Dems convene, prep for 2014 elections
by Anna Oakes
The keynote speaker at the Watauga County Democratic Convention Saturday hammered home a message on the state of public education in North Carolina.
"Despite the constant negative drone from the right, I want you to know that education has news to celebrate," said Sharon Breitenstein, a Watauga County teacher with 34 years of experience, at the convention held at the Watauga County Courthouse.
Breitenstein said the state's English, math and SAT scores are the highest that they have been in years and that the dropout rate is the lowest it has been in history.
She lambasted Republican legislators for "leading an assault on education," criticizing efforts to divert taxpayer funding from public schools to private schools through a voucher program, the elimination of the Teaching Fellows scholarship program, the phasing out of teacher tenure and policies such as Read to Achieve, which she said results in the loss of valuable instruction time because of more testing requirements.
She called on school policies to be led by educators, not politicians.
"The General Assembly should listen to educators," Breitenstein said.
County Democrats also heard remarks from candidates seeking office in the 2014 primary and general elections, including Sheriff Len Hagaman; school board candidates Jay Fenwick and Ronny Holste; county commission candidates Billy Kennedy, Barbara Kinsey and Larry Turnbow; John Pritchett, representing U.S. House Fifth District candidate Josh Brannon; the daughter of U.S. House Fifth District candidate Michael Holleman; Larry Stinson, representing U.S. House Fifth District candidate Will Stinson; N.C. Senate District 45 candidate Jim Sponenberg; N.C. House District 93 candidate Sue Counts; and others.
"I'm running to reclaim and rebuild our state," Counts said.
Party treasurer Susan Phipps said the county Democrats currently have $32,390 in the bank, noting that the party has ramped up its fundraising efforts to support the salaries of staff who conduct field work and lead technological efforts.
The county party also passed nine resolutions:
- calling for the Watauga County Board of Commissioners to reinstate the per capita method of local sales tax revenue distribution;
- supporting a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision;
- opposing state legislative policies affecting teacher pay;
- opposing the use of drone warfare;
- supporting the revision of state party procedures for removal of officers;
- supporting the restoration of financial support for Watauga County nonprofits by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners;
- supporting the expansion of Medicaid coverage in North Carolina;
- supporting the delay of 2013 state voting law changes until lawsuits are settled; and
- supporting the restoration of the N.C. early voting period to 13 days.