Category Archives: .

The Biggest Question on the Local Ballot: Who Cares?

When no one else she encouraged to run for county office stepped up, Teri Carter took her own advice and ran. Her campaign taught her more than she wanted to learn about the state of American democracy.

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You can read this article by clicking here. There is no paywall.

As always, thank you so much for reading. And as a bonus, here’s our 4 and 1/2 month old puppy, Winnie. Yes, she is named after the Kentucky Governor’s dog, and we are totally in love with her.

Yes, we’re angry about Uvalde. But speaking truth to power has a stiff price in places like rural Kentucky.

My column for this Sunday’s print edition.

On March 14, the Anderson County school superintendent asked a sheriff’s deputy to remove me from a school board meeting. Why? I was politely reading letters from frustrated teachers who desperately wanted our board to understand the untenable reality of life in the classroom, and I had spoken too long.

I am not a teacher in our school system. I am just a taxpaying citizen who offered to protect teachers’ identities while reading their letters aloud into the public record. When the chairman tried to stop me, stating I had gone well-over the time limit for public comments (which I had), I reminded him of the man who often spoke at length in these meetings and was always allowed to finish, a man who was recently banned for wearing a gun in this room.

I kept reading. I could feel the tension rise. As the deputy entered the room, I stopped on my own and returned to my seat.

You have likely seen the video of Sen. Ted Cruz being berated in a restaurant about his response to the Uvalde school shooting. If so, I’m guessing you have also heard friends and seen people on social media insisting we all do the same. Time to stop being polite! We need to give elected officials a piece of our mind in airports and restaurants! Stop obeying the rules and make a scene!

I get it. We are all still enraged — at least I hope we are — about the massacre in Uvalde. We need to DO something. But is ranting on Facebook or Twitter about what you would do if you saw Sen. Cruz — or McConnell, Paul, Massie — in a restaurant, realistic?

I have never given a politician a piece of my mind during dinner, but I am known for being outspoken. I have gone to our school board multiple times to tell them things they do not want to hear. This spring, I ran ads in our local newspaper asking questions of a county attorney candidate that our newspaper editor, inexplicably, refused to ask. I openly question the actions and intent of public officials in my town. And here is what I can tell you: it comes at a personal cost.

Maybe it works differently in urban America, in big, crowded cities where it is easier to feel as anonymous in person as you do online. But I live in small-town, rural Kentucky where it is not only seen as an impolite, personal affront to confront/question someone in power, but in a place deeply rooted in gun culture where many of the people you are criticizing, and the group that agrees with them, are likely carrying guns.

Case in point: The man who often spoke too long and carried a gun into our school board meeting last fall? The majority of citizens who commented publicly sided with him.

When I watch the Ted Cruz confrontation video, I admit, I cheer inside. I think about how he deserves it. But here are the realities: Are you ready to be on video, maybe multiple videos, that will be widely circulated on social media? What happens when his supporters (with guns?) find out your name and where you live? Are you ready to be contacted by the press for a statement, to be on TV news? Could you lose your job? What will your neighbors, who may disagree with you, think? Are you ready to be confronted in public, in return?

The day after I was almost removed from the school board meeting for doing nothing more than respectfully reading too long, I extended my hand in good faith. It’s a small town. I know the superintendent and the people on our board. I like some of them a great deal. So I sent an email offering to talk to them privately about the teachers’ letters/concerns.

The superintendent responded with an email that began, “I have spoken with the board attorney.” There would be no more talking. We have not spoken since.

I recently ran into a school board member on the town green. He seemed to not recognize me. When I jokingly said as much, he replied with a flat, unsmiling stare, “I recognize you,” and turned to talk to someone else.

This is what happens when you publicly speak truth to power.

The tragedy in Uvalde is overwhelming. We remain furious. We want to scream at cowards like Sen. Cruz, but the reality is that we won’t. The cost is too high. So, what ARE we going to do? What is our plan, your plan?

How are we going to get guns out of the hands of men who not only kill our kids, but silence the rest of us with the knowledge that they are the ones with the guns?

We are all Ms. Akers

What do a concerned citizen, candidate for county attorney, beloved high school teacher, magistrate candidate, dedicated doctor, County Attorney of the Year, and a Judge Exec candidate have in common?

All women; all targets of a rural Kentucky newspaper editor bent on teaching them a lesson.

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In answering a recent question, I said, “Because of the tabloid focus of this newspaper and its Facebook page/comments section, I believe many (if not all) of our elected officials often remain silent or are overly cautious, when what is most needed is candor. Our newspaper is crippling this county.”

Unfortunately, you have to look no further than Editor Ben Carlson’s column last week, “Revisiting 1984 here in Lawrenceburg,” for proof of that statement.

