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National Govt & Politics
Bathroom bill sponsor leads GOP field in NC election re-do
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Bathroom bill sponsor leads GOP field in NC election re-do

Bathroom bill sponsor leads GOP field in NC election re-do
Photo Credit: Chris Seward/The News & Observer via AP
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2018 file photo, N.C. Sen. Dan Bishop speaks during a joint N.C. House-Senate committee meeting on judicial reform and redistricting held at the Legislative Office Building in downtown Raleigh, N.C. Bishop of Charlotte filed on Thursday, March 14, 2019 to run in the 9th Congressional District re-do election. He faces at least two others in May's Republican primary. (Chris Seward/The News & Observer via AP)

Bathroom bill sponsor leads GOP field in NC election re-do

Republicans are heading for a lively and rapid-fire faceoff to decide who'll represent the GOP in a new North Carolina congressional election mandated after a ballot-rigging scandal blocked the former Republican candidate's presumed victory in November.

Ten Republicans filed by Friday's deadline to run for their party's nomination in the 9th Congressional District special election. They include the sponsor of a 2016 state law limiting LGBT rights, the anointed choice of last year's GOP candidate, a Fayetteville medical products sales manager, two suburban Charlotte real estate agents and a former Marine who served on the county board that includes Charlotte.

They have two months to raise money and campaign while Dan McCready, the Democrat who seemed to narrowly lose November's election before it was voided, can meet with supporters and donors without a primary contest. He raised $487,000 at the end of 2018 while the result was in doubt.

With no other contests serving as a weather vane of political opinion, the election should draw tons of money and visits from presidential candidates looking for a platform, Western Carolina University political scientist Chris Cooper said.

"I think this is going to be a nationally prominent story," said Cooper, predicting the interest level could match the big-money 2017 Georgia race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel. "I think we'll have probably relatively low voter turnout ... but the media environment is so nationalized now that I think we're all looking for signs."

The district that has been in GOP hands since 1963 and President Donald Trump won it by 12 percentage points in 2016. Republican Mark Harris seemed in November to have won by 905 votes out of almost 278,000 cast. But that was before investigators found a political operative working for Harris collected an unknown number of mail-in ballots, making them vulnerable to being changed or discarded.

The bi-partisan state elections board last month unanimously declared the election tainted and ordered another.

Harris isn't running again. The incumbent he beat in last year's primary, Robert Pittenger, also ruled out running in the district which stretches from suburban Charlotte to suburban Fayetteville along the South Carolina border.

If none of the Republicans win more than 30 percent of the votes in May, a GOP runoff primary would be Sept. 10 and the general election Nov. 5. If there is a clear Republican winner, he or she would meet McCready and candidates of the Green and Libertarian parties on Sept. 10.

Harris urged his supporters to back Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, who like the former Baptist pastor is staunchly anti-abortion. Rushing, 47, said his conviction comes in part from the fact that his mother gave birth to him despite being just 16.

The firing range owner and licensed gun seller said he's had grass-roots contact with thousands of people across the district who have taken his hunter safety and concealed-carry courses.

The best-known Republican candidate is probably state Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte, the architect of one of the most controversial laws in recent state history. House Bill 2 repealed a Charlotte ordinance expanding LGBT rights and prevented similar anti-discrimination rules anywhere else in the state. A 2017 Associated Press analysis found the law will cost the state more than $3.76 billion over several years.

The law was partly repealed, but local governments can't regulate private employment or public accommodations until late next year.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo cited that partial repeal when barring swimmers attending state universities from lodging in North Carolina during a collegiate championship next week in Greensboro. Cuomo said banning nonessential state-funded travel to North Carolina remains because the state continues discrimination against the LGBT community.

Bishop said his HB2 advocacy proved he'll tell voters where he stands despite pushback.

"I think the people of North Carolina, they put that controversy behind them and they're ready to move on," Bishop said after filing as a candidate Thursday. "It did the state no good to have that controversy, but it's an exhausted issue. And as I said, everyone understands where I stand. But we're on to a new campaign and new issues."

A late entry was Chris Anglin, who had been a registered Democrat until shortly before he entered last year's race for a state Supreme Court seat as a Republican. He split GOP votes with the Republican incumbent and helped a Democrat get elected.

Tami Fitzgerald, the executive director of the NC Values Coalition, said her conservative lobbying organization hasn't decided who to endorse. Still, she said social conservatives are motivated to vote because their "votes were thrown out," even though it's unclear whether there were enough tainted ballots to swing the race last year.

