“La resistance” makes presence known; Voters changing to unaffiliated prior to registration deadline

An underground movement is afoot in Rowan County.

The local Tea Party is in its crosshairs, particularly Rowan County commissioners and some Republican candidates vying for the three seats opening up on the board this election cycle.

Red berets identify members of the sprouting political action committee known as “la resistance.”

The group recently has been placing ads in the Salisbury Post urging Democrats to change their registration to unaffiliated so they can hit the polls in the primary and vote for Republicans “who are not affiliated with the local Tea Party.”

They're especially targeting Rowan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jim Sides, who is running for re-election.

The effort seems to be taking hold.

“We have had a lot of party changes, more than usual. Most are changing to unaffiliated,” county Elections Director Nancy Evans said. “What we are hearing from the voters is that there are articles and ads in the Post.”

An elections specialist with the county, Laura Russell said the atmosphere at the Board of Elections office this week feels similar to a presidential election when staff is flooded with voter registrations and changes.

“I have been working here since 2010, and I have never seen this many party changes happen right before an election,” Russell said. “As far as which party is changing more, I think it has been more Democrats changing to unaffiliated than any other party.”

Board of Elections officials were not able to calculate the number of voters who had come in to change affiliations as of Tuesday.

“It is a remarkable world we live in as Americans where you have the right to not like somebody, run against somebody or change party affiliation to vote against somebody you don't like,” said Sides said.

“If I was stealing money from the county as a corrupt politician or extorting money from people to get contracts — that would be one thing for running to get rid of me. I'm the most conservative.”

Sides said a fear exists about him getting re-elected, and a certain group of people are “pulling out all the stops.”

Still, “la resistance” is operating within the law, and it is every right of the organization's members to do so, Sides said.

“I'm a member of the Tea Party, and I'm not the favorite son of the Tea Party. Not everybody subscribes to my strong political beliefs,” Sides said. “There is a group who might have changed their mind, and maybe there are enough of them to affect the majority of (votes).”

Commissioner Jon Barber said “la resistance” is a group of people trying to bring together both Republicans and Democrats to move the county forward.

“We have to put aside political ideologies and understand there are more issues that unite us than divide us,” Barber said.

This election is shaping up to be one of the most historic elections in Rowan County, Barber said.

“There are PACs being formed, and unaffiliated candidates are getting out (to solicit) signatures so their names can be placed on the November ballot,” Barber said.

“La resistance” is an effort to remove the polarization that exists in both parties and bring together like-minded people who wish to move Rowan County forward and who are more concerned about public servants than politicians, Barber said.

Several audience members at the Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday wore red berets. The Post was unable to reach any outspoken members of “la resistance” by press time Tuesday.

The leader of the county's Republican party, John Leatherman, said the party welcomes Democrats and independents who feel they are more attuned to Republican values.

“If you are a person of faith, believe in individual opportunity and responsibility for all and smaller, less intrusive government — welcome to the Republican Party,” Leatherman said. “Ronald Reagan was a Democrat before changing to Republican.”

Multiple issues in Rowan County have created “a fire sucking the oxygen out of the air,” Leatherman said.

“There are too many people fighting over the same pie,” Leatherman said. “What we need to do is bake a new pie.”

The ads running in the Post, and the push to have voters switch affiliations in order to vote in the primary, creates excitement around the election, said Veleria Levy, the county's Democratic Party chairwoman.

Levy said the effort is forcing people to have a serious conversation about candidates, and is bringing awareness to difficult issues on the ballot.

While the ads urging the Democrats to change affiliation are not sponsored by the Rowan County Democratic Party, Levy said more people are being engaged in what traditionally has been a low-turnout election.

“It's prompting people to be more involved as far as the democratic process, whether the candidates you vote for are Republicans or Democrats,” Levy said. “If we ultimately end up with a ballot that has qualified individuals on it — isn't that really what we want in a democracy?”

The only downside of Democrats looking to change to unaffiliated prior to the primary, Levy said, is that they won't be able to vote in the 12th District or 5th District primaries as well as the U.S. Senate primary.

But supporters of the effort point out that those districts are safe Democrat or Republican, and voting in the Republican primary as unaffiliated won't prevent voters from supporting Democrats in November.

Jack Burke responded to an email Levy sent to local Democrats which beckoned them to keep their Democratic affiliation so as to be able to vote in the two congressional Democratic races.

“I have to disagree with (Levy) about changing party affiliations,” Burke said. “Voting in the Republican primary would allow us to help defeat the Tea Party candidates — leaving reasonable candidates to run against. While this seems counterintuitive, it is only so if our objective is solely political.”

Burke suggested the main objective of the county's Democratic Party should be bringing reason and good government back to Rowan County.

“Campaigning against responsible, middle-of-the-road Republicans would meet that objective — and we can still saddle them with the decisions made by their Tea Party predecessors,” Burke wrote.

The downside of Democrats switching to unaffiliated, Burke wrote, is the county may wind up with another Republican board.

However, he wrote, “At least it would be a responsible board, one which can be reasoned with.”

Burke wrote he went to the registrar's office Monday to change his affiliation.

“I gather that quite a few others have also done so,” Burke wrote. “That sounds like we're making progress in dumping (Sides) and his clones.”

Friday is the last day to register to vote in the primary elections and the last day for voters to change their registration status.

Contact reporter Jim Holt at 704-797-4246.

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