Using phrases like “Big Brother” and “Ministry of Truth,” Mr. Carlson used his powerful position to punch down on Ms. Akers, a regular citizen who dared — dared — to speak in a Fiscal Court meeting.

He wrote, “Akers does what she usually does and wove this newspaper into her remarks. ‘Often what is printed in The Anderson News is not verified,” she said. ‘Therefore it is misleading to readers.’ Verified by who, Ms. Akers? You? The same person who during the past week had to submit several versions of an opinion piece to this newspaper…”

I do not know Ms. Akers personally, which is to say I could not tell you her address, if she is married or has children, what she does for work, etc…. But as regular attendees in Fiscal Court, we exchange the usual pleasantries. She is a kind, smart, thoughtful person. And I can tell you that when Ms. Akers speaks in court, she is respectful and prepared.

That Mr. Carlson would use his platform and endless supply of ink to make fun of a citizen for speaking in a public meeting, for writing letters to the editor, was not only beyond the pale, it was excessively vicious and cruel.

And yet, his words came as no surprise.

Mr. Carlson has honed his reputation for using his pen to punish, to teach a lesson to those who disagree with him ideologically or personally, and it is my observation that his targets are often women.

There was the county attorney’s race, in which Mr. Carlson’s overt bias against Tiffany Azzinaro was an embarrassment to journalism.

He does not like her. We get it. But regardless of political party, we are tired of being beaten over the head with his disdain for her.

There were the constant reminders this election season about those of us who changed our party registration, which Mr. Carlson could have used as an opportunity to inform the public. A professional journalist would have conducted interviews, would have come with a list of sincere, well-thought-out questions about why, and why now.

This did not happen.

There are our hardworking teachers, mostly women, whom Mr. Carlson continually disrespects, like Rebecca Potter who wrote in a letter to me last fall, “Mr. Carlson misrepresented what we teach, erroneously tying CRT to social emotional learning (SEL), which has been around for decades. Teaching our students to be kind to everyone in the classroom, regardless of race or gender, is hardly CRT. We believe every student has value. We do not tolerate racism in the classroom. We teach the truth of history, science, literature, and humanities. We teach our students how to think, not what to think.”

Ms. Potter, a beloved teacher, has left not only our school district but our town.

There was the woman doctor who dared to give her professional, medical opinion during the pandemic. This respected, local physician worked 15 years in the ER and 3 years before that in public health; went on to be the medical director for Anthem’s Healthy Woman program; is a hero who has volunteered numerous times in disaster areas. And yet Mr. Carlson, who personally disagreed with her medical opinion, wrote, “we can thank people like this authoritarian-loving doctor who, and I hope this is true, is retired.”

He continued this storyline, attacking her reputation, for weeks. He never spoke to the doctor.

There was the February 2021 headline about our former county attorney, a woman who honorably served this community for 28 years — she was Kentucky’s Outstanding County Attorney of 2017 — that read in bold, black letters, “Former county attorney’s private business reaped benefits from child support deal.”

There were no benefits reaped. Mr. Carlson said so himself, deep and hard-to-find in his subsequent column, where he wrote, “Never did the column come close to alleging wrongdoing; it was simply to inform the people who paid that rent they had done so.”

Tragically, Mr. Carlson’s disclaimer of his own front-page story is not what appears when you google the former county attorney who, along with her family, has to live with this falsehood, forever on the internet.

There was the headline last November that read, “Magistrate’s allegations fall flat: Attorney sides with Wiedo after Lewis claims ethics violations, breach of attorney-client privilege.” Everyone who heard Magistrate Lewis read her statement — including me — knew she meant that she assumed confidentiality when speaking to or writing to the court’s attorney, as anyone speaking to their attorney would.

Mr. Carlson surely knew this. But there was damage to inflict, a story to spin, newspapers to sell.

I could go on, but there is no need.

Because of the way the editor uses his newspaper, our elected officials — and especially our citizens — often remain silent. And who can blame them?

We are all Ms. Akers. And Mr. Carlson owes Ms. Akers and every citizen he enthusiastically hurts to sell newspapers, an apology.

We all went to school. We read “1984.” And what I know is this: Mr. Carlson is the powerful person George Orwell warned us about. The only Big Brother or Ministry of Truth in Anderson County is our newspaper editor.

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I am running this article as a half-page ad in The Anderson News on May 18, 2022.

It starts with, “We, the people” for a reason

A friend recently went to see a famous person give a talk. Someone in the audience raised their hand and said, I watch the news and it all just feels so overwhelming, I feel paralyzed, what can I do?

The famous person said 3 words: Run for something.

I always said I’d never run for office. Things change.

Voters go to the polls here in 9 days. This is the last ad I’m running, and I hope people will remember me in the voting booth, the only woman and most qualified (by far) in a race of 4 candidates.

It starts, “We, the people” for a reason. If you don’t run for office, other people will. There is “good trouble” to be had. I encourage you to run for something.