Last year's narrow race in a district that favors Republicans suggests GOP voters need to rally behind a candidate who can appeal equally in the district's suburbs and rural hamlets, Republican strategist Patrick Sebastian said.

"Most of the Republicans in this race are fairly conservative but I don't think all of them can win against McCready, who's going to have a mountain of money behind him," Sebastian said. "So we have to nominate somebody that has a little bit of crossover appeal (to Democrats) but also can stop McCready from taking soft Republican voters. He clearly did that in 2018."

____

Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio.

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

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The oldest victim, John Porter, was 28.  All the dead were black.  On Thursday, more than 38 years after the end of the murders, Atlanta Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms and Police Chief Erika Shields announced that they are reopening the case and retesting any evidence that remains to put to bed, once and for all, speculation about Williams’ guilt in the crimes.  “It may be there is nothing left to be tested,” Bottoms said during a news conference. “But I do think history will judge us by our actions, and we will be able to say we tried.” >> Related story: Police to retest evidence in Atlanta child murder cases Bottoms, who said she was 9 years old when the crimes took place, recalled the terror the slayings unleashed on the community. She said she began thinking about taking another look at the case after meeting with Catherine Leach, whose 13-year-old son, Curtis Walker, was killed in March 1981. The mayor said applying modern technology to the testing of evidence will assure victims’ families that city and police officials “have done all that (they) can do do to make sure their memories are not forgotten and, in the truest sense of the word, to let the world know that black lives do matter.” Though Williams was tried for just two killings, the Atlanta Police Department attributed at least 22 of the other 29 known homicides to Williams and closed those cases. He is also a potential suspect in the case of a black child who went missing but was never found.  According to CNN, Williams’ convictions rested, in part, on dog hairs and a variety of fibers that prosecutors argued linked Williams’ home and car to both Cater’s and Payne’s bodies.  Williams, now 60, has maintained his innocence throughout the decades since his arrest and conviction.   “The bottom line is nobody ever testified or even claimed that they saw me strike another person, choke another person, stab, beat or kill or hurt anybody, because I didn’t,' Williams told CNN in a 2010 interview.  He said the panic in Atlanta over the serial killings put pressure on authorities to make an arrest. A black man had to be responsible, Williams continued, because arresting a white man would have sparked a race war. “Atlanta would’ve gone up in flames,” Williams told CNN.  Watch part of Thursday’s announcement in the Williams case, courtesy of WSB-TV in Atlanta. Forensic experts that same year found that human hair found on the body of Patrick Balthazar, 11, showed that Williams could not be excluded as the boy’s killer. CNN reported that Williams accused authorities of manipulating evidence against him. Retired FBI scientist Harold Deadman, who once served as the head of the agency’s DNA lab, told the news channel the findings in Balthazar’s case excluded 98 percent of the world’s population as the killer. Williams is in the other 2 percent, he said.  ‘A loud splash’ According to the FBI, the string of child murders that shocked Atlanta, and later the entire country, began July 21, 1979, with the killing of Edward Smith, 14, who was shot in the back. A second boy, 13-year-old Alfred Evans, was strangled to death just four days later. The killings continued, sometimes with multiple killings in a single month and others separated by as many as three months. Some victims were shot, stabbed or beaten, but the majority were strangled or otherwise asphyxiated.  The city of Atlanta asked the FBI for help in August 1980, by which time investigators were looking at six unsolved child murders and four missing persons cases in which foul play was suspected, according to FBI records. A task force had been established in the case, and FBI agents joined those efforts.  “Collectively, they focused on a dozen disappearances with several shared traits,” the FBI website says. “The victims were all young African-American males who vanished in broad daylight in fairly public locations. Their bodies were found in desolate areas. Their murders had no obvious motivation (in contrast, two other homicides from that period appeared to have been gang-related).  “These commonalities suggested a single killer.” As the murders continued unabated through 1980 and into early 1981, the killer began to change where he disposed of the bodies. By May 22, 1981, a total of six bodies had been recovered from the Chattahoochie River.  Another three victims were recovered from the waters or the banks of the South River, according to a 1981 article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Task force investigators decided to begin staking out 14 bridges in the Atlanta metropolitan area in case, hoping to catch the killer in the process of dumping another victim, according to the FBI.  One early morning in May, they stumbled upon Wayne Williams, then a 23-year-old freelance cameraman and wannabe record producer.  Around 2:52 a.m. May 22, an FBI agent, an Atlanta police officer and two police cadets stationed at the South Cobb Drive Bridge heard “a loud splash” in the river and spotted a car on the bridge. “(The) car sped across the bridge, turned around in a parking lot on the other side and sped back across the bridge. The vehicle was pursued and stopped,” the FBI website says. Williams, who was driving the car, told the officers he was searching for the location of an audition he had set up with a woman for the following day. Without probable cause to hold him, the task force agents had to let him go. Two days later, Cater’s naked body was recovered from the river near the bridge. Like so many previous victims, he had been asphyxiated, the Journal-Constitution reported. The task force turned its attention to Williams. “Investigators soon learned that his alibi was poor and that he had been arrested earlier that year for impersonating a police officer,” the FBI website says. “Later, he failed multiple polygraph examinations.” Williams was again questioned for 12 hours over June 3 and 4, the Journal-Constitution said. He later told the media he’d been accused of Cater’s death and called a “prime suspect” in the case. He was again let go, but the task force kept him under constant surveillance. Knowing he was being watched, Williams would sometimes taunt the agents, including having them follow him June 10, 1981, to the home of Lee Brown, who was then Atlanta’s public safety commissioner.  He also took task force agents on a chase the night of June 20, driving to the homes of both Brown and then-Mayor Maynard Jackson, the newspaper reported. Williams was arrested in Cater’s death the next day. He was convicted the following February in the deaths of Cater and Payne. According to the FBI, Williams’ conviction was based on “meticulous hair and fiber analysis and witness testimony.” After the trial, the task force concluded that there was evidence to link Williams to at least 20 additional homicides.  