The New Hanover County Democratic Party has a new Chairman. Elected to the post just nine days ago, Richard Poole is a former federal prosecutor from Washington, D.C.
As a federal employee, the Hatch Act barred Poole from political activity. So he jumped at the chance in Wilmington to volunteer as a neighborhood team leader for the Obama campaign – in both 2008 and 2012.
Now an attorney with his own estate-planning practice, Poole says he’s ready to energize his party. He plans to do that, as we learned in a recent conversation, by throwing county support behind school board, commission, and other local candidates for which the party can make a difference.
RLH: We have an unusual situation here in New Hanover County with Commissioner Brian Berger. Now that the Board has begun the amotion process to oust Berger, is the Democratic Party doing anything to position itself to be ready for when that situation shifts? What can the Democratic Party do?
RP: The Brian Berger situation is unfortunate. And I think there’s --even among Democrats -- some sympathy for his position. But the really interesting question to me is if Brian Berger resigns or is removed, what happens then? Do we have an election? Is there an appointment? And I’m not sure that the election laws provide a really good answer to that question. And it’s going to be interesting to see that play out.
RLH: Would the New Hanover County Democratic Party take a position on things like Titan Cement? Does the Democratic Party think Titan Cement should open up operations in the county?
RP: Well, as Democrats we are in favor of clean air and clean water. There is a tension with Titan between jobs and the environment. We have not taken a position as a party. But as a person, I would note that it’s a lot of pollution and not that many jobs.
RLH: What are some of the statewide developments that have the attention of the county Democratic Party?
RP: Voter suppression. I think that concerns a lot of people. It concerns the parents of college students that are going to be paying $2500 more in taxes if their child commits the sin of registering to vote where they go to school. We have efforts to cut back Early Voting so that we’ll be having long lines at the polls. I don’t think anybody’s going to be pleased by these things.
[Republican spokespeople have said that 70 percent of North Carolinians don’t have a problem with voter ID. I have a driver’s license. Most of the people I spend most of my time with have driver’s licenses. But there are people who don’t – young people, old people, people with disabilities. And I don’t think we should be cutting off their ability to vote.
As far as the voter fraud thing goes, there’s not much evidence, if any, that the kind of fraud that voter ID would prevent actually happens. There is, however, evidence of fraud using absentee ballots. And the really interesting thing about what’s going on is there’s no effort in Raleigh to tighten up on absentee ballots. It’s obvious why that could be a problem. There’s no effort to tighten up on absentee ballots, and in fact, there’s a proposal on the table to make it easier to get an absentee ballot. And I’m not saying that’s wrong, but if your focus was fraud, you’d be focused there rather than voter ID.]
There is, however, evidence of fraud using absentee ballots. And the really interesting thing about what’s going on is there’s no effort in Raleigh to tighten up on absentee ballots and in fact, there’s a proposal on the table to make it easier to get an absentee ballot. And I’m not saying that’s wrong, but if your focus was fraud, you’d be focused there rather than voter ID.
RLH: What is the Democratic perspective on some of the proposals out of Raleigh that could have environmental implications?
RP: We’re very concerned about fracking and the possibility that we’ll have injection wells here in New Hanover County. We used to have injection wells in North Carolina. And we had problems. We had aquifers polluted and they cut if off. If we have injection wells here, we get no local benefit economically – or not a significant one. All the benefits will go to folks in the western part of the state. And the environmental costs will be imposed on us.
RLH: Is there anything else at the state level that you’ve been watching carefully that, as a Democrat, you find concerning?
RP: Oh, yeah. There’s so much. There is the Racial Justice Act. You know, we have a problem in this country in our criminal justice system that we make mistakes. 325 people have been exonerated in recent years from serious crimes like rape and murder by DNA evidence – essentially incontrovertible scientific evidence.
So we know our criminal justice system makes mistakes. It’s just an unfortunate fact of life. But the problem with capital punishment is you can’t correct your mistakes. They’re permanent.
RLH: Richard Poole, Chairman of the New Hanover County Democratic Party, thank you for joining us today.
RP: Thank you for having me.
Watch for next Monday’s Business Brief when we talk with Rhonda Amoroso, the newly-reelected Chairperson of the New Hanover County Republican Party.