I grew up in Hoke County. My family moved to the Ashley Heights area from West Virginia shortly before my tenth birthday. I graduated from Hoke County High School in 1991. I lived in Hoke County until 1995 when I married a man from West End and settled there.
Over the years, I have paid very little attention to the politics in Hoke County. Aside from the geography that makes Hoke our neighbors, it has very little in common with Moore County. Hoke County has roughly half the population as Moore County. Hoke is designated a “poor” county by the state’s tier system while Moore County is classified as “wealthy.” Moore County is overwhelmingly Republican. Hoke County is a traditional Democrat stronghold. Moore County boasts a booming tourist driven economy while Hoke County struggles to keep its few shops and restaurants up and running. Moore County is the golf capital of the world. Hoke County is home of the NC Turkey Festival.
Moore and Hoke Counties have never had much in common
At least not until now.
A few weeks ago, I got a phone call from an old friend from Raeford. She and I were best friends in our teenage years, but had lost touch, except for the occasional like or comment on Facebook posts. Unlike me, she has never left Hoke County, and so she is very well informed about their local politics,
She called me because she and I are Facebook friends and she knows how closely I follow Moore County politics. She asked me one question - a question that was simple to ask, but complicated to answer. The question? “Why are Moore County Republicans suddenly so interested in controlling politics in Hoke County?”
Moore County Republicans are suddenly all over Hoke County. They are picking and endorsing candidates to run in Hoke County local elections. They are giving speeches and donating money. Moore Families for Quality Education, a right-wing, anti public education page on social media that claims to be run by families with children in Moore County Public Schools (but was inadvertently outed by MoCo BoEd member David Hensley as being nothing more than a Psyops experiment being run by Lee County agitator Emily Grace Rainey), created a duplicate page to reach parents in Hoke County. Education First Alliance (another Emily Rainey project) has inserted itself into the Hoke County Board of Education race. David Hensley himself has attempted to radicalize the voters in Hoke County in an attempt to duplicate the success he has had in Moore County using culture wars to destroy public education.
All of this was news to me. As I stated earlier, I have never paid any attention whatsoever to Hoke County politics. I promised my friend I would look into it and see if I could find some answers for her. It didn’t take very long for me to form an opinion (based on facts) as to why the radical right wing of the Moore County Republican party is suddenly so active in Hoke County.
It seems as if all this interest in Hoke County started back in 2018.
In 2018, Moore County (which had for many years had its own judicial district) was moved into a judicial district with Hoke County. That changed things for the powers that be in the Moore County Republican Party. Suddenly, they were going to be forced to deal with a whole slew of “new” Democrats and left-leaning unaffiliated voters from Hoke County helping to decide elections for our judges and our District Attorney..
At first, it didn’t appear the MoCo GOP was all that concerned. Even with the sudden influx of Democrat voters from Hoke County, they seemed confident that the Republican base in the much more populous Moore County would be able to hold the line.
But then the unthinkable happened.
In the election of November 2018, Democrat Regina Joe defeated Republican Steve Bibey in a race to be a District Court Judge in the new combined district. Republicans in Moore County spent a small fortune on that race, and the candidate they backed lost anyway. As shocked as these Republicans were to have actually lost an election to a Democrat, they had an excuse. There was a third candidate for that judgeship; another Republican named Godfrey. He pulled enough votes from Bibey in both Moore and Hoke Counties to hand the election to Judge Regina Joe. Moore County Republicans believed that if they could keep the ballot to two candidates, they could still win every race.
Unfortunately, the next election dealt the right-wing faction in the Moore County GOP another blow. In 2020, Mike Hardin, a Republican (and former Democrat) from Hoke County handily defeated former District Attorney and Moore County right-wing power broker Maureen Krueger’s hand picked successor for her office. Hardin won the race by a huge margin, even though Krueger and her partner, WEEB radio personality JD Zumwalt, unleashed an embarrassing, untrue, and ugly smear campaign against both Hardin and his wife Victoria. Moore County moderate Republicans lined up solidly behind Hardin (in spite of Zumwalt’s and Krueger's venom) and the voters in Hoke County overwhelmingly supported him. Hardin’s opponent, Arthur Donadio was rejected almost 2 to 1 by the combined voters of both counties. The right-wingers in MoCo were shocked and outraged. WEEB ran a series of commentaries calling Hoke County a “swamp” and vowing they would never allow another “carpetbagger” from Raeford to snatch another victory from them.
Both before and immediately after the 2020 election, these right wing radicals from Moore and Lee County repeatedly attacked DA Michael Hardin and former Hoke County Sheriff, the late Hubert Peterkin. They used the tragic case of June McCoy to attempt to discredit both men. WEEB’s “Zumwalt Zone” and “The Hensley Report” ran one critical commentary after another about DA Hardin and Sheriff Peterkin. These negative on air and online commentaries were still going strong as of January of this year. But none of it stuck. Hardin remains hugely popular among most Republicans and independents and Sheriff Peterkin was so beloved that nothing short of his untimely passing could have removed him from office. Even worse for these pot stirrers, Judge Regina Joe enjoys so much support that no Republican even bothered to step up to challenge her bid for re-election.
And that brings us to today, summer of the year 2022. We have Education First Alliance, Moore County Families for Quality Education (remember, both of those groups are controlled by Lee County resident Emily Grace Rainey), Moore County Board of Education member David Hensley, and WEEB hosts all setting their sights on the Hoke County Board of Education.
Why does a Lee County resident, a sitting member of the MoCo BoEd, and a bunch of radio personalities in MoCo care who gets elected to the Hoke County Board of Education?
It’s simple really; they don’t care - at least not about the Hoke County school board.
What they do care about are the judges and the DA that Hoke County shares with Moore County. At the end of the day, that’s what all this extra special attention to the HoCo BoEd race is really about. They failed to radicalize the people of Hoke County by attacking DA Hardin, Sheriff Peterkin, and Judge Joe, so they are pivoting their efforts to using the method of radicalization that worked for them in Moore County - attacking public education. Make it about culture wars - falsely accuse teachers of “grooming” students, teaching CRT, and indoctrinating children. Scare the people about LBGTQ+ agendas and communist or socialists takeovers. Frighten people half to death about the non-existent liberal boogeyman coming for their guns and their children.
Can’t blame them for trying. After all, that scheme worked beautifully for them in Moore County, so why use the same playbook in Hoke?
The bottom line is - none of these people care one bit about what happens in public schools in Hoke County. They only want to pick judges and DAs. Everything else is meaningless to them. Radicalize the people - control the ballots.
For those wondering why *i* care about any of this, I guess it’s because I hate to see another county overrun by right-wing hatred and vitriol. I guess it’s because I don’t want to see another county in NC having their school board meetings turned into ugly clown shows. I guess it’s because I don’t want teachers and public school staff in Hoke County to have to work in the same kind of toxic environment as the teachers and staff in Moore County. I guess it’s because I don’t want to see exceptional needs children and children living in poverty in Hoke County face the same threats of cuts on their resources and services as those children face in Moore County.
And I guess it’s because I have seen this dog and pony show before, and I know how it ends.
It took only eight years (the takeover of the MoCo GOP by wingnuts began in 2014) for this exact same group of people to completely radicalize the county I call home. I would hate to see them be successful in radicalizing the county I grew up in too.
***Commentary by Cheryl Christy. Cheryl can be reached at email@example.com