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AVL Watchdog

Cawthorn Mingles With Far-Right Fringe

Conservative congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn, scheduled to speak Wednesday at the GOP national convention, traveled to Texas last month to visit a private border wall and echoed discredited child sex trafficking claims promoted by the extremist conspiracy theory movement.

The July 30 event, billed as a “political seminar,” was held at the border wall built by the crowdfunding campaign whose organizers, most notably former Trump-adviser Stephen Bannon, were charged last week with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors. 

In a campaign video posted on Instagram, Cawthorn invoked an unsubstantiated claim popular among fringe conspiracy theorists.

“Sure, there are children being human-trafficked across our border north into our country for sex slavery and many things that are unspeakable and terrible to think of,” a somber Cawthorn said. “But what’s really going on is we are having a large group of cartels coming into our country,


Candidate’s claim creates false impression

The narrative created by Republican congressional-candidate Madison Cawthorn paints a picture of a bright, young man headed to the U.S. Naval Academy until he was severely injured in an auto crash. 

“Madison was homeschooled in Hendersonville and was nominated to the Naval Academy by Rep. Mark Meadows in 2014,” according to the 11th district candidate’s website. “However, Madison’s plans were derailed that year after he nearly died in a tragic automobile accident that left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair.”     

But in a 2017 sworn deposition obtained by AVL Watchdog, Cawthorn admitted his application to the Academy had already been rejected before the crash. The campaign did not comment, despite repeated requests over several days.

The Naval Academy reference is a key part of the 25-year-old’s public portrait, featuring prominently in his campaign speeches and interviews.


Cawthorn Takes a Hard-Right Turn

When then 24-year-old Madison Cawthorn easily defeated a Trump-backed rival to capture the GOP nomination in Western North Carolina’s 11th congressional district, he declared that his mission would be to rescue his party from a “generational time bomb.”

Charismatic, telegenic, social media-savvy and deeply rooted in the region, the Hendersonville native reveled in the national news reports that, if elected, he would become one of the youngest people ever sent to Congress and a bridge to his party’s future. 

“Move over AOC,” asserts a cartoonish video on his campaign website where his smiling photo shoves aside one of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 31-year-old favorite of the Democratic left known widely as AOC.

GOP congressional candidate aspires to be the conservative alternative to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, widely known as AOC.

Cawthorn told a New York Times interviewer that he was motivated to seek office “because I believe there’s a generational time bomb going off in the Republican Party… 


Come Back Tourists; Oops, Never Mind

Buncombe County’s Tourist Development Authority began advertising for tourists to visit Asheville again – on the same day that the county’s top public health official said coronavirus cases were “rising at an alarming rate.”

The ad campaign, designed to promote “the safe and responsible return of visitation,” featured social media posts like one picturing a young couple picnicking on the bank of a river. “We invite you to pack your bags and masks, and safely experience our mountain oasis.”

On July 14, just five days after the ads began, the TDA pulled the plug. The reason: a viral surge – both of the pandemic kind, and of a social media variety.

The TDA had planned for the first scenario, monitoring Covid-19 trends in the target area, a 300-mile radius considered drivable to Asheville. When the campaign launched, large metropolitan areas like Charlotte and Atlanta were excluded because of a high viral caseload.


Asheville Police calls: Roadmap for Defunding?

Of 911 calls and requests for assistance to Asheville Police, less than 1 percent involve a violent crime, an AVL Watchdog analysis of police dispatch data shows.

Much of the time, police are summoned to routine calls such as traffic accidents, domestic disputes and loud parties or non-violent crimes like shoplifting, trespassing and prostitution, according to the analysis of more than two years of 911 calls.

“The reality of policing is that the majority of their time is spent on things totally unrelated to crime,’’ said Matthew Robinson, a professor of criminal justice at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. “We know that 75 to 80 percent of an officer’s time is spent providing social services and routine administrative tasks like filling out reports.”

