Alex Warner is a political shark. After two terms on the Cumberland County School Board, he ran a record-breaking campaign for the North Carolina House of Representatives. He served nine terms representing District 45.
In person, Warner is modest about his political prowess. But when he speaks, it’s evident his tenure has made him an expert on this topic with very strong opinions on politics – and politicians.
“Our Constitution is very clear – our founding fathers wanted ‘frequent elections,’” Warner said. “They wanted our representatives there for two years. That way if they weren’t performing to meet the needs of the people they represent, the people could vote them out.”
Warner has watched from the sidelines for eight years while his wife, Mayor Jackie Warner, has battled, not with her constituents, but with her fellow commissioners. The behavior of the commissioners is why Alex Warner recently broke his silence and decided it was time to play an active role in politics again.
Warner is protective of his wife and family, especially now when board members have been attacking them for months. But he’s also pragmatic and realizes if they’ll attack his family, they could attack any family in Hope Mills.
“I’ve seen this so many time,” he said. “Someone gets elected and takes office with the idea they’re going to represent the people. But it takes a person with strong character to do that. Too often, they bow to special interest groups. Ultimately, they forget who put them in office. They start to feel like they’re smarter than the people who elected them, and that hubris justifies any bad behaviors.”
He’s referring to the board’s political missteps throughout the summer months. When faced with a proposal from a national organization wanting to purchase municipal land, the board stalled, pushed false narratives and ultimately refused to hear from the public before denying the offer. For many of the voters, the real offense was in not allowing a public hearing. But the board has accused the Warner family of trying to manipulate the system to force the sale. To date, there’s been no evidence to support this claim, but board members continue to dig and continue to hurl accusations.
Warner sees this as a symptom of a bigger problem. “Some of the board members seem insecure,” he said. “They’ve got to go by a title or insist on telling you what their profession is outside of the board or manipulate rules to control the staff and other board members. They were elected to serve. They were elected to execute the people’s will. We have a pretty savvy constituency; they won’t tolerate being led around like sheep. Many elected officials have paid a price for that misconception with short-lived political careers.”
On Oct. 21, the political action committee Hope Mills Citizens for Change installed signs around Hope Mills encouraging citizens to vote no on a 4-year referendum. If passed, the mayor and two commissioners with the most votes would be elected for four years in the 2019 election. The remaining three seats would convert to 4-year terms in the 2021 election.
The referendum was suggested by Commissioner Mike Mitchell and quickly pushed through four meetings and a public hearing at which the public was unanimously against it.
As soon as the signs appeared, Mitchell contacted the Cumberland County Board of Elections and began digging for information. What he found was a receipt showing Alex Warner donating the signs to the PAC. Mitchell also takes issue with a tagline at the bottom of the signs that reads “for this board.” He’s used social media to accuse the PAC and Warner of misleading the public.
Warner laughed at the accusation. “I was accused of buying political signs that say ‘vote no for this board for 4-year terms,’” he said. “I want everybody to know Alex Warner designed the signs, I paid for the signs, I donated the sign to HMCFC, and I don’t have anything to hide.”
Warner said the behavior of this board inspired his decision. He was ready to place the signs in yards himself when he heard a PAC had formed. He immediately contacted Elizabeth Cooper to donate the signs and join the PAC. He’s hoping the signs will inspire the people to question what’s happening, to be more involved and to vote.
“Our people need to be involved in our government other than just being tax-payers,” he said. “They need to hold the elected accountable for their actions. They need to ask, what has this board done to improve the lives of the people of Hope Mills?”
He was quick to condemn this board for their lack of action. He cited the “back-biting, jockeying for position and a lack of cohesion” as hindrances. But he also pointed out that the few times they’ve come together to vote on anything, it was self-serving. They voted in spring to award themselves huge raises and benefits, and they voted to put the referendum on the ballot.
While Warner and HMCFC are lobbying to stop the 4-year referendum, they’re also thinking ahead. Their next step is a year-long voter registration drive. They hope to double the number of registered voters and vote out the board members who don’t serve the citizens. “They’re part of a single board, but their egos are getting in the way,” Warner said, “They have to go.”
Those interested in joining HMCFC can find information at facebook.com/HopeMillsCFC.
Photo: Alex Warner