A street scene, decorated with the signs of businesses that have been forced to shut down under Charles Taylor's tenure, served as the parking lot for Heath Shuler's enormous fundraising pep rally at Blue Ridge Motion Picture Studios in Asheville. Over 400 guests filled an immense soundstage to pledge their support, see old friends, eat some sweet western barbecue, and watch former Governor Jim Hunt introduce Democrat Heath Shuler. I took dozens of pictures, none of which are good enough to post here. Note to self: put someone else in charge of pictures.
All but the VIPs wore nametags and Shuler stickers. The mood, lifted by Shuler's old band, the ChillBillies, was casual but serious. These Democrats are deeply moved by the failures of Charles Taylor, and they're really, really ready to win. Governor Hunt leaned in to tell me, with a penetrating gravity, to "work my head off". There was very little media at the event. It was a day for the faithful to receive inspiration and hope.
NC House Candidate Doug Jones, Democratic candidate for Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan, State Senator John Snow, Congressman John Tanner, Governor Hunt, and Shuler's extended family were all in attendance.
Governor Hunt, who has a lot of politicking left in him, began his introduction by recalling that he began every one of his campaigns in western North Carolina. He took Charles Taylor and the Republican Party to task for Iraq, health care, scandal, the environment, education, and debt. At the end of each scathingly pointed observation, Hunt drove home the message of every Congressional challenger, "It's time for a change".
Heath took the podium and spoke slowly about the plight of the working poor and elderly in the district, describing a minimum wage family and a donut hole grandparent in the same hungry predicament with similarly lousy choices. Then he leaned into the speech, which I recorded, transcribing these excerpts:
"Here's what we can do about it. We have an opportunity November 7th to stop the corruption in Congress. We have an opportunity to place a vote and have an early retirement for a member of Congress."
"Wouldn't it be great if everyone in western district, everyone in the United States, everyone in North Carolina would have adequate, affordable health care?
Wouldn't it be great to not have dependence on the middle east for foreign oil?
Even better yet, wouldn't it be great if here in western North Carolina a district that we could be a district that would start providing alternative energy sources. This could be the Research Triangle for alternative energy sources. Right here in western North Carolina."
"Finding a way to protect our mountains is so imporatant. It is an asset that God has given us, and we must be good stewards of our land. We must do all that we can to protect - If you haven't seen the movie, Inconvenient Truth, go see the movie. Governor, you led the way, and I accept that baton. I want to help to help us and help the people of this district provide for our families, our environment, a great place to work."
"Think about those kids getting out of college. If it's your children or your grandchildren, where are they going to work? Is it going to be Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, or right here in western North Carolina? Let's do all we can to provide for our children."
"It's so humbling to see so many people tonight. Whether it be my family, cousins, aunts, teachers, coaches, people I've come to know in recent years...and I am so blessed to have so many friends and family and new acquaintances and constituents to come."
"[My grandmother] said, "Heath, when's the best time to plant a tree?" I said, "Grandma, I have no idea." She said, "It was thirty years ago."
Then she asked me, "Heath, when's the second best to plant a tree?" I said, "I don't know Grandma. She said, "Today."