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LUCAMA — Valerie Johnson has little patience for those who dismiss the conservative movement as an expression of white fright in an increasingly diverse country.
“I always tell people that I’m an American, I’m a Christian, and I’m a proud Republican,” Johnson said. “Now, you notice I didn’t say I’m a black Republican. What identity politics has done to this country, it just sickens me. It does nothing but divide us. If you ain’t colorblind, you already know that I’m black.”
Johnson is vice chairwoman of North Carolina’s chapter of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, an evangelical group that bills itself as “the largest Christ-centered, multi-ethnic and Republican ministry in America.”
‘THE PARTY OF FREEDOM’
Speaking at the Wilson County Republican Party’s annual oyster roast fundraiser Saturday night at Scott Farms, Johnson rallied the GOP faithful to reject the narrative that Democrats have the African-American community’s best interests at heart and claims that equate conservatism with white supremacy.
“This is an opportunity for us to scream from the rooftops that we are not racists,” Johnson said. “We are the party of freedom. We are the party of Lincoln. We are the party of the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s just that simple.”
Douglass, one of American history’s most well-known abolitionists, became a Republican during the Civil War after helping to establish an anti-slavery party in 1855.
Johnson quoted Winston Churchill, pledged her loyalty to Judeo-Christian values, traditional marriage and small government and called for expanded veteran benefits and consumer-driven health care choices during her brief remarks.
“We all have a battleground to fight and we must choose how we fight it,” she said. “I choose to stand on freedom. I choose to help others achieve those dreams and hope to fulfill them in this great nation.”
Johnson holds at-large seats on the Wake County GOP executive committee and the 1st Congressional District Republican Party and is second vice chair of the Triangle Republican Women’s Club. A grassroots organizer who has assisted numerous state GOP campaigns, she worked in former Gov. Pat McCrory’s office as administrator of state boards and commissions.
The Frederick Douglass Foundation is known for its commitment to evangelical Christianity and its opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and “the costly, immoral and destructive welfare state,” according to its website.
Roger Allison, a Triangle entrepreneur and health care executive who lives in Durham, announced his intention to challenge U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, in the 1st Congressional District next year.
Allison said he was recruited and vetted through BrandNewCongress.org, a populist movement to replace “the corrupt and complacent political establishment” that supports both Republican and Democratic candidates.
“I believe it’s possible to turn this district, and if you look at the gerrymandering and what’s happening in District 4, we may have a possibility to do it,” Allison said. “We’re very close in some counties, some are total Democrat.”
The Cook Political Report index rates the district D+17, meaning the average Democrat would enjoy a 17 percentage point advantage over the average Republican based on presidential voting patterns.
Allison said he’s founded eight health care technology initiatives, including one that resulted in an initial public offering, and has sold three, with the most recent earning a $50 million valuation.
“I know health care. I know technology. And I’m well connected in the RTP area,” he said.
The 1st Congressional District includes the eastern half of Wilson County and stretches from northeastern North Carolina to Durham County. Butterfield has represented the district since July 2004.
“Although he might be a nice gentleman, we would like to see him replaced,” Wilson County GOP Chairwoman Christy Fyle said of Butterfield.
Other candidates speaking at the fundraiser were Bailey mayoral hopeful Thomas Richards, who is running in this year’s municipal race, along with Chuck Kitchen, a Raleigh private-practice attorney, and Jefferson Griffin, a Wake County District Court judge, who are both running for seats on the N.C. Court of Appeals in the 2018 congressional midterm.
“Next year is what they call a blue moon election,” Kitchen said. “The only statewide offices on the ballot next year will be the judges. That means we are counting on you to get the vote out.”
Organizers recognized two local elected officials, Wilson City Councilmen Tom Fyle and James Johnson, who were in attendance.
The annual GOP oyster roast usually features live music or a DJ. This year, organizers brought comedian Jerry Carroll to the stage to tickle guests’ funnybones.
Carroll, who grew up on a family farm near Willow Springs and who includes agricultural anecdotes in his act, is a mainstay on the corporate comedy circuit. Upcoming bookings include the Mid-States Ag Aviation Conference in Iowa, the Women in Ag Banquet in Moorhead, Minnesota, and the Agriculture Appreciation Banquet in Great Falls, Montana.
Billed as “the hardest-working farmer in showbusiness,” Carroll marveled at the GOP banquet’s venue, Scott Farms International, and toasted owners Sonny and Alice Scott for their hospitality.
Carroll said he predicted Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election after speaking with rural voters during a whirlwind year of bookings in which he flew 90,000 miles.
He called Trump supporters “the forgotten people, the silent majority, the people who do everything right, who pay their taxes, who have skin in the game, who farm for a living and are blue collar.”
The county GOP chairwoman said both Carroll’s homespun yarns and Johnson’s message of a big-tent Republican Party with something to offer minority voters resonated with attendees.
“We are definitely a party for everyone,” Fyle said. “We’re America. That’s the message we’re going to be on for 2018 and beyond. We are not separating. We’re engaging with anyone who wants to know about the Republican Party.”
Fears that the GOP surge that swept Trump into office will result in a blue-wave backlash with Democratic victories in 2018 are premature, Fyle said.
“I think they are energized,” she said of Republican voters. “I don’t think we’ve lost the energy we got from last year’s elections.”