U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards poses with his staff and Southwestern Community College president Don Thomas in Sylva. Left to right: Chief of Staff Bronwyn Lance; Edwards; Western Regional Representative Brittney Lofthouse; District Director Chris Burns; Thomas. // photo by Tyler Goode, SCC

Brittney Lofthouse said she tried to warn Chuck Edwards that hiring her could be a political problem for the newly elected Republican congressman.

She said she firmly believed that she possessed the skills Edwards needs to help him fulfill his top inaugural promise — that constituent service would be a hallmark of his term. Yet, she said, she felt it important to caution him: “I am not everyone’s cup of tea.”

Lofthouse, 35, is a mother of three whose husband is a lieutenant in the Macon County Sheriff’s office. Her oversized eyeglasses and bright smile disguise a fierce political independence and hair-trigger willingness to speak out. 

This June 2022 Pride Month display in the teen section of the Macon County Library prompted the county commission to reject spending $20,000 toward pay raises for library staff. The community responded by donating $30,000. // photo by The Southern Scoop

In the online news site The Southern Scoop, Lofthouse has strongly supported LGBTQ rights and demanded respect for marginalized people. “I will always be obnoxiously loud about standing up for things — or people — who may not have the ability or the courage to speak up for themselves,” she wrote in a column last year after some Macon County residents expressed outrage at a Gay Pride Month display at the local library.

The library’s critics said acknowledging Gay Pride was akin to “grooming” children for gender change, and that the library staff was trying to “promote child sex in the name of diversity.”

Lofthouse — who described herself as a political conservative and social liberal, and who said she voted for Donald Trump in 2016 — backed Democrat Cheri Beasley in the 2022 US Senate race over right-wing Republican Ted Budd because, she said, she found him to be rude. And even while considering taking a job on Edwards’s staff, she rejected advice that she switch her voter registration from unaffiliated to Republican.

“That was a non-starter for me,” and she told Edwards so, she said in an interview with Asheville Watchdog.

In a recent column Lofthouse wrote that she adopts the words of the comedian Ron White as her own: “I may have the right to remain silent … I just never have the ability.”

“No party boundaries”

Edwards went ahead, eager to demonstrate his commitment to building a competent staff to help constituents navigate the federal government’s bureaucratic maze to get the services to which they are entitled. Helping these people without regard to their political views would be his top priority, he said, and he said he was confident Lofthouse could do that.

“Here in the mountains, issues affecting people’s lives see no party boundaries,” Edwards told Asheville Watchdog columnist John Boyle, repeating his campaign pledge to serve all constituents irrespective of political loyalties.

Lofthouse was a critic of Edwards’s GOP primary opponent, then-Rep. Madison Cawthorn, for what she said was Cawthorn’s failure to serve constituents in his home district — criticisms that Edwards echoed. She resigned from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contract job, doing public outreach for Medicare and Medicaid, to take the job on Edwards’s staff.

On Jan. 25, with Lofthouse at his side, Edwards told members of the Franklin Rotary Club that he had hired her to be the Western Regional Director overseeing constituent services in the 11th Congressional District’s westernmost counties, a region where Lofthouse was raised and lives. 

That afternoon the congressman included her in a staff photo taken during a visit to Southwestern Community College. And he later singled her out for praise when speaking to a reporter.

“He did an interview with Blue Ridge Public Radio gushing about how thankful he was that I was willing to work for his office,” Lofthouse recalled. “He said how great it was for his office to have my passion.”

Just hours after word of Lofthouse’s hiring spread, vehement protests flooded Edwards’s office from local Republican leaders. One party leader gathered signatures for a petition to Edwards alleging that Lofthouse opposed former president Trump, supported “drag queens,” and, in general, wasn’t in line with the “conservative Christian values” of the mountain counties.

Two days later, The Daily Haymaker, a conservative, pro-Trump blog based in Moore County, far from the mountains of Edwards’s district, tossed gas on the fire.   

Just days after word of Brittney Lofthouse’s hiring spread, images from Lofthouse’s Facebook page, and irate commentary criticizing Rep. Chuck Edwards for hiring her, appeared on a far-right blog based in Moore County // screenshots from The Daily Haymaker

“US Rep. Chuck Edwards hires Trump-hating, Beasley-endorsing, gay rights activist onto district staff,” the headline read. It ran beneath a photo lifted from Lofthouse’s Facebook page of her with her four-year-old nephew, who was wearing a T-shirt with the words, Toddlers Against Trump. 

Comments published with the story ranged from nasty to vicious, most of them pseudonymous.

But the principal target of the anger wasn’t Lofthouse. It was Edwards, along with his political mentor, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, the state’s senior elected Republican.

