Two Neighbors Talk Politics In Charlotte's Most Purple Precinct
In this strange and difficult election year, sometimes it feels like we live in two countries: one red, one blue. More and more, we choose to live near people who think like us. But not everywhere is like that. There are purple places, too.
Consider Precinct 65 in southeast Charlotte: it's a little wedge at the corner of Rama and Sardis roads, home to about 1,600 voters. According to the board of elections, a third of them are registered Republicans, a third are registered Democrats and a third are unaffiliated. In 2008, the precinct went for Barack Obama over John McCain. In 2012, it went for Mitt Romney over President Obama. Tommy Tomlinson spent some time there and found two neighbors that, when it comes to candidates, agree to disagree.
It's hard to get more even than Precinct 65.
At the southern end of the precinct is a neighborhood called Medearis. The main entrance is Medearis Drive. And on Medearis Drive you'll find a diehard Republican named Laura Butler, and a diehard Democrat named Chris Horn Williams.
"Somebody suggested that, 'y'all would be good friends.' So we met and we have been." says Chris.
"That was 1986," says Laura.
They've taken care of each other's kids, brought each other food when they were sick. They belong to the same book club.
"And I really and truly can't tell you how the rest of the book club feels," says Chris.
"They're every one Republican. She just didn't know," laughs Laura.
They agree on a lot of things. The government gives too many handouts. There's no need for private citizens to have assault rifles. Health care costs have to come down. But they rarely agree on a candidate. Especially not a presidential candidate. And especially not this year.
"She's just so smart," says Chris.
"Why's Trump not smart? Look at what he did in his personal life. Look at the jobs, look at the things he's built in this country. If you're voting for her because she's smart...Trump's smart, Romney was as smart as Obama, maybe not as sly and slick, but smart," prods Laura.
"Oh, I don't think Trump's smart."
"Okay, tell me why."
Chris is trying to be nice here. Both women are nice. But Chris is trying real hard right now.
"I think he has a problem, maybe he's ADD. I think he has a problem putting words together."
"He's not a career politician. He hasn't played that game. She's played that game a long time," says Laura.
"I just don't think he's smart. I think he's been lucky. I think he had a good base to start with."
"I don't think you can have the wealth that man has and not be a smart man. I don't think he's politically smart, like she is. No, I don't. But I think in every other sense of the word he's equally as smart and more."
They haven't shared their thoughts with a lot of people, even inside the neighborhood they both love. There's tension everywhere in this country, and there's tension in Precinct 65. Somebody stole Clinton signs from Chris' front yard, and somebody took Trump signs from a house down the street. Another couple nearby told me that they've drifted apart from their next-door neighbors over the election. They used to talk all the time. They don't talk much anymore.
Laura and Chris still talk, pretty much every day. But when it comes to this election, and President Obama's legacy, they see the same world in opposite ways.
"I don't think there's too much you can do to this country to make it not great. It will always right itself," says Laura. "I was worried during the Obama administration that we could right ourselves. But I think we can and I think that's what you feel today in this election. That no matter what side you're on, you know this ship needs righting."
"Well, I think the ship's been pretty stable," says Chris.
They've been having the same argument, in one form or another, for the last 30 years. They don't expect to change each other's minds. They don't really want to change each other's minds – Laura says it would be so boring if everybody thought the same way.
So they root for their candidates, and they vote, and they make sure their families vote. Chris and Laura both voted early, but they wonder now if they should've waited. They both love the experience of going to the polls on Election Day, standing in line with their neighbors, feeling the excitement of playing a part in democracy.
"You go in there. There are no guards. There are no police. No one's looking to see what you're doing," says Chris. "You walk out and then the transfer happens. We can sit here together and watch it and not be afraid of being arrested. It is a gift."
Laura and Chris see our country the same way they see their neighborhood – it's a place where people learn to live together, despite their differences. When the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, and Laura was traveling in Italy, Chris hustled to three different schools to pick up Laura's kids. When Chris was in the hospital a few years ago, Laura invited Chris' family over to the house.
The numbers say Precinct 65 is divided. But parts of it are united, too, in ways an election won't change.
"There's so much we agree upon and like and what we want for our children and families, that when you come down to it, as big as this is, it's small in our friendship," says Chris.
Laura and Chris have seen a lot of elections together. Almost every time, one of them wins and the other loses. Neither one gloats, and they won't gloat this year. They care deeply about politics. They see the election in red and blue. But down at street level, they live in a purple world. And that matters, too.