Doing the hard thing

In this spirited interview with Everywhere Radio, Whitney and I talk about everything from speaking truth to power to: rural life, Facebook “friends”, politics, writing, church, guns, books, and — of course — Wordle.

There was no subject off-limits. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

20 years on …

My mom died 20 years ago today, at the same age I am now. Seems impossible.

Here she is at 18, a favorite photo because it shows who she was when she was still free — before 3 cruel husbands and 3 kids, before she knew what hardness was coming — when she was still outspoken and ready to take on all comers.

I’ve been thinking lately about how we were each other’s secret keepers. There was the summer I was 12 and we secretly lived on fried potatoes and onions. There was the year and half we secretly used old cleaning rags during our periods because she could not afford Kotex or tampons. There were the years she had to secretly leave me home alone when I was in middle school while she worked graveyard shift because who could afford a babysitter? My mom was a fighter, and she raised a fighter. We made our own way and our own fun.

To honor my mom, today I will drive thru Burger King and order her favorite chicken sandwich, listen to the Bee Gees and Barbra, and stock the food pantry at church.

When I recently met my birth father, her husband for a handful of months, the one question I wanted to ask but could not bear to ask was, “Did you love my mom?”

He left her not long after this picture was taken. His loss. I loved her. I love her, still.

Why did the editor of The Anderson News send an undisclosed, private text message during a public BOZA meeting?

Opening his May 26, 2021 opinion column, Ben Carlson, Editor of The Anderson News wrote, “In my 15 years of providing news coverage of local government in your newspaper, I have never witnessed a public meeting fail so spectacularly when it comes to adhering to the state’s open meeting statutes as I did last Thursday night.”

Mr. Carlson was referring to the May BOZA (Board of Zoning Adjustments) meeting, after which the attorney for the defendants sent a letter to BOZA Chairman Jim Doss alleging violation of KRS 61.846 (1), saying he witnessed board members talking privately among themselves regarding a matter before the board.

That is not the story. This is.

While I did not attend in May, I did attend the June BOZA meeting which was held in the same, large, echoing basement of the Anderson County Extension building—not BOZA’s usual meeting place—to accommodate the expected crowd. Subject matter: the race track.

I arrived early and watched as County Clerk Jason Denny tried again and again to get microphones and speakers to work properly, which they never quite did. The meeting began anyway.

The room was nearly full. As I recall, Mr. Carlson was sitting at the front of the room on the far right, near County Attorney Robert Wiedo who serves as BOZA’s attorney. I was sitting front left, but had a hard time hearing Chairman Doss and other board members. The microphones were fading in and out, sometimes not working at all.

For these reasons, I believe board members stood up and walked to Chairman Doss, not for a private meeting, but so they could hear him and each other.

Ask yourself: Would you think you were having a private meeting while standing in front of a room full of people who are staring at you?

I do not believe there was a violation of open meetings statutes. But I do believe Mr. Carlson inserted himself personally and secretly into the procedure and needed a way to explain it.

In a brief filed in Anderson Circuit Court by David Nutgrass, the attorney representing Eddie Carey, the bottom of page 7, footnote #7 reads: “What the transcript won’t tell the Court is that the open meetings violation might never have been addressed were it not for the intervention of The Anderson News editor Ben Carlson. During the private exchange, Mr. Carlson sent a text message to the undersigned [Mr. Nutgrass] bringing to his attention the apparent violation. The undersigned brought the text message to Plaintiff’s counsel’s attention, and the two of them brought it to Mr. Wiedo’s attention in a manner than can be gleaned from the recording.”

Like any citizen, Mr. Carlson has the right to declare if he is witnessing a violation of open meeting rules, but he did not do that. He sent a secret text message which he never disclosed to the public.

Why did Mr. Carlson not stand up and say publicly—in this public meeting—“I see a possible violation occurring”?

Why did Mr. Carlson not speak publicly, right then, to County Attorney Wiedo of the alleged violation?

Why did Mr. Carlson choose to send a secret text message to one party’s attorney, who then needed to advise the other party’s attorney, who then both needed to advise Mr. Wiedo? Why not just send it to Mr. Wiedo directly?

Because Mr. Carlson did not want to be seen influencing and advising County Attorney Wiedo in how to do his job.

And Mr. Carlson never disclosed to the public—not in his opinion column with his “spectacular” outrage, not in the news story, and not in the 10 months since—that he was personally involved. Why?

Anderson County deserves better than the chairman of the board

I recently ran into someone at Kroger who wanted to talk about the race track. They said, and I’ll have to paraphrase, ‘It’s just a tractor pull like we have all the time at the park, I don’t know what the big deal is, but that Lewis woman won’t let up on it.’