“Never trust a politician just because they have R next to their name,” wrote one commenter.

“In no world would a Democrat bring a Republican on to his staff,” wrote another. “But of course the party of SUCK will do just that as groomer Edwards just proved.” 

Many of the commenters lamented the defeat of disgraced congressman Cawthorn, whom Edwards defeated by a slim margin in the 2022 GOP primary.

“So sad that Western NC traded Cawthorn for Edwards. I expect to see more treachery to come,” wrote a commenter calling himself Rutherford County Guy.  

“Resign immediately, or be fired”

Barely 72 hours after she had been publicly lauded by Edwards, Lofthouse said, she was eating dinner with her family in a local restaurant when she received an urgent text to call Chris Burns, her new boss. When she did, she said, Burns answered the call with Bronwyn Lance, the chief of staff, beside him. 

Lofthouse said the message from the pair was brief and direct: Resign immediately or be fired. There was no explanation and no appeal, Lofthouse said. 

Edwards’s office tersely refused The Watchdog’s request for comment: “We don’t comment on internal personnel matters.” 

But Lofthouse said she is certain of the reason: She was hot and Edwards couldn’t risk the heat.

“I was devastated and I was angry,” Lofthouse told The Watchdog. “Because we had talked about it and they assured me we could move forward for the betterment of the district … I had hoped that the congressman would have been able to say, ‘Look, I get [the complaints], but I’m not asking her to do policy for me; she’s not voting on anything.”

She added, however, that she knew in taking the job that Edwards had “a balancing act to do” because Edwards trailed Cawthorn in the GOP primary in the rural counties she would have served and — if the reaction to The Daily Haymaker article was an indication — many voters there weren’t ready to embrace Edwards.

Looming intra-party war

“You know, what every first-term member of Congress wants is a second term,” said Michael Bitzer, chairman of Catawba College’s Department of Political Science and History. “The most vulnerable time for a member will be when running for reelection to the second term.”

Even in a less polarized political climate, Bitzer said, every action that a freshman takes will face severe scrutiny. And in the current hyper-polarized environment, a matter as seemingly anodyne as a mid-level staff hire can be explosive. 

“The parties believe in true party loyalty, particularly on the Republican side,” Bitzer said. “And if you don’t display that sense of tribalism and loyalty, watch out. I think for Edwards, appeasement of that faction was necessary so there isn’t a challenge to him from the further right.”

Others assert that the extreme reaction to Lofthouse’s hiring can be traced to a different reason: A looming intra-party war between the Republican Party’s two factions. 

On one side is the surging far-right wing dominated by Trump’s MAGA followers. On the other is the traditionalist wing centered in Raleigh, nominally headed by Thom Tillis and including Edwards, a former state senator. 

“Collateral damage”

In an interview with The Watchdog, Brant Clifton, editor of The Daily Haymaker, called this “the latest skirmish” in a Republican Party civil war that has flared over decades. “But it’s the strongest I’ve seen since I’ve been here.” Clifton first got involved in North Carolina politics as a staffer for Jesse Helms, a Republican who served as U.S. Senator from 1973 to 2003.

Lofthouse, Clifton said, was merely collateral damage, not the primary target, and he conceded he used the controversy to further his own efforts to foster a “revolution” within the state Republican power structure.

She “was just an angle to bring something out that would make Chuck Edward and Thom Tillis uncomfortable,” Clifton said. He said he hadn’t known anything of Lofthouse until contacted by her critics, adding that even he was surprised at the “venom” directed at her in the response to his article. “People seem to hate her guts,” Clifton said.

Clifton said Edwards was responsible for whatever damage the attacks may have on Lofthouse, because Edwards “put her up on the ladder where she could get shot at” despite being aware of her public views.

“Why didn’t he anticipate the storm?” Clifton asked.

“Pursuit of Ideological Purity” within GOP

Western Carolina University political science Professor Chris Cooper said he agreed with this framing, which he described as the pursuit of ideological purity within the Republican Party. Edwards’s attempt to put aside ideology in hiring Lofthouse ran headfirst into that pursuit.

A result, Cooper said, is that Republican Party primaries in the 2024 election cycle will become “an ugly fight and a public fight,” diminishing the ability of the party’s factions to come together to face a united, or less fractured, Democratic candidate.

Whether Edwards will suffer lasting political damage from this is hard to gauge at this stage, Cooper said, calling it “inside baseball.” Edwards’s voting record is solidly on the Republican Party’s conservative side and that’s not likely to change, he continued. 

The most revealing aspect of this incident, Cooper said, might be what it says about the composition of the 11th Congressional District’s Republican electorate. “The fact that the staff member was seen as being a little too friendly with the gay-rights community was enough to get her fired, that’s quite the statement.”

