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Kavanaugh, Trump Flashpoints In Panel Discussion On Midterm Election

Jessa O'Connor / WFAE
At the Charlotte Talks Midterm Election Special from the left to the right: Mike Collins, Michael Bitzer, Wayne Goodwin, Connie Green-Johnson, Robin Hayes and Sarah Reidy-Jones.

The vice chair of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party said Tuesday evening that she was a victim of sexual assault who, along with other members of her party, supported the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.

“The fact is a couple of weeks ago I went public with the fact that in 2003, I was drugged and raped and that I am a rape victim,” Sarah Reidy-Jones said in a panel discussion about the upcoming midterm election on Charlotte Talks. “I still supported the confirmation of Kavanaugh.”

Reidy-Jones shared her experience as part of a tense back-and-forth with Connie Green-Johnson, the president of the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County, as both Republicans and Democrats on the panel discussed the growing division and rancor between the parties.

Green-Johnson said to Reidy-Jones that she could not “believe that she as a female, would agree with a lot of what our president says about women.”

Reidy-Jones stood up for the president, saying that her identity as a woman doesn’t conflict with her identity as a Republican.

“I can have a strong opinion as a Republican female,” Reidy-Jones said.

In an interview after the discussion, she elaborated.

“I’m allowed to think. Despite what people tell me, my husband does not tell me how to vote,” Reidy-Jones said. “I think that it’s OK to believe in individual liberty. It’s OK to believe in pro-life stance. It’s OK to believe in the fundamentals of being a Republican.”

She called the Kavanaugh hearings a “circus” and said Democrats were “trying to find as much to delay and stall” the confirmation.

Reidy-Jones also said she supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation because “it’s false accusations that make it hard for victims to come forward.”

Credit Jessa O'Connor / WFAE
Audience members from left to right: Susan Marsh, Mary Ellen Hill and Amanda Marsh.

Audience member Sarah Marsh, a Democrat, said Reidy-Jones’ revelation didn’t “sit right” with her.

“I think she brought it up for a gut reaction,” Marsh said. “I think it’s something that’s very important to her, so it’s not that I think that it’s not an important claim or what happened to her isn’t important. I just think that it didn’t sit right.”

Mary Ellen Hill, another Democratic audience member, pointed out that the Kavanaugh hearing wasn’t a criminal investigation, which — she said — is why Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation troubled her.

“It was a job interview for the highest position in the country and the way he responded to things, his behavior, was so appalling to people,” Hill said. “Regardless of anything else, that was enough for me to step back and say, ‘Should this man hold this position – a lifetime position — on the Supreme Court?’ ”

The tense moment on the panel was part of a bigger conversation about the future of politics in North Carolina, and the country, and whether the parties could reach across the aisle and compromise, or if the country is just too polarized.

The panelists also included Catawba College professor Michael Bitzer, the chairman of the state Democratic Party Wayne Goodwin, and the chairman of the state Republican Party Robin Hayes.

Bitzer said a lot of the “Democrat versus Republican” mindset comes from people splitting and isolating themselves along party lines.

“A lot of it is that we have sorted ourselves into like-minded communities and like-minded parties,” he said. “We tend to talk to people that think and vote like us. We don’t get out of our bubbles.”

And he said the parties are using anger and fear as primary motivators to fire up their base, a tactic he called “destructive” because it keeps people separate rather than bringing them together.

“The danger in today’s politics is that both sides are trying to create their perfect union to the exclusion of the other side,” he said.

The political division of North Carolina’s General Assembly was also the focus of the panel discussion.

Democrats are trying to flip enough seats in the legislature — either four in the House or six in the Senate — to break the Republican supermajority. Currently, Republicans have enough representatives in the General Assembly to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

Bitzer said Democrats have a chance of breaking the supermajority in the house or the senate, which would change the state dynamic — leaving only two options.

“Two branches of government work together or they don’t,” Bitzer said. “That’s going to have to be an interesting concept in – dare I say it – compromise.”