To the editor,
I’ll be honest, at first I had a personal vendetta against the subject of this letter. The elected official it pertains to misled me and then his staffer boldly lied to the media about a conversation we had had over the phone. It would have been easy to focus my energy on that frustration alone. Equally convenient would have been to make this a partisan issue or sensibly enough, just stick to the matter that provoked it all in the first place: Senate Bill 2, the so-called “magistrate recusal bill.” But after many nights of reflection and a rereading of James 1:19, I have decided that the best route to take with this public statement of grievances is to appeal to what everyone, regardless of their own experiences or worldviews will appreciate and that is this simple, irrefutable fact: Representative Lee Zachary is missing in Raleigh and that means Yadkin County is not getting a fair shake.
As of the writing of this letter, there have been 727 opportunities to vote in the N.C. House and Rep. Zachary has pushed a button 605 of those times. Out of 120 members, he is 117 in attendance. Only three members missed more votes than him and one of those was the Speaker, who traditionally does not vote on most things. My question is for Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated voters, those in favor of marriage equality and those who are not: How can Yadkin County be truly represented in Raleigh if our representative doesn’t show up for work? Imagine if you missed 122 assignments in just five months on the job.
To shed some light on this matter, I submit the following unedited email sent from Rep. Zachary’s office to me after I solicited his views on S.B. 2:
I do apologize about the response time. I’m not a full time representative and I’ve been out several days, and all of last week in Yadkinville. I’m in the NC House and do not keep up with NC Senate bills until the bill is before the House. You would just have to experience the process to understand why. An introduced bill may never be seen after the day it is introduced, but I am familiar with Senate bill 2. I think it is probably unconstitutional. Times are changing though. Magistrates and Register of Deeds may have difficulty issuing marriage licenses for same sex marriages, but then so would those at the next level district court judges. The House bill you asked about is HB 348. I plan on reviewing this piece of legislation tonight. The federal courts have spoken for better, or worse, things will never be the same again.
Representative Lee Zachary
“I’m not a full time representative.” I have studied politics for some time now and I have to admit that the candor with which Rep. Zachary admitted his absentia was shocking. Democrats despise being labeled “tax-and-spenders” just as much as Republicans loathe the idiom “crony capitalism” but the one criticism every politician runs from and certainly would never openly embrace is “part-time.”
To the second half of his email, I highlight this: “…I am familiar with Senate bill 2. I think it is probably unconstitutional.” This is the opinion of an attorney of 38 years, citing the supreme reference for all officers of the court. Perhaps this admission explains why even though he was present for ten out of the eleven other votes that day, he elected not to vote on the second reading of Senate Bill 2. The next day he did vote for final passage of the bill and it was sent to the governor. The governor vetoed the bill and it was sent back to the G.A. for reconsideration. The Senate swiftly overrode the veto but it was in the House that the bill remained in limbo until just the strategic moment when enough folks were absent or present for passage to be assured. During this time I took it upon myself to contact Rep. Zachary’s office once again to firstly encourage him to truly reconsider a veto override and secondly, to inquire as to why an attorney would deem something “probably unconstitutional” one day and then vote for it as a legislator on another. His legislative assistant, Haley Kitts, with whom I had corresponded a few times prior, answered. Her candidness certainly matched that of her employer as she unloaded a caricature of Yadkinville that was one part “Inherit the Wind” and two parts “Frankenstein”: “Trust me, there are definitely parts of this bill that he does not agree with but his home, his school, his law office would be burned to the ground if he did not vote for it. It’s Yadkinville — it’s a very conservative place. He’s just doing it to save face.” Understandably, I was troubled by the lack of courage coming from this office as I had suspected all along that a man who graduated from law school at UNC-Chapel Hill, who had already professed his doubt in the constitutionality of the bill and who had opted to ambivalently not vote on the bill’s second reading was actually, likely not comfortable with the antiquated rhetoric and priorities of his homophobic colleagues. I pressed her again on why an elected official would rather “save face” than do what he knew was right. Her response this time was three parts “House of Cards”: “He’s a freshman and you have to understand that often he has to vote with the Majority Whip and he is doing what he thinks his district thinks is best.” So which is more frightening to Rep. Zachary — the people of Yadkinville or his Republican leader and more importantly, why is he not willing to stand up to both when he knows it to be both necessary and right?
After all of this, I took to the medium of choice for my generation to fume: Facebook. I presented the dialogue from the phone call and the email from Rep. Zachary. It was picked up by a media outlet from Charlotte and soon, despite his wishes to remain unseen and unheard like so many other freshman legislators who desire to move up the ranks without controversy, he was in the news and his staff had to quickly assemble a statement denying the whole thing and insisting that: “Rep. Zachary comes from a very conservative district and Rep. Zachary is a Republican and very conservative. Yes, he is an attorney and, yes, his home and his law office are in Yadkinville. And I do believe he wants to vote to uphold his beliefs and his district’s beliefs.”
So then it’s over. End of story. A politician was called out for either being a homophobe, for which there is select but justified scorn or a hypocrite who votes with the wind, for which there is universal and bipartisan scorn but either way, it’s a case of “he said, she said” and the official statement is: “he want’s to uphold his beliefs and his district’s beliefs.” Except he didn’t. On June 11, 2015, when the House voted successfully to override Governor McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2, Representative Lee Zachary was not there for that vote or the five other votes that were the people’s business of the day.
There is nothing to be gained from this letter unless real engagement is inspired. Complaining about a widely-known incumbent who enjoyed no competition in last November’s election is a rather sad endeavor if one honestly believes there to be no hope left for a real conversation to take place. I hold no such understanding of our system of government, even after experiencing this hurricane of constituent participation in it. I think highly of anyone willing to serve in office and based on the testimony of nearly everyone I know (Democrats included) this incident is but one aggravating factor in an otherwise noble professional and personal portfolio for Rep. Zachary. I simply ask that in the future he consider having one story and sticking to it. Ideally that story would come from the voice of the people he is speaking with and delivered from the seat in Raleigh they sent him to fill.