For her part, Lofthouse said she remains hopeful that Edwards’s promise to make constituent service his priority will prove real, although she said she is “devastated” and regrets missing the opportunity to be a part of it.

“I will just continue to volunteer my time and do what I can do to make the world a better place,” she said.  “As corny as it sounds, I’m really hopeful that Congressman Edwards will be the congressman that we haven’t seen in a very long time.”  

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Tom Fiedler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter and former executive editor of The Miami Herald. Email tfiedler@avlwatchdog.org.

26 replies on “Edwards, Who Pledged ‘No Political Boundaries,’ Fires Staffer Who Crossed a Line”

  1. “Ideological purity?” This phrase has an ominous ring to my ears. It seems Ms. Lofthouse has become the latest example of roadkill on the GOP’s highway to political oblivion. Those of us on the other side of the spectrum will be watching as the coming civil war pits the reasonable righties against the “ideologically pure” zealots of the maga class. Are we seeing deja vu all over again? Don’t forget, that same human mindset of purification took root in 1930’s Germany. So what’s next from the magafolk, “racial purity?”

    1. Exactly. It’s like they’ve watched news reels from the 1930s and 40s…

      And have any from the far right Bible thumping cult ever looked beneath Trump’s orange toupee for the three 6s?

  2. Welp, I guess now poor ol’ Chuckie won’t be allowed to vote middle ground like he promised. The magats heads will explode, God forbid. Another cowardly lion representative shows us who he really is and we on the left of middle constituency will have no rep in congress. How long it has been that I feel that way now…

  3. I wrote just now to Edwards just now to say he had failed to meet even my low expectations of him. They were set low when he failed to answer any of my three pre-election inquiries as to whether he thought President Biden had been fairly elected. The firing of Ms. Lofthouse is doubly shameful because she had been completely candid with him about her views on social issues. There is a civil war under way within that party between democracy and fascism, and Edwards has just groveled to the wrong side.

    1. Not only did Chuck not completely answer during the WLOS debate whether he felt that Biden was fairly elected by saying only, “it was certified,” the moderators didn’t push to get an answer. I guess that’s what one can expect from employees of the radical right’s Sinclair Broadcasting. And recently, in AVL, Chuck said there’s too much hysteria about global warming. I guess he doesn’t read the news (if he reads at all.) I was hoping for a little better than Madison this time, but now that’s DOA. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” as The Who sings.

  4. I disagree with Chuck Edwards on just about everything, but I believed that he was a smart, savvy, and effective politician.

    This article casts all that into doubt. How naive could he be to hire someone like Lofthouse? It’s well established that today’s Republican Party values ideological purity over competence and integrity. Edwards should have known that his pick for constituent services would raise a firestorm amongst the Party purity police.

    I kind of like him for his initial impulse that he could make the Lofthouse hire work (just as I appreciated the gracious gestures he made toward candidates like me in the last election). But it was a shocking miscalculation for a member of a party that no longer tolerates any deviation from the MAGA creed.

    1. Let’s applaud miscalculations that veer toward inclusion and broader representation. I doubt he thought she’s be popular with his constituents; I imagine he just underestimated the vehemence of the kickback. Sure, I wish he’d push back against it, but how? It’s all pseudanonymous social bile for which there is no response. He’s as trapped as we all are until something breaks or builds.

  5. Edwards has already proved his constituents cannot trust anything he says. First, Ms. Lofthouse was open and aboveboard with him about who she was and what she believed. He hired her anyway. Now Edwards runs scared because some of his constituents start howling about her and her beliefs. Apparently we cannot trust anything Edwards has said during his campaign and afterwards. How very typical. I cannot imagine anyone being surprised by this behavior on Edwards’ part.

  6. I am so happy to read all these comments. I thought I was alone out here in Western NC, having views that don’t fit into one particular party. So thank you for commenting neighbors! It is sad to see the lengths that people will go to in order to keep voters and constituents, crazy as they may be. I was impressed with Lofthouse’s willingness to be true to her values regardless of public opinion. It gave me hope for Edwards until hearing how quickly and coldly she was fired.

  7. Lofthouse admitted she voted for Trump. Are we supposed to feel sorry for her because the hyenas of her adopted pack turned on her? The article is well-written, but it’s stating the long-known, painfully obvious truth: you can’t be a Republican in 2023 and claim you believe in democracy, anymore than you could claim to believe in human decency whilst goose-stepping and saluting in 1930’s Germany. We all make our choices – and pay the bill when it comes due…

    1. To be clear, I never said I voted for Trump. I said there was a photo on my Instagram that had a picture of my child in a Trump shirt with the hashtag #Trump2016. While I am registered unaffiliated, I have always voted in the Republican Primary, however I have never voted a straight ticket in my life. Because I vote for the person, not the party.

