Candidate profile: Bernie Reeves

Bernie Reeves founded the Spectator weekly in Raleigh in 1978. He likes to say that it’s the first city weekly in the Southeast, and I am in no position to dispute that. He modeled it after New York, the magazine founded by the legendary editor Clay Felker. Reeves told me he started out as a conservative Democrat, and he’s always been a Raleigh insider. His politics have moved progressively to the right, although he presided over an unruly stable of editors, writers and critics at the Spectator. They include leftish pundit Hal Crowther, who defected to the more like-minded Independent Weekly in Durham, and film critic Godfrey Cheshire, who also worked at the Independent before rejoining Reeves at Raleigh Metro Magazine.

Reeves describes himself as “politically obstreperous” and “a liberal arts hard drive.” He keeps a pack of Marlboro reds in his breast pocket, cultivates a knowledge of military intelligence and history, and collects paintings by North Carolina artists in his Raleigh home.

He also made a mark on the Triad publishing scene with an ill-fated partnership with Landmark Communications that produced a Triad edition of the Spectator in the 1980s. The relationship ended in acrimony. Reeves told me that the Triad Spectator morphed into Triad Style, which is now the News & Record’s Thursday entertainment supplement, Go Triad.

“Landmark Communications is a despicable company, in my opinion,” Reeves told me. “Whether they’ve improved morally, I can’t tell you.”

I give all that as background for the next plot twist in the 63-year-old eminence’s story.

Reeves is running for Congress in North Carolina’s 13th congressional district.

It happens to be the one in which I live. To say it’s gerrymandered is only to say that it’s a congressional district. It happens to be one of the more peculiarly shaped political tracts in the state, with the majority of its population in Wake County, an arm that travels across the rural and poor northern counties of Granville, Person, Caswell and Rockingham and then reaches down into Alamance and Guilford counties to poach heavily Democratic precincts in Burlington and Greensboro.

The 13th district has been represented by Democrat Brad Miller since 2003, and Republicans like to charge that he drew it for himself while serving in the NC Senate during the redistricting process that followed the 2000 Census.

Reeves told me that 55 percent of the district’s population is in Wake County. Of the Guilford County portion, 56 percent are registered Democrats. As a practical result, the dividends of campaigning in Greensboro for a Republican candidate in the primary are minimal. If he beats out three other Republicans in the primary, it will become more practical for Reeves to campaign in Greensboro and court crossover Democrats, along with Republicans and independents.

Reeves told me that running for office grows out of the two prongs of endeavor in his career: grappling with payroll and taxes as a small business person and putting his prestige on the line with his monthly column, “My Usual Charming Self.”

“It’s a natural extension of what I do to run for office,” he said. “I speak to Rotary Clubs and college classes. I grew up in a political cauldron. I’m kind of like a priest. People come to me and say, ‘Bernie, what’s going on?’ I’m not that smart, but it’s my job to know what’s going on. I’m usually informed. I’m a history major. Take that back: I’m a history major from hell. You don’t cross me with a lot of platitudes.”

Reeves said there are two primary reasons he’s running for Congress.

Before President Obama signed the stimulus bill in early 2009, Reeves addressed the NC Bankers Association.

“I got in front of the bankers and said, ‘This stimulus program is not going to work because it’s going to help Wall Street, but it’s not going to touch Main Street.' The stock market’s up but the banks aren’t lending to small business guys who hire people. I was mad because I was right.”

Reeves has also staked a claim in the realm of foreign policy since founding the Raleigh Spy Conference in 2003. The conference has attracted Bruce Hoffman, a leading expert on al-Qaida, and in 2006 C-SPAN provided continuous coverage of the conference thanks to the fact that Reeves had corralled most of the major Cuba specialists at a time when Fidel Castro’s health was failing. Reeves said the idea of focusing the conference on Cuba that year came from “one of my inside guys at CIA.”

“This conference has made me the most informed layman in intelligence,” Reeves said. “I say that immodestly.”

Reeves takes the position that the Obama administrations’ review of Bush-era interrogations — minimal and overly caution, in the view of many — has made intelligence operatives afraid to do their jobs. He also said he faults the president for pursuing dialogue with leaders like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in Iran.

“The Obama administration still believes we can reason with these people,” Reeves said, “when they’d just as soon cut off our heads.”

Observing the new administration in its first year, Reeves said he concluded that Obama was pursuing a socialist agenda. In his view, the United States has had national healthcare since the 1980s, when the federal government handed down a directive requiring hospitals to make a profit and at the same time required them to provide care to indigents.

“All these people that don’t have health insurance are being treated, and we’re paying for it, thank you very much,” he said. “I don’t like this accusation by the left that we’re these cruel white males.”

About a third of the way through our interview, Reeves asked me if I minded him smoking.

“I like smoking,” he said. “I’m not one of these people who says, ‘I want to stop.’ I love smoking. I’ve been one of tobacco’s last defenders. Every resident of North Carolina should be required by law to smoke. That’s something that I once wrote in one of my columns.”

As a business man with varied enterprises, Reeves said he does most of his work from home. He has a desktop computer facing the wall and a table in the middle of the room buried under books and papers that he can swivel around to. A small ceramic tiger stalks the uneven terrain.

Erudition and brashness are the hallmarks of Reeves’ persona. I wondered aloud how that will play with a conservative electorate that seems to be motivated by populist feelings. I wondered asked Reeves what he makes of the Tea Party movement. He told me he considers the other three candidates to be more closely aligned with that strain of conservative politics.

