By Chad Nance and Carissa Joines
Editor’s Note: We are re-running this article due to local media “coverage” that has not fully addressed who and where the accusations against Rob Coffman are truly coming from.
On Tuesday night, the Forsyth County Board of Elections voted along partisan lines to request that Board of Elections Director, Rob Coffman, be dismissed. A letter requesting the same was sent to the State Board of Elections, signed by the two GOP members of Forsyth County Board of Elections, Secretary Stuart Russell and Chairman Ken Raymond. These men, acting on behalf of Republican sugar-daddy Art Pope’s Civitas Institute and the Forsyth County Republican Party, are calling for the removal of Coffman due to what they claim is dismissive behavior and a disrespectful, sarcastic attitude toward them and their nakedly partisan agenda.
The complaint contains 91 bullet points. It essentially breaks down like this: Thirty separate points of the complaint center around 1 vote in 1 precinct in the Tobaccoville Town Council race in 2013. Nine more points address the Tobaccoville Town Council recount in general. Fourteen points are about Coffman “misrepresenting” whether or not second verifications had been sent out to WSSU students who had registered to vote. Twenty-one points were about Coffman’s supposed “disrespect” to Chairman Ken Raymond and the Civitas Institute, and five points centered on Coffman’s past, which has already been hashed over by the courts and the local media ad nauseam. Two times in the letter, Raymond and Stuart make the false claim that Forsyth County GOP chairman Scott Cumbie represents “50%” of Forsyth County’s voters. In actuality, only 31.7% of Forsyth County residents are registered Republican, and a claim that 50% of the county’s residents are represented in this matter assumes that everyone not registered Democrat in Forsyth County walks in lock-step behind Cumbie and the GOP.
The conclusion of the complaint contains 8 points, one of which is subdivided into 9 additional points. The final points claim repeatedly that Coffman has “lost the confidence” of Raymond and Russell, the Republican Party of Forsyth County, and Scott Cumbie, its chair. It also reiterates the aforementioned “insensitive” remarks made by Coffman, restates that Coffman made “disrespectful” and “sarcastic” remarks to Raymond, and again takes issue with the claim that Coffman twice referred to Art Pope’s Civitas disrespectfully as “worse than the Tea Party.” The real conclusion to be drawn from the petition is that the local GOP activists, Civitas, and two partisan members of the local Board do not have “confidence” in Coffman because he has been dismissive of their brazenly partisan agenda funded, in part, by Art Pope who lives in Wake County.
So just why is it that Art Pope’s Civitas Institute and a local partisan hack want to see Coffman removed? Coffman is not exactly a “liberal” partisan. He doesn’t fit the profile. He lives in the burbs, he is a father of four children who are home-schooled, and he attends church regularly. Perhaps it is because they are trying to re-institute Jim Crow-era voter suppression tactics such as having law enforcement inside of polling places, or their other efforts to make it logistically harder for African Americans, the elderly, people with disabilities, and the poor to vote. Maybe it is because they keep getting blocked by reality and that very same Director of the Board of Elections. Unable to adjust reality, Raymond, Russell and Civitas have targeted Coffman, attempting to create a tempest in a teapot over a single vote in a tiny village election and outlining a cherry-picked list of complaints in an effort to fire the County employee keeping them in check. In a nutshell, Raymond and Russell, the Forsyth County Republican Party, and Art Pope’s Civitas Institute feel personally slighted by Coffman, and now they are going after him.
The main job of the Director is to be a non-partisan check on party hack (both Democratic and Republican) and to make sure that elections are conducted within the boundaries of the law. In Forsyth County, this sometimes means clarifying the laws for candidates or officials, or in the case of Chairman Raymond, reminding him of his true “authority” as a member of the Board of Elections. It is to the public’s benefit that there is a non-partisan Director who oversees the Board, and operations are not left to the whims of the board members with zero elections experience who managed to get themselves appointed because of connections to well-funded political operations.