Never far from people’s minds -- or from controversy The case, though nearly 40 years old, has never been far from the minds of those who lost loved ones. It has also sparked public interest through the years. CNN reported that celebrities including Sammy Davis Jr. and the Jacksons performed at benefit concerts for the victims’ families. Williams spoke to CNN in 2010 in conjunction with a documentary hosted by Soledad O’Brien, and more recently, the case was the subject of a podcast, “Atlanta Monster.” Netflix’s second season of its original series “Mindhunter” is anticipated to touch upon the case and Deadline reported last month that producer Will Packer was making a three-part special on the case titled “The Atlanta Child Murders.”  Packer’s documentary is scheduled to begin airing Saturday on cable network Investigation Discovery. The case has continuously sparked controversy over the decades. Louis Graham, who was a member of the original task force that investigated the killings, reopened some of the cases in 2005, a year after he became chief of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. “I never believed he did it,” Graham, who died in 2010, told the Journal-Constitution in 2005.  A total of five DeKalb County cases were reopened by Graham and his detectives: those of Balthazar, who was found strangled Feb. 13, 1981, in a wooded area; Walker, who was found asphyxiated March 6, 1981, in the South River; Joseph “Jo-Jo” Bell, 15, who was found asphyxiated April 19, 1981, in the South River; William Barrett, 17, who was found asphyxiated May 12, 1981, on a roadside; and Aaron Darnell Wyche, 10, who was found dead of a broken neck beneath a bridge June 24, 1980.  A sixth boy, Christopher Richardson, 11, vanished from DeKalb County, but his body was recovered June 9, 1980, in Fulton County.  Wyche’s father, Jesse Griffin, told the Journal-Constitution in 2005 that anyone with information about the killings needed to come forward. “It’s time for someone to step forward so the parents can rest a little bit more than they have been,” Griffin told the newspaper. “I’ve slept four hours at most since this incident happened. I’m hoping tonight I can have about two more hours added to that, knowing that this case is opened again and something’s going to be done about it.” The reopened DeKalb County cases were left to languish again a year later when Graham resigned after being caught on tape uttering a profanity-laced tirade, the Journal-Constitution reported.  Griffin is not the only parent of a victim who has doubted Williams’ guilt over the years.  Leach said Thursday that she had been let down over the years, not knowing for sure who killed her teen son.  “It seems like the Atlanta missing and murdered children have been forgotten in this city,” Leach said, according to CNN. “I don’t think it’s right for all these kids to be killed in this city, and nobody was concerned about it. “I want some closure. I want to know who killed Curtis.”
  • Orlando Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani is co-sponsoring a bill to allow illegal immigrants living in Florida to legally obtain a state driver’s license. “We can talk about the need to reform immigration as a whole, but this is one solution to make sure that our roads are safer,” Eskamani said over the phone on Thursday. Illegal immigrants would still have to take a driving test to get a license, and they’d be able to buy car insurance, which Eskamani said would generate additional revenue for the state.  She also believes the bill will encourage people to report accidents and crimes they see on the road. Eskamani agreed with the assessment that the bill (HB 969) does not attempt to change immigration policy but rather change policy dealing with Florida’s current immigrant situation. “On our roads, you have people who are undocumented who are driving their kids to daycare, who are going to work,” Eskamani said.  “They’re doing their best to live life to its fullest potential.” Under current Florida law, residents must prove U.S. citizenship or show a resident alien green card to get a state driver’s license.  This bill would allow people to use documents such as foreign passports, international birth certificates, or tax ID number to get one.   With the 2019 legislative session well underway in Tallahassee, neither the bill nor its Senate companion has seen a committee vote. The bill has gotten notable attention from Fox News, to which Eskamani mused on her Facebook page, “Wow, my first ever mention in Fox News!  This has to come with some sort of award right?”
  • The Florida man accused of sending pipe bombs last year to several high-profile critics of President Donald Trump pleaded guilty Thursday in a Manhattan federal court. >> Read more trending news Cesar Sayoc appeared Thursday for a change of plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.  Sayoc pleaded not guilty in November to a slew of charges after he was identified as the man suspected of mailing pipe bombs to targets including CNN, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. >> Cesar Sayoc Jr.: What we know about the man arrested for sending package bombs Sayoc has been held without bail since his late-October arrest outside a South Florida auto parts store. He had been living in a van covered with stickers of Trump and showing images of some Trump opponents with crosshairs over their faces. Authorities launched an investigation in October after pipe bombs were mailed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and philanthropist George Soros. In the subsequent days, similar devices were mailed to several other prominent Trump critics, including U.S. Rep Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Democratic donor Tom Steyer. >> 2nd mail bomb to Tom Steyer recovered; suspect agrees to remain jailed, face charges in New York Authorities said Sayoc was linked to the packages after investigators found his fingerprints and DNA on some of them. Without a plea deal, Sayoc faced charges carrying a potential penalty of mandatory life in prison. A court filing last Friday didn't indicate which charge or charges the plea would involve. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Federal authorities and Butler Township police are investigating after an explosive device was placed inside a mailbox and detonated, according to police. >> Read more trending news  The explosive device, which police believe was a commercial-grade firework, was detonated and destroyed the mailbox sometime between 7 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Wednesday, Butler Township Police Chief John Porter said in a media release. Police did not say what road the incident occurred on but described the area as a rural part of the township.  “Since tampering with a mailbox is covered under federal law, federal authorities have been notified and are participating with us in a joint investigation,” Porter said. “Our initial investigation shows there is no indication of any type of hate or bias crime at this time.”  Authorities continue to investigate.