The Tea Party movement, he told me, “personifies the feelings of people who aren’t really political people. It’s more anger than calm dialogue. They never get into this abstruse theory. I think their assumptions about what they think America is has been undermined.”

Reeves acknowledged that he’s not altogether comfortable with the movement.

“The dogmatism is difficult to take,” he said. “I was on a forum for the Tea Party movement, and they asked a question about the 10th Amendment. The other candidates said, “Yes, 10th Amendment. Yes, we’re going to go back to states’ rights.’ That kind of ignores history, doesn’t it?

“The two documents that founded the United States were the Articles of Confederation, in which states had complete sovereignty, which did not last and was compromised into the Constitution of the United States," he continued. "The 10th amendment recognized the remaining rights and sovereignty to the states. After that, the 13, 14, 15 amendments changed the original 10th amendment of certain autonomies to where the federal government is the arbiter. I was trying to say at the meeting there are people on the far right who want to enforce the 10th amendment, and they are not aware that it is limited by the Civil War amendments.”

Reeves is somewhat dismissive of his three primary opponents. He pointed out to me that Frank Hurley lives in Chapel Hill, outside of the district.

He said, of Bill Randall: “He’s a good guy. Black and articulate. But very, very dogmatic. Fine. Maybe he’ll win.”

Of Dan Huffman: “He’s got six children. I bet his wife isn’t happy about him wanting to go to Washington.”

In a year when many Republican candidates are stressing their “of the people” bona fides, Reeves is taking a slightly different tack and running an overtly sophisticated campaign. Carter Wrenn, the Republican consultant whose legend was established through successive senatorial campaigns working for Jesse Helms, is on Reeves’ team, along with three or four other campaign staff. The candidate told me he’s raised almost $200,000 and will be buying media exposure.

“These other candidates are doing it on personal energy,” Reeves said, adding later: “I found Carter to be right. He said, ‘If you go to every one of these house meetings you’ll meet eight people.”

It’s clear from the way Reeves talks about the incumbent that Brad Miller rubs him the wrong way.

“I’m sort of nerve-wracking as a candidate because I’m such a public policy candidate,” Reeves said. “What I think Carter likes about me as a candidate is that I am a completely different product in North Carolina. I’m not a politician. I’ve got this background in column writing, so I can articulate and debate…. Get me up there with Brad Miller, and let me at ’im.”

Triad Elections ’10


YES! Weekly art director said...

he seems pretty forthright and independently-minded, for sure.

Tyler Tibbits said...


I guess winning the praise of paid political consultants and having a wad of cash (I wonder, is it all his own?) is more important than getting the GOP faithful to like you.

I can't recall one GOP meeting where I've actually seen Bernie.

It looks like he's STILL a conservative Democrat. But didn't Obamacare prove that conservative Democrats are extinct?

As for Dan Huffman, Dan wouldn't be running if his wife Cindy wasn't 100% behind him. His 6 children are exactly why he's running. He's afraid of what "erudite" politicians like Bernie are doing to them before they ever reach adulthood.

Nothing personal but unaffiliated and conservative voters would be wise to run from this guy.

BigIron said...

From this article it is clear that Bernie Reeves is exactly the kind of person I "don't" want in office as my representative for CD-13 or any other office for that matter. It's politicians like him who have brought this country to it's knees. Well, it's time for the people to stand up on their own two feet!

There are only two candidates that I can support for CD-13, Dan Huffman and Bill Randall; Bernie Reeves' name is not and will never be among them.

I see Bernie Reeves as only a slightly better choice than Brad Miller only because I cannot reasonably conceive of anyone worse. He just doesn't seem to get it! I do thank him for his apparent honesty but he really should have stayed a conservative Democrat and not become a RINO.

One question that I have to ponder: is Bernie Reeves' run just a move to act as a "spoiler" in order to save Brad Miller's ...

Personally, I'm a Constitutional Conservative supporting "small, Constitutional government, fiscal Conservatism, and personal Liberty". I was UNA became a REP a little over a year ago because that is one of the few ways open to the people to make a real difference in the time that is available to us.

Join me in the fight to restore our Republic or let me join you! We must all do it together; we're the only ones who can do it! We owe it to our Founders, our Soldiers, our Children, and their children's Children to do so.

The world "needs" the United States as a "beacon of hope in the night". That "flame" has become diminished but it is not out ... yet. It is up to us, all of us who really care enough to act, to restore that "guiding light" to it's full brilliance. Or prepare to cower in the darkness as slaves for that is surely the destination of the road upon which we currently tread.

Mark Manney said...

I think Bernie Reeves, along with most of the mainstream media has misunderstood (and is underestimating)95% of the individual blades within the Tea Party and the grassroots turn to the right they will bring to the Republican Party during this national crossroads election.

The label Taxed Enough Already is evolving with the speed of a heartfelt homemade sign far past that foundational issue as the battle lines draw for the political soul and direction of the United States. The radical left is desperate to demonize the TEA Party and Mr. Reeves' self inflicted comment in this article will not help him with the strongest grass roots movement since Civil Rights.

I find him witty, intelligent and articulate, but a bit smugly flip and not the candidate I want to see oppose and replace Brad Miller. I suspect I would agree more with Mr. Reeves then I disagree but I also feel Danny Huffman is who I want to see sent to DC to represent my Congressional district.

I am not looking for a Conservative light candidate…I want the real thing, and that appears to me to be Huffman.