Longtime local conservative activist Don Yelton is getting national attention for contentious comments he made Oct. 23 on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
The renowned comedy program featured an interview with Yelton as part of a humorous segment on controversial new voter ID laws in North Carolina and other states across the South.
“The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt,” Yelton asserted, in contradiction to leaders in the Republican Party who have argued the law isn’t about partisanship. “If it hurts a bunch of college kids that are too lazy to get up off their bohonkas and go get a photo ID, then so be it. If it hurts a bunch of whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, then so be it,” Yelton continues.
In another exchange, the popular Gawker website notes that Daily Show field reporter Aasif Mandvi “attempted to prompt a reaction by declaring ‘the law is not racist, and you’re not racist.’ Expecting Yelton to fire back with an unequivocal ‘no,’ Mandvi was instead treated to several long seconds of introspection, followed by, ‘well, I’ve been called a bigot before.’” Yelton went on to bemoan the notion that it’s acceptable for black people to use the term “nigger” but not for others to do so.
Mandvi, in disbelief at what he’s was hearing, responded by emphasizing to Yelton: “You know that we can hear you, right?”
Watch the segment here:
Despite the controversy, Yelton tells Xpress: “The comments that were made, that I said, I stand behind them. I believe them.”
The short interview clips were edited together from a much longer two-hour sit-down, says Yelton. But he says he was pleased overall with the parts that were included. In fact, he notes that some of the comments he made that weren’t included might’ve even been more controversial. “To tell you the truth, there were a lot of things I said that they could’ve made sound worse than what they put up.” He adds, “I would’ve loved to been able to do it live. … But that wasn’t offered.”
Yelton says he was well aware of what he was getting into when he agreed to be on the show.
“Everybody and their brother told me, ‘They’re going to make fun of you,’” he notes. “I don’t think we can run from the people that disagree with us. If you’re not willing to talk to people you disagree with, then you’re never going to accomplish anything. So that’s why I agreed to take the interview.”
Yelton says he’s not sure why he was first contacted by a producer of the Daily Show and asked to appear, although he suspects it might’ve been comments related to President Barack Obama’s race he made on Facebook.
The Daily Show presented Yelton as an “NC Republican Executive Committee member.” However, Yelton reports that he didn’t have the blessing of — or even discuss — the media interview with the county party or state GOP beforehand. Yelton has often disagreed with local party leadership, and was forced to step down from the committee last year. However, this summer, Yelton was reinstated as a Buncombe County Republican Party precinct leader, which gives him a seat on the local executive committee.
Daily Show producers, he says, “Wanted it to be more important than it was. I kept explaining to them that I was a member of the executive committee by lieu of the fact that I was a precinct chair.”
Yelton says he was speaking on the show for himself, not as an official party spokesman. However, he says he has little sympathy for viewers who misinterpreted his comments as coming on behalf of the state GOP.
“People could assume that. But that would mean people don’t know anything about how the political structure operates, which they need to find out,” he says.
The Daily Show also interviewed several members of the Buncombe County Young Democratic group, but did not include those clips in the final edited segment.
UPDATE: On Oct. 24, Don Yelton told Pete Kaliner, host of the Pete Kaliner Show on WWNC 570 AM, that the Buncombe County Republican Party asked him to resign his position as precinct chair in response to the Daily Show interview. Yelton said he would resign as requested.
The Buncombe County Republican Party sent out the following statement:
October 24th, 2013
Asheville, NC- On behalf of the Buncombe County Republican Party we would like to express our sincerest regrets and disappointment in the comments made by Don Yelton on the Wednesday edition of Jon Stewarts “The Daily Show”. Mr. Yeltons comments are offensive, uniformed, and unacceptable of any member within the Republican Party. In no way are his comments representative of the local or state Republican Party.
“Let me make it very clear, Mr. Yelton’s comments do not reflect the belief or feelings of Buncombe republicans, nor do they mirror any core principle that our party is founded upon” said Chairman Mitchell. “This mentality will not be supported or propagated within our party”.
Mr. Yelton was recently reprimanded and removed from his position as a precinct chair in Buncombe County for a period of time in 2012 through 2013 and was then reelected to precinct chair by 2 votes (his wife and himself) at the 2013 convention placing him back on the Buncombe County Executive Committee.
“We have requested that Don resign his position of precinct chair and if he is unwilling to do this, we will again be pursuing avenues to remove him from any and all positions at any level within the state” said Chairman Mitchell.
“The Daily Show” led viewers to believe that Mr. Yelton was speaking on behalf of the NCGOP. Mr. Yelton did not seek the approval of any party official before accepting the interview request.