The role of law enforcement and questions about whether some police functions are better delegated to trained,


Travel industry controls North Carolina’s room tax laws

A bill that would have changed the distribution of Buncombe County’s controversial hotel tax to better benefit local government is likely dead until at least next year.

The change would have reduced the share of room tax money to market and advertise Asheville as a tourist destination and increase the amount that could be used for local projects benefitting visitors and residents – a hot-button issue before Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter protests.

As it is, the local share of the tax revenue is smaller in Buncombe than most other North Carolina places that levy a tax and tourist destinations like Charleston, S.C., Charlottesville, Va. and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. And unlike in the neighboring states, no hotel tax money is available to pay for indirect costs of tourism, such as increased policing and maintenance of streets and sidewalks. 



Entwined With Slavery: A Brief Local History

By 1860, about 15 percent of the population of Western North Carolina was enslaved. Only a small percentage of the White settlers, who had pushed out Indigenous Native Americans,  owned slaves — about 2 percent of households, according to Katherine Calhoun Cutshall, collections manager, North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library — and of those, most owned one or two. The majority were owned by a handful of elite families, whose names are commemorated throughout the region. 

They used their wealth and influence to help build Asheville and surrounding communities, supporting government, schools, healthcare, infrastructure, parks and other civic improvements, for which they were honored. But the wealth that lifted them to prominence was derived in large part by the enslavement and exploitation of Black people, entwining their many good deeds with the evil of racism.


Originally Morristown,


What’s In a Name? For Asheville, Signs Point to History of Racism

Vance, Patton, Woodfin,  Henderson, Weaver, Chunn, Baird — their names are familiar  to anyone living in Asheville and Buncombe County today. All were wealthy and influential civic leaders honored by having their names bestowed on statues, monuments, streets, schools, parks, neighborhoods, and local communities.

They were also major slaveholders or slave traders and white supremacists who amassed their wealth and influence in part through the exploitation of human beings they treated as property. Of all the slaveholders in Buncombe County, no one enslaved more African Americans than Nicholas W. Woodfin, James W. Patton, and James McConnell Smith, according to census records and slave deeds. 

Asheville itself was named for a major slaveholder, as was Buncombe County. The fortunes that propelled Samuel Ashe and Edward Buncombe to prominence were wrung from the suffering of hundreds of enslaved Africans on their sugar and cotton plantations.


How Tech Can Help Asheville’s Economy

In 2019, if you were to ask anyone what drove Asheville’s economy, they’d tell you beer, arts and crafts, outdoor recreation, hotels and restaurants. In short, tourism. 

Today, with those businesses only just beginning to ramp back up and tourists staying home, talk of diversifying Asheville’s economy is picking up. Local technology businesses and the rise of technology-based work-from-home jobs may be part of the solution. 

Asheville already has a tech sector, albeit a small one with only 1% of the job market and approximately 1,900 jobs. But with an average salary of nearly $58,000 a year, according to ZipRecruiter, Western North Carolina tech jobs are good ones. And, more jobs are coming.

Charles Edward Industries (CEI), a minority-owned electronics manufacturer, in concert with the Buncombe County Commission, Asheville City Council, and the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County (EDC),


The Race For The GOP Nomination In The 11th Congressional District Could Embarrass Trump

Editor’s Note:  On June 23rd, Madison Cawthorn defeated Lynda Bennett to become the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 11th congressional district race.  Cawthorn will face Democrat Morris (Moe) Davis in the general election Nov. 3.

When then-Congressman Mark Meadows stunned his constituents last winter with plans to abandon his seat to become White House chief of staff, he was already secretly assisting family-friend Lynda Bennett of Maggie Valley in getting a running start to succeed him.

In the predawn of December 19, before most folks in Western North Carolina had rubbed sleep from their eyes or learned of Meadows’ overnight announcement, Bennett issued a press release announcing her candidacy and boasting of endorsements from Meadows and his loyalists in the Asheville Tea Party.  She went live with a campaign website that the Smoky Mountain News later found to have been two months in the making with the assistance of Meadows’ brother.