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article imageAccusations of threats and bribery add drama to N.C. House race

By Kelly Fetty     Mar 27, 2014 in Politics
Asheville - A Democratic candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives has accused his Republican rival of using threats and bribes to persuade him to quit the race, igniting a media debate about ethics, naivete and "politics as usual" in North Carolina.
Brian Turner, a Democratic candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives, has filed formal complaints with both the North Carolina Board of Elections (NC BOE) and the North Carolina State Ethics Commission against two-term Republican Representative Tim Moffitt, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.
Turner and Moffitt are vying to represent North Carolina's 116th district in the state's General Assembly.
In a copy of the March 14 NC BOE complaint posted by WLOS.com, Turner alleges that Moffitt asked him to withdraw from the race, hinting that Turner might be given a state job as a reward. It also quotes Moffitt as saying that outside political groups would "nuke" Turner and his family if he continued to campaign.
Moffitt has denied the allegations.
From Blog Post to Radio Interview to Formal Complaint
The formal complaints were filed after a series of blog posts, radio interviews and local news stories raised the profile of a private meeting between Turner and Moffitt on February 24.
In a March 10 post on Ashvegas.com, blogger Jason Sandford said "anonymous sources" told him Turner had discussed his meet-up with Moffitt during Democratic precinct meetings.
When contacted by Sandford, Turner confirmed the meeting had happened and said Moffitt had asked him to quit the race, but refused to offer any details.
WWNC radio host Pete Kaliner noticed the Ashvegas post and invited Turner to appear on his show on March 12.
'House of Cards' or 'He said/He said'?
Kaliner asked Turner for details about his meeting with Moffitt.
Turner, a first-time candidate, said he wanted to meet his opponent "just so that we'd have a sense of each other," before the campaign began.
Turner contacted Buncombe County Commissioner David King and asked him to arrange a meeting with Moffitt.
Turner told Kaliner he expected a brief exchange of pleasantries and a handshake, but the conversation he described might have been a scene from the hit Netflix series House of Cards.
The three men met in a private dining room in the back of the Travinia Italian Kitchen on Monday, February 24.
According to Turner's sworn statement, when Moffitt arrived he announced the "ground rules" were "no recording devices."
All three men placed their cell phones on a nearby table.
Moffitt began describing his legislative record and his desire to become Speaker of the North Carolina House.
"He intended to run for Speaker of the House," Turner told Kaliner, "and in order to focus on that and travel the state generating support for it he really couldn't be distracted by a campaign at home. So he asked me to withdraw."
Moffit said he needed four more years to complete his work in the legislature and told Turner "it's not your turn yet."
According to Turner's statement, "[Moffitt] then said that during those years I could do something more productive like run UNC-TV."
UNC-TV is North Carolina's public television network. In his statement,Turner alleges that Moffitt offered to move the network's headquarters from Research Triangle Park to Asheville.
Turner was dumbstruck.
"You go through it, replay it in your head and say 'Did that just happen?'" he told Kaliner.
Turner claimed Moffitt warned him that if he stayed in the race, he would be attacked by independent political groups beyond Moffitt's control.
"Once my name is on the ballot, they are going to work to destroy me and my family's reputation," Turner told Kaliner.
"Tim used the word "nuke." They will nuke me," he said.
King: "It troubles me that this is going on"
Buncombe County Commissioner David King appeared on the Pete Kaliner show on March 13.
King had arranged the meeting between Turner and Moffitt and witnessed the conversation.
He confirmed that Moffitt had suggested Turner withdraw from the race but denied any threats or bribes were made. He said Moffitt, a two-term Representative, was trying to warn Turner, a political newcomer, what the race could cost his family.
King said Moffitt told Turner he did not want a negative campaign that could, in King's words, "spiral out of control."
"Sadly, it seems this is what's happening," King told Kaliner.
King speculated that Turner's campaign staff were spinning the meeting into a story about bribes and threats.
"There are two men in this," he said. "They're good men. It troubles me that this is going on."
King is also facing re-election.
Moffitt: “Is this guy that naïve?”
The Asheville Citizen-Times approached Moffitt for his perspective on the meeting.
Moffitt admitted meeting with Turner and asking him to withdraw from the race, but denied making threats or offering a bribe.
"Is this guy that naïve?" he said.
Moffitt said he had been reluctant to meet with Turner.
“I kind of ignore those requests because I don’t trust the other side. But he had made a real big production in a lot of his campaign comments that he wanted to run a positive campaign, and I kept thinking, well this guy really doesn’t understand politics in this area and let me explain it to him. So I agreed to have the meeting.”
Moffitt, a three-time campaign veteran, called Buncombe County a "toxic political environment," in an interview with the News and Observer.
He said during previous campaigns his property had been vandalized and he had moved his children out of Buncombe County schools.
He told Turner the only way to defeat an incumbent was to run a negative campaign.
“I let him know, without a shadow of a doubt, that his desire to run a positive campaign was just not going to happen because that’s just not the way it works in the Asheville political scene,” Moffitt said.
Moffitt said he suggested Turner seek employment with UNC-TV but denied offering him a job there as a bribe to quit the race.
“I’m effective and I get things done, but I am not that good,” he told the Citizen-Times. “I could probably make him queen of Spain before I could make him president of UNC-TV.”
"Neither one of them comes out of this looking good."
By March 14, print media as far away as San Francisco were covering the controversy.
In North Carolina, bloggers, newspapers and voters weighed in with their take on the now-infamous meeting.
"See Pete, this is just the sausage being made," a listener emailed Pete Kaliner during the Turner interview. "Poor Brian Turner! It's like being all naïve and walking into a cocaine party."
"What bothers me is Moffitt's attitude that he should be granted re-election without opposition because that would help his higher political ambitions," wrote Doug Clark at the Greensboro News and Record.
"Let’s get back to the days when politicians buy and bully their way into power," wrote blogger Thomas Mills at Politics North Carolina "No better person to get us there than Representative Tim Moffitt."
John Boyle at Black Mountain News criticized both Turner and Moffitt.
"Seriously, don’t these guys know better?" he wrote. "So, whom to believe? I don’t know, but I do know this: Neither one of them comes out of this looking good."
Both the NC BOE and the North Carolina State Ethics Commission have declined to comment on ongoing investigations.
More about Brian Turner, Rep Tim Moffitt, Pete Kaliner show, House of Cards, North Carolina House of Representatives
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