Billy Yow is real, friends.
He showed up at YES! Weekly’s office in Adams Farm today ten minutes early for a 4 p.m. appointment dressed in his denim, monogrammed well-driller’s shirt, work boots and blue jeans with a splotch of dried mud on the hem.
The 47-year-old county commissioner is one in a crowded field of five challengers seeking to unseat 13-term incumbent Howard Coble in the Republican primary for North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District.
He said he gets calls everyday from people telling him they plan to vote for him in the May 4 primary, and that they’re contacting all their friends and urging them to do the same. He points out that the most recent campaign finance reports show that he’s spent $26,707, compared to $343,700 by Coble. Projecting favorable results on May 4, Yow wondered aloud how he could do so well with voters. And then he supplied his own answer.
“One thing about me is I bring it down to your level,” he said. “I don’t need to use a lot of 15-letter words to try to impress you. I can speak to you, I can speak to an uneducated farmer or to some who's 26 years old with 18 years of education, and no one will leave the room feeling embarrassed or bad about themselves. What happens to politicians is they speak above the heads of most citizens. They can read about it in the newspaper but they won’t really understand it. I can explain it to them in a way that they understand.”
A high school dropout, Yow received his general equivalency degree from GTCC. He admitted to me that he doesn’t spend a great deal of time poring over long documents, but he told me he has a gift for understanding people and getting to the heart of the matter.
He doesn’t run from his reputation.
I asked Yow if he holds any regrets about his association with a T-shirt depicting a cartoon character urinating on the letters “NAACP” that was made to dramatize his disagreement with fellow county commissioner Skip Alston, who was at the time the president of the civil rights organization’s Greensboro branch. Yow told me that Alston had threatened to bring out a large crowd for a protest, and Yow responded by saying, “Piss on the NAACP.”
“I held up the shirt; I said, ‘These are my sentiments,’” Yow recalled. “The people in the NAACP are fine people, but I was in a disagreement with Skip. He wasn’t backing down and neither was I. What that says is a lot about my character. I’m not a guy that’s scared and runs. In Washington, there’s a lot of special interests. I’m not intimidated by special interests.”
Don’t think for a minute that Billy Yow doesn’t possess charm.
To run against Howard Coble, a well-like incumbent with a reputation for excellent constituent service and a solid conservative voting record requires finesse, to say the least.
Yow told an audience at a candidate forum sponsored by the Guilford County Unity Effort last night that his views and representational abilities align more closely with Coble’s than any of the other four challengers.
“A lady told me yesterday: ‘You know, Billy, you haven’t made everybody happy,’ she said, “but God don’t make everybody happy neither, and he ruled the world.’” Yow said. “Remember that: He ruled the world. Which means if you send me to Congress, I may not rule the world, but I’ll hold the roost. And I’ll assure you — I’ll be heard, and your voice will be carried.”
I asked during our interview today whether, constituent services and voting record aside, Coble might be vulnerable on the matter of leadership in Washington. Yow took the bait.
“I don’t think there has been a lot of influence on his part,” Yow said. “There is a small number of bills that have been introduced and passed, and I don’t think any of them have been of interest to taxpayers. He’s not real active in the process.”
So what kind of leadership could constituents expect of Yow in Washington?
“It’s about being innovative and new ideas,” he said. “It’s about looking for excitement, wanting to get up and debate these bills, to tell why it is detrimental to your constituents or why it is great for your constituents.”
I disclosed to Yow that we’ve predicted with some measure of relish in the offices of YES! Weekly that Yow’s rural vernacular, direct approach and right-wing politics would quickly endear him to Fox News if he makes it to Washington.
Yow couldn’t help but suppress a smile and acknowledged that he was flattered to be seen in that light, but said that wasn’t the point.
“I don’t particularly see myself as a big Fox star,” he said. “My manner is blunt, and I agree with a lot of their views, but I’m not running to be on Fox News.”
In a year when anger at the healthcare reform plan signed by President Obama, the banker bailout and the ballooning deficit is stoking a conservative groundswell of political activity, Yow has staked out a somewhat moderate position, or what he calls, “common sense leadership.” In tone, Yow falls somewhere between Dr. James Taylor, who is calling for a second American revolution albeit nonviolent, and Jon Mangin, who put out a press release publicizing his support for nuclear arms reduction.
Opposition to the healthcare reform bill signed into law by President Obama has been the Republican rallying cry during this primary, but Yow counseled realism during last night’s candidate forum.
“The healthcare bill could be made into a suitable reasonable bill,” he said. “There is some good elements in it — not much, but there is some — but all of the bad could be pulled out and be de-funded. Because as long as we have our president in place, there’s not going to be a repeal. He’s gonna not allow that. We can’t sit here and make ourselves believe today that that’s our solution.”
Considering the drive among the Republican electorate to cut taxes above all else, Yow’s position on the subject, as expressed on his campaign website, is rather practical: “Taxes in some fashion are required to operate this great nation. I believe that most citizens understand this, and would gladly pay their taxes if they felt their tax dollars were being spent wisely and in an efficient manner.”
Yow told me that he believes the federal government has become “too program-oriented,” and has allocated too much money for specialized programs that “create false hopes and dependencies.” As an example, he said some of the federal stimulus money that has trickled down from the federal government allows Guilford County to purchase four vehicles to provide public transportation to about 50 people, but the grant is a one-shot deal. “Next year,” he said, “they’ll be at the county commission hollering that [the county] needs to fund it.”
He’s opposed to long-term military deployments, arguing that “America’s going to have to stop being the world’s humanitarian.”
“I’m not as kind as some people are,” Yow said. “I’m for sending a plane in and bombing…. I’m not for sending troops over there to catch bullets.”
Yow’s consistent position is that American troops should be redeployed from Afghanistan and Iraq to the US border.
“A reporter from Raleigh said, ‘Don’t you think bringing these troops back will put America at risk?’” Yow recalled. “I said, ‘Don’t you think borrowing more money from China is putting America at risk?’ We’ve got to get on a theme of ‘America first.’”
We discussed the prospect that the Obama administration will pursue comprehensive immigration reform.
Yow said he is opposed to any form of amnesty, and expressed the view that undocumented immigrants place a financial strain on local health departments and that deporting those who have entered the country illegally will create job opportunities for Americans.
“When I dial 411, I’m an American,” Yow said. “I shouldn’t have to press one for English.”
The differences between the six candidates in the 6th District primary remain fairly fine, and since the various players have staked out their positions on the field, Yow has repackaged himself as something of a surrogate incumbent. He argues to voters that experience in government matters.
During our interview, he took a shot at Taylor, who rivals Yow as the challenger considered the best positioned to defeat Coble.
“Look at the other candidates,” Yow told me, “especially the one from Moore County. No doubt in my mind, when he hits the floor they’ll eat him alive.”
During his closing statement at the candidate forum, he put it a little more diplomatically.
“If you’re going to replace him, you’ve got to have some experience,” Yow said. “When you look at his panel, I’m all you’ve got…. Vote Billy Yow. You’ll feel better about it when you go home, and I’ll sleep better knowing you did.”
Triad Elections ’10