This is not the first time that Coffman’s dismissal has been sought by partisan politicians when they did not agree with his decisions or methods. Perennial candidate (who has never won an election) and conspiracy theorist Gardenia Henley, along with her friend JoAnne Allen, made claims in November that they have contacted the FBI about Coffman and the former Board of Elections headed up by Democrat Linda Sutton. Henley made claims of “money laundering” and “elections fraud.” No one at the FBI confirmed any of their allegations or that they have even been sent the information Henley claims. Special Agents of the FBI have also not interviewed or contacted Coffman in regards to these claims.
This time, it is the other side attacking Coffman, evidently for no other reason than that he does not take Civitas and the Forsyth County GOP seriously enough. According to the letter, Coffman stated that “Civitas is worse than the Tea Party.” If Coffman did make that statement, he, as a non-partisan actor, is simply stating fact. Both the Tea Party and Civitas have mutual, highly partisan right-wing agendas funded by wealthy Americans like Wake County’s Art Pope and Wyoming’s Koch Brothers.
Civitas is clearly a partisan political operation funded primarily by one very rich man and tasked with promoting his far right-wing agenda. The idea that somehow this is a non-partisan organization without the interest of the Republican Party front and center is ridiculous. In fact, this is not the first time that Civitas has recently become involved in Winston-Salem- particularly as it applies to WSSU. Civitas seems to have an issue with WSSU and other historically black colleges. In July of 2013, Art Pope and his pals in Raleigh tried to inject themselves into WSSU and Winston-Salem’s business by attempting to help block the sale of Bowman Gray Stadium to WSSU. Now they are going after Coffman because he has pushed back against Ken Raymond’s incompetence and drive to remove WSSU’s polling site as well as place uniformed officers at polling places. In the Forsyth County Board of Elections meeting minutes for November 27th, 2013, Raymond presented the board with a photocopy of an article from the Civitas website entitled “Game Playing at the Forsyth Elections Board” – then requested that the board go into closed session to discuss Coffman’s status. Apparently what Civitas says is what Ken Raymond acts upon.
The brutal truth is that Ken Raymond was as qualified to be the Chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Elections as Pol Pot would have been to run a daycare center. According to the letter sent to the Board of Elections, Raymond did not appreciate being gently mocked by Coffman for going outside of his purview as Chairman of the Board of Elections and conducting his own “investigations.” Not only did Ken Raymond know absolutely nothing about elections law, or even the basics of chairing a meeting, when he was appointed by the GOP, he was also playing Nancy Drew and interviewing “witnesses” when legitimate questions were raised about 2013 City Council candidate Phil Carter’s actions as they related to absentee ballots. Raymond’s behavior in that case, and in the case of WSSU’s post office, would actually negate the ability of law enforcement or qualified investigators to make any findings of true fact in the situations. While in comic books Batman can conduct his own investigations and secure criminal convictions, that just isn’t how the real world works… and Coffman had the audacity to tell him so.
Who is Ken Raymond, really? As CCD reported when Raymond was first appointed to chair the board, he is from Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from WSSU with a degree in English and he currently works as a dispatcher for the Winston-Salem Police Department (where, according to sources, he has been admonished for spouting political rhetoric at work.)
Raymond is also the President of the Fredrick Douglas University. FDU was registered as a 501 3(c) on May 30th, 2012 and lists Raymond’s Winston-Salem apartment as its address of record. According to the “University” website, the non-profit organization claims to offer “the most comprehensive black historical information on the Internet.” They declare that they provide “educational materials” for charter schools, inner city high schools and black colleges. The site does not have any actual information available, but does outline plans for what they hope to make available. The front page of the site says that they will teach African American students about “politics and history.” Raymond, nor anyone on his board, have education backgrounds, but they are all registered Republicans, some of whom hold official positions in the party at the county and state level.
Information on the website establishes that FDU wishes to equate 19th Century Republicans from the North East with today’s 21st Century Southern-based Republican Party, which historically picked up the mantel of segregationists when Democrats dropped it. (Such as segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond’s switch from being a Democrat to being a Republican in the 1950’s.)
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