perquimans County had no recollection of anyone ever being prosecuted for something this “silly.” She said, “A truckload of watermelons yes-but one watermelon? You’ve got to be kidding?”

The courts will decide this week if Soles watermelon peccadillo will result in him being sent to prison for 30 months and losing his job and the ability to support his family. If convicted of this felony he will also have to withdraw from his race for commissioner, the least of his worries at this point.

Sheriff Goodwin told me one of his favorite shows is the Andy Griffith Show, which continues today in reruns and centers on a sheriff who lives in a small rural North Carolina town. Sheriff Andy Taylor dispenses justice with common sense and good judgment, the hallmark of good law enforcement. Chowan County may not be Mayberry, but those who live here think this is still a place where reason, wisdom and impartiality prevail. It certainly didn’t in this case.

It is arbitrary abuse of power such as this that harms our nation and feeds the growing war between the political parties. However, it is expected that Republicans (whether conservative or libertarian) will be treated with this kind of double standard. Liberals have the power in most local jurisdictions and they have long used it to criminalize being Republican. How Dana was to know about this law when it is never enforced is not known. I suspect he has a better understanding of how Scooter Libby feels.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Why Did McCain Choose Sara Palin?

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Last week I had the opportunity to be on the floor at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. On Monday with Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the Gulf Coast, the RNC scheduled a three hour abbreviated session for the assembled delegates. Everything was on hold. The momentum, gained the previous Friday with Sen. John McCain’s surprise selection of Alaska Gov. Sara Palin as his running mate, appeared in jeopardy. Fortunately, the impact of the storm was much less severe than originally anticipated. Good news for those living on or near the Gulf and good news for the convention.

The buzz clearly was all about Palin. Delegates were very familiar with McCain, but like the rest of America, we knew little about Alaska’s chief executive. Was this a political ploy on the part of Republican’s in hopes of attracting disillusioned Hillary voters? Or was this proof positive that when Senator McCain said he intended on shaking up the establishment in Washington he really meant it?

The candidate of change is supposed to be Barrack Obama. While a great campaign theme, it appears an Obama presidency would create little change from the political status quo and gridlock that has Washington in a virtual state of paralysis. Obama has absolutely no history of effectively working across party lines in the U. S Senate.

His running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, is a 36 -year member of the Senate. His voting record indicates he is equally averse to real change. Both he and Obama seldom, if ever, buck the wishes of liberal interest groups or promote bi-partisanship.

McCain is no newcomer to Washington either, having served four years in the U. S. House of Representatives and the last 22 years in the U. S. Senate. But McCain has the habit of irritating members of his own party on occasion by working across party lines on legislative initiatives dealing with subjects like campaign finance reform, immigration and climate change. This habit has not endeared him to many of the party faithful. In fact his “maverick” image almost cost him his party’s nomination for president earlier this year.

McCain’s first choice for Vice President was unquestionably Sen. Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, a former Democrat who is now an Independent. Lieberman, like McCain, has a bit of that free -wheeling spirit that McCain feels comfortable with. His selection as McCain’s running mate however, would have led to disaster at the polls in November. The conservative base-essential to a Republican victory in November- would have been completely turned off.

Former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee would have been very acceptable to conservatives as McCain’s running mate- but not this year.

McCain ultimately realized if he were to win in a year when the odds seemed against him, he would have to shake things up. His announcement of Sara Palin- a maverick in her own right who has also taken on the Republican establishment in her state as well as the big oil companies-would be the perfect choice. McCain-ever the non-conformist- appears to have struck gold not only in the Alaska foothills, but across America.

The talk from the Democrats about Palin’s selection being nothing more than a political stunt was put to rest when she electrified the convention on Wednesday evening in front of a nationwide television audience almost equal to that of Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver the previous Thursday evening.

Something very special was taking place that can only be compared to what many American’s felt when the Democrats nominated the first black candidate to ever run for the presidency six days earlier. Even those who are not enamored by Senator Obama’s positions on the issues should be proud of this historic achievement. It is a giant step forward, not just for black Americans, but for all Americans to have finally crossed another racial divide.

Now, to Hillary supporters I’ll be the first to say that Palin is no Hillary Clinton. They are two uniquely different individuals, who have differing views on many political and social issues of our times. They are, however, both women, and as a man I came to realize Wednesday evening in St. Paul why it is so important that we as a nation once and for all cross the great gender divide as well.

Observing many of the women gathered in the hall-young and old- listening to Palin’s address, I sensed I was witnessing more than history. It was as if we as a nation are finally nearing the end of the epic struggle for women’s rights and equality in America. And with all due respect to Sen. Clinton - and I sincerely mean that - it may be more fitting for that glass ceiling to be broken by a woman, not born of privilege, but someone who represents an average American with old fashioned American values.

As a wife and mother who has achieved great success in a man’s world, her story is resonating with women - and men - everywhere. She represents a combination of the innocence of the ‘50s with the realities of today. As a mother of five, she must be focused on the future and in the process is focused on ours as well.

Young girls today are in desperate need of role models other than those provided by pop-culture stars. Here is a role model who has risen from a very humble background, achieving personal and professional success not by becoming an overnight sensation with the recording of a song or acting in a movie or MTV video, but by remaining committed to beliefs and a value system that are at the core of America’s strength - the family. Getting back to those basics are the real change America needs for the future.

Senator McCain is betting America will agree with him that Governor Palin is up to the task. If they do, the Republican Party and American politics will never be the same again.

Ever since I worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first campaign, I have been frustrated with the future of conservatism and the Republican Party. The implementation of our claimed agenda was abandoned by George Bush and the Republicans in Washington. It became clear that Party leadership was paying lip service to freedom and free enterprise, but was as willing as the Democrats to enlarge the federal government bureaucracies which destroy freedom. This was not conservative, or even American as far as I am concerned.

Governor Palin’s track record so far indicates someone who is not a big government person. She seems more practical and common sense oriented . . . and clearly hates the corruption that destroyed the Republican Party in 2006.

The selection of John McCain for our candidate this year is as much a repudiation of Bush-Hastert-Delay quadrupling pork barrel spending as it is an alignment with the strategy on defending our nation against the Islamo-fascist threat. The Republican Party is composed of people who are ethical and patriotic. Palin seems to reinforce both those views while proving with her life choices that she is a moral traditional pioneer American. No wonder Republicans are excited.