Washington Insider

  • A man who was charged with sending explosive devices to a series of critics of President Donald Trump pleaded guilty on Thursday to the crimes, as federal prosecutors say Cesar Sayoc could spend the rest of his life in prison for mailing 16 improvised explosive devices to former President Obama, former Vice President Biden, as well as sitting Democratic lawmakers in Congress. 'For five days in October 2018, Cesar Sayoc rained terror across the country,' said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. 'Thankfully no one was hurt by these dangerous devices, but his actions left an air of fear and divisiveness in their wake.  'Sayoc has taken responsibility for his crimes, and will soon be sentenced to significant time in prison,' Berman added in a statement, as prosecutors labeled Sayoc's effort 'domestic terrorism.' 'Sayoc’s crimes were intended to incite fear among his targets and uncertainty among the general public,' said FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney. Sayoc is scheduled for sentencing on September 12. In a statement issued by prosecutors, the feds said Sayoc pleaded guilty to 65 separate felony counts brought against him for his mail bomb flurry, which involved 16 identical looking padded envelopes sent from south Florida. 'Sayoc packed each IED with explosive material and glass shards that would function as shrapnel if the IED exploded,' the feds stated. 'Sayoc also attached to the outside of each IED a picture of the intended victim marked with a red 'X.'' Sayoc’s mail bombs were sent to former Vice President Joseph Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CNN, actor Robert De Niro, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), former Attorney General Eric Holder, former President Barack Obama, George Soros, Thomas Steyer, and Rep. Maxine Walters (D-CA).   When Sayoc was arrested, authorities found his van, which was plastered in pro-Trump and anti-Democratic Party stickers and placards.