At a press conference today, Buncombe County Republican officials and activists criticized the defacing of a “Vote Republican” billboard, which was spray-painted with “Drop bombs on families!!!?”
The billboard, at the intersection of Patton and Clingman avenues in downtown Asheville, originally read “Change the Culture of Corruption in N.C.” above a checked box stating “Vote Republican.” It was paid for by the Buncombe County Republican Action Club. Kathy Lack, the club’s chair, said the vandalism constituted an attack on free speech and was emblematic of the Democratic Party.
“This billboard was put up by the Buncombe County Republican Action Club to express a political opinion, and today our right to free speech was stolen,” Lack said. “It appears that the Democrat Party doesn’t believe the Republicans have the right to free speech.
“Really, what do we expect? The Democrat Party has been in power in North Carolina for over 100 years and they’ve done that through controlling the right to free speech. They use scare tactics to keep from saying things not in line with what they want. It’s common knowledge that people who want government jobs need to be a Democrat or at least pretend to be a Democrat,” Lack continued. “We put this billboard up with our own money, and they stole it for their use — they basically took away our right. Are those the kind of people we want to keep sending back to Raleigh and put in government positions?”
She took issue with the content of the spray-painted message, noting that the billboard was aimed at “state government, which has nothing to do whatsoever with the war.”
Buncombe GOP Chair Tim Johnson also criticized the conduct of law enforcement.
“If the Democratic Party wants to say it wasn’t their responsibility, then OK, but it was someone who had tendencies towards the Democratic Party or at least someone with a lack of respect for the Republican Party,” he said. “We can agree to disagree, but this is unlawful. The fact this is right around the corner from the Sheriff’s Department just makes it even more appalling. This is a major intersection. It almost makes you think that someone from the Sheriff’s Department or law enforcement sat here on the corner and protected them while they did it. You have no other way to assume things when you think about the proximity to the sheriff’s department. It speaks a lot about our community.”
Lack later told Xpress that the group has not filed a police report, stating that “the honest truth, the last time we had a billboard vandalized, we did and nothing came of it. No one cared. They’re not going to find this person. It was low priority to even call them. Nothing will ever come of it, so what’s the point?”
Buncombe County Board of Commissioners candidate Mike Fryar did call Sheriff Van Duncan, who arrived toward the end of the press conference.
Duncan said he doubted the vandals could be caught and that the matter would be under the Asheville Police Department’s jurisdiction. But he said they would take care to check up on the sign and four others the GOP has.
“We’ll definitely make sure our officers are aware and will take action if they catch anyone vandalizing it in the future,” Duncan said.
He added that he hadn’t seen an increase in political vandalism.
Chad Nesbitt, founder of the Carolina Stompers activist group, offered a $500 reward to anyone “who can tell us who did this and get an arrest and conviction.”
GOP Vice Chair Rick Jenkins said he had some idea of the type of people who’d done the spray-painting.
“I have a friend who was in charge of the gang-crime unit for L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. I sat under him, I’ve studied graffiti,” Jenkins said. “This is a white male that did this. It’s legible, it’s in one color and therefore you can tell. You would mark out a Hispanic that did this because the Hispanics that do graffiti, it’s very colorful [and] there’s a lot of symbols because of the broken English. You’d rule out a woman because a woman doesn’t do straight up stick-writing — it would have some kind of artistic flair. Chances are you’ve got a white man that’s done this.”
R.L. Clark, who’s running against state Sen. Martin Nesbitt, said the spray-painting showed that the “U.S. Constitution, the state Constitution, are absolutely being trampled in the mud. For several years I’ve gone all across North Carolina saying that. People’s personal, religious and private property rights are not being respected. We’ve become a nation not of laws, but of rule by the mob.”
This has not been the only political vandalism this year. This summer, motor oil was dumped on the front porch of the Buncombe Democratic Party headquarters. A group that called itself Citizens Hoping Against New Gas Emissions took responsibility for the act, claiming it was done to protest “oil drilling and war.”
— David Forbes, staff writer