State Rep. Ted Davis spent the last week in the national spotlight, with mentions in the New York Times, Washington Post, and even Rolling Stone. The tight legislative numbers game in Raleigh meant all eyes were on the New Hanover County Republican, waiting to see if he would uphold a campaign pledge to protect the state’s current abortion law.

And then Davis voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that bans elective abortions after 12 weeks, along with the rest of the Republican caucus.

For those who have followed his career, including 15 years as a county commissioner before becoming a state representative in 2012, the move was unsurprising. Davis has a record of changing his mind under pressure. 

I started covering Davis when I joined the StarNews in 2010. He was the chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners at the time, and the board was trying to finalize a contract to refurbish and maintain the county-owned trash incinerator. It was a minor incident, but a telling one. Davis had been a vocal supporter of the contract in work sessions and at the agenda review, even going on a local conservative radio show a few days before the vote to defend his decision.

But when it came time to vote that Monday, he weighed in against the contract, citing concerns about the cost, flow control, and permitting. The 180-degree turn left county staff stunned. 

When I interviewed Davis after the meeting, he acted like I was crazy for thinking he previously supported the contract, even as I cited examples. To this day, I’ve never been able to confirm what made him change his mind.

It wasn’t the only time he made an about face amid stiff opposition. Davis also backtracked on a vote in 2012 to decline a state grant for the New Hanover County Health Department to purchase IUDs, a form of birth control, after public outrage over comments he and his fellow commissioners made against the funding. 

“Davis had said that the county wouldn’t be in the situation of needing to fund contraceptives ‘if these young women were responsible people and didn’t have the sex to begin with,’” StarNews reported at the time. After public outcry, he joined the majority of the board in voting 3-2 to accept the grant, and blamed county staff for not providing him enough information previously.

When it comes to his positioning on abortion, Davis’ 2022 campaign pledge to uphold the current abortion laws and his assertion that House Speaker Tim Moore doesn’t tell him how to vote were also out of line with his record. He has followed the party line on other controversial issues, like voting for HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that cost North Carolina billions, in 2016. 

“Our Republican caucus agreed to take a stand,” he said in an interview on WHQR’s Coastline show at the time. “The stand was to support HB2 and to pass it, and that’s what I did.”

But while it’s unclear whether the campaign pledge on abortion was earnest or strategic, it certainly was advantageous. He was running in a very purple district where unaffiliated voters have a plurality, and eked out just over a 2-point margin against Democrat Amy Block DeLoach.

Davis issued a rambling statement to WECT’s Jon Evans on Wednesday in which he claimed he “did not specifically promise anything” and then tried to defend his vote, arguing he honored his “promise” when he didn’t show up for the initial vote to pass the abortion ban – but when it came to the override vote,  all bets were off.

“I did what I said and did not vote to change the present law,” Davis wrote. “You either vote to support the Governor’s veto action or vote not to support his veto action.”

Treating the vote to pass the bill and the vote to override the veto as entirely different things is an argument only a former prosecutor could love.

Davis wrote that he considers his conscience, his constituents, and then his caucus before a vote – in that order. He also claimed he was publicly “bullied” by the governor, and had determined that his constituents were split 50/50 on the policy. It appears, then, that he deferred to  his caucus.

“I knew that everyone other than me was going to vote for the override and I was not going to turn my back on my fellow Caucus members,” he wrote.

So as I read coverage of Davis this week, all I could do was think about the lessons learned from the incinerator contract. It doesn’t matter what Davis says before the vote. It’s what he says with his vote. 

– Kevin Maurer

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A Long Wait for Justice

The New Hanover County courthouse.

Both the criminal investigation and civil litigation against New Hanover County Schools have dragged on for four years, leaving the survivors of sexual abuse by former teacher Michael Earl Kelly in limbo. 

Survivors are struggling “minute by minute,” as one young man put it. 

WHQR’s Ben Schachtman was at Kelly’s first appearance in court 2018, and expected him, like many defendants, to say nothing. 

Instead, Kelly told the court: “I’ve done a lot of good work in the school system and I’ve made some bad choices.”

Schachtman has the story of how Kelly’s bad choices are still destroying lives, nearly 20 years later.

“Minute By Minute.” Year After Year.

Note: This report contains a discussion of sexual abuse, self-harm, and suicide. If you or anyone you know is in crisis, call the mental health hotline at 988.

Ask A Journalist

WHQR has a recurring feature, Ask A Journalist, that allows the audience to submit whatever questions are on their mind. We then send the question out to local leaders to get their take.

For this week’s question, we only heard back from a few. It isn’t lost on us that no men answered this question.

“What is the good old boy network?”

When I lived in Cambridge and worked in Boston, I definitely saw evidence of the “old boy” network – that network of mostly white men, but not always just white men, who went to the right schools and then got the right internships because of their connections that led to the right jobs. It wasn’t necessarily liberal or conservative – there was just as much of an old boy network in the groups of progressives I knew as anywhere else. However, in the South, the “good old boy” network has always seemed to me to be white wealthy men who have a shared conservative value system. Traditionally, I would say that this value system embraces an older ideology of the Old South, including ideas of race. I think things are changing; at least I hope that they are. – Heather Wilson, Cameron Art Museum

My political answer: an old-fashioned, often-conservative, and male-dominated cultural system of cronyism that values personal ties over individual merit, where entrenched members of a community tend to only support and promote people like them. 

My personal answer: a frustrating, inequitable, and seemingly endless social and professional obstacle course that women and minorities have been battling our whole lives. – Jillian Hopman, Chair of the New Hanover County Democratic Party

I’m definitely not in the good old boys network so I wouldn’t know. LOL. No girls allowed – LeAnn Pierce, New Hanover County Commissioner

Around the Region

Here are the stories we’re following this week:

Has North Carolina Found an Abortion Compromise? –  – The Atlantic

Over the past decade, the Old North State has frequently offered a preview of new currents in American conservatism.  Now it could be setting a model for the nation on abortion battles, too. While more solidly red states have aimed for total or near-total bans on abortion, Republican lawmakers here opted for a law that would further restrict such procedures, but allow most to continue.

NHC commissioners approve new Project Grace development agreement – WHQR

At Monday’s New Hanover County Commissioners meeting, board members voted to go ahead with further planning of Project Grace, which will create a new downtown library and relocate the Cape Fear Museum from its current site on the north side of the downtown library block. The plan also involves the sale of part of the block to Cape Fear Development for at least $3.5 million, which will be used for a private, mixed-use development.

Seat Growth At ILM Tops State, National AveragesGreater Wilmington Biz Journal

Airport officials announced that available seats on flights at ILM from January to September 2023 are up 32 percent compared to the same time last year – the biggest increase among North Carolina’s airports and third in the country.

Assembly Stories Around the State

The Weight of Words

Davidson College sought to find balance between free expression and making sure marginalized voices aren’t drowned out. How we did it should be an example for others.

Phil Berger Sr.’s Plan for N.C. Courts

The budget Senate leaders released this week proposes several major changes to the courts and criminal justice system.

Divisions and Subdivisions

A fight over new, denser development has split the Greensboro exurb of Summerfield. The threat of state intervention might actually bring them together.

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