      Next, I was vetted. I was qualified and we knew my employment would be difficult. We hoped we could move forward for the betterment of WNC, but that proved too difficult.

      Congressman Edwards made an admirable attempt to work for the masses by hiring me. My resignation is an isolated incident that shouldn’t be used to pass judgments or make assumptions about the future of the Congressman’s office or his ability to focus on constituent services.

      Do I wish I had more of an opportunity to prove my worth? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, Chuck has to answer to the people who elected him, and those people made it very clear that they didn’t want me working for them. And that’s ok.

      1. Brittney Lofthouse, you were obviously “What’s wrong with this picture?” what keeps you from being a Democrat?

        1. Sorry, I misunderstood. I’d say that the difference for me comes down to local vs National politics. With a focus on local government— the big Party platforms are essentially irrelevant.

  8. The people or person who recommended her in the first place should be the next to go. Who thought this was a good idea in the first place? When will Republicans learn?

    “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
    – Vince Lombardi

  9. John Galt got the best reply yet….the people or person(s) who recommended her in the first place should be the next to go….think about that for a moment. When did the Republican party “stop” vetting individuals to work within the party? Do they stop and realize just how many they have let walked, led and invited into the party to dismantle it by the hand graciously and with open arms and they laid down the welcome mat and opened the door for it to be done…without a blinking eye? They have become to comfortable and lazy in doing their damn jobs of protecting and serving their constituents and taking a title only and to do what? Absolutely nothing. It has been said over and over for the last 20 plus years well before Trump come into play it is time to clean up the house and you MUST start in your back yard before you can clean up DC. So if the county GOP seats are not cleaned up then District and state levels are not going to be any better. If they would have done their due diligence she would have never made it on the list of candidates to be hired…so what about the rest of the staff? Are they any better?

  10. Well well, we quickly see how heavily invested Chuck Edwards was in his stellar constituent services PR campaign …which of course was simply a smokescreen for his far more nefarious efforts to undermine our democracy up there in the US Congress… now better known as our national circus. Seriously, if they get any lamer than Chuck.. well, they’ll probably be our next congressman in a long line of inept/ infamous standouts from WNC 11th congressional district …sigh.

    …On Jan. 25, with Lofthouse at his side, Edwards told members of the Franklin Rotary Club that he had hired her to be the Western Regional Director overseeing constituent services in the 11th Congressional District’s westernmost counties, a region where Lofthouse was raised and lives.

  11. Standing behind his word? Issues avoidance. Labels sans definitions. Logical fallacies. Lack of respect for language. With what accountability? Rep. Edwards responded to me re Foreign Affairs Committee membership, ” . . . there is no place in our country or abroad for antisemitism.” I got lost down the alleys of Semitic language and geography. Does he mean the House FAC is finally working for peace with and among Semites worldwide?

  12. An interesting read; that said, I want to hear what Edwards himself has to say about this personnel matter. This article provides the views of a college professor and several anecdotal comments from others, but does not provide any comment or opinion from Edwards.

    I’m not saying I deny or support this article’s implications; I am saying more reporting is needed before I give Edwards a thumbs up or a thumbs down!

  13. Anyone who thinks that Happy Meal-eating fool is savvy or halfway intelligent or even a decent upstanding human with any authenticity or backbone is a bloody fool. And it’s totally hilarious that the treasonous far-right would accuse anyone of ‘treachery’. Shall we play back all the footage from 1/6/21 when inbred domestic terrorists stormed our U.S. capitol?

  14. LGBT folks continue to be the ones we can still discriminate against in this district. It’s no surprise really, is it? Didn’t we expect Edwards to talk out of both sides of his mouth? Although the Democrats aren’t likely to listen to this piece of advice – get it together and find a good solid moderate Democrat that can appeal to the broadest group of bi-partisan voters in the general election. The Bernie wing of the party is just going to install the latest losing candidate otherwise – therefore solidifying Edward a permanent place in Congress.

  15. Why is everybody surprised when they discover that the MAGA buffoons know how to use computers? These hateful people have always been with us, they always will be, and now they have the technology to apoplectically encourage each other to new lows of bad social behavior. It’s long past time for people like Edwards to take a stand for fairness and accommodation. There are not “good people on both sides.”

    1. Good people probably don’t need to be defended here, but I’ll do my small part in supporting them anyway. Good people exist on ALL sides. If “MAGA buffoons” were replaced with “democrats” in the comment above, it would be equally true if not more so, in my humble opinion.

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