This is not a subject I have ever weighed in on, but as a citizen who sometimes goes to the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and who attends every Fiscal Court meeting unless I have a conflict, I shared the basics as I understand them:

  1. No, it is not a tractor pull like we have on occasion, for a weekend, at the park. It is a dirt race track that can be operated day and night, several days a week.
  2. People who own houses in that area will be forced to tolerate the noise and the dirt, and their homes/property will likely suffer a decrease in market value.
  3. There is a wedding venue (The Barn) nearby, an established business that I have yet to hear much concern about succeeding once the track opens.
  4. That Lewis woman—aka Magistrate Meredith Lewis—represents the people of that district, and it is her job, as their elected public servant, to stand up for them.

They did not want to hear it. They waved me off and said (this is an exact quote), “It’s been all over the paper, I know what’s going on.”

Sadly, he does not know what is going on, and this conversation represents, at its core, everything that is wrong with The Anderson News (TAN).

In basic writing class, we learned how to discern the difference between the situation and the story. In the case of the race track:

The Situation: A man is building a race track. It is a new business.

The Story: This new business may bring in revenue to the county, but it may also adversely affect the livelihoods and property values of surrounding homes. The noise and dirt associated with the track could put an existing business out of business, but there is money to be made for the town. The magistrate in this district is expected by those who elected her to stand up for them. What is the full story here?

Why does the editor of TAN regularly present situations with no context, no story? Why does he so often not ask the most basic questions any unbiased journalist would ask?

Consider these two, front-page stories last week in the Feb. 23 edition of TAN, both with incendiary headlines:

FISCAL COURT RIPPED, MAGISTRATES REFERRED TO AS ‘USELESS’

  1. Only 1/3 of the article corresponds with the title. The rest of the article is about EMS hero pay and the purchase of voting machines. Why are these not in the title?
  2. Why did Ms. Blackwell feel it necessary to take time out of her day to come to Fiscal Court with this complaint? Why was she so angry? What is the full background to her story, the steps she’d already taken where she felt unheard, to get her to this point?

The Situation: Ms. Blackwell was angry and vented her frustrations at the court.

The Story: Why was she there at all? What made Ms. Blackwell feel compelled to lash out in this manner? What is the solution to her issue? If there is no solution, why? Explain this to the public.

WELLS SAYS LEWIS SHOUD STOP CAMPAIGNING FROM BEHIND BENCH

  1. Define “campaigning.”
  2. If someone is up for election, are they no longer allowed to speak publicly for fear of being accused of “campaigning?”
  3. As a regular attendee at Fiscal Court, it is my experience that Ms. Lewis often speaks in session, asking and answering questions. This is not out of character.
  4. It is notable that the most controversial issue before the court this year—the race track—is in Ms. Lewis’s district. Her constituents are often present and ask questions about the track and the pending litigation. Should Ms. Lewis remain silent?
  5. The other 5 magistrates rarely speak in session, except to make or second motions, or to indicate they are present. This is the norm.
  6. The last 8 paragraphs (eight!) have nothing to do with the meeting or the story. The editor appears to use this article as a dumping ground to list what he perceives as the many sins of Magistrate Lewis. Why?

The Situation: Magistrate Wells, our longest-serving magistrate (since 2003), “called for an end to ‘campaigning from behind the bench’” and spoke candidly to the editor after the meeting.

The Story: Magistrate Wells rarely speaks out in session. And I cannot recall a recent newspaper interview where she is quoted at length. Why now? Ms. Wells is also running for re-election. Could her comments not also be perceived as “campaigning from behind the bench?” Why was this basic, obvious question not asked by the editor?

In fact, the editor never once mentions, in his extensive article, that Magistrate Wells is running for re-election. Why?

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FINAL OBSERVATIONS

I did not speak to anyone listed above—Ms. Blackwell, Magistrate Lewis, Magistrate Wells, the owners of The Barn—for this story. I have no dog in this fight, as they say. These are simply my observations as a writer, and I find them alarming because they follow an insidious pattern.

I was disturbed by last week’s newspaper coverage, and I was disturbed by my conversation with the person at Kroger. I go to many of the meetings where the track is discussed, I read TAN every week, and I can see exactly how this person came to their conclusion: We have a newspaper editor who presents situations with no story, no context. And it is embarrassingly easy to tell whom the editor likes, whom he considers a friend or part of the club, and whom he despises.

This is not how a newspaper is supposed to work.

As a man who grew up here often says, “The most divisive thing about our town is not our politics, it is our newspaper.”

He is right. And if there is a good old boys club here, our newspaper editor is chairman of the board.

I’m running for magistrate, not homecoming queen

My ruuning shoes.

I am running for magistrate, not homecoming queen.

That is a sentence I never thought I would write at age 56, in the Year of our Lord 2022, but it was the answer to a question posed by a man I do not know—“Are you ladies running for the homecoming court?”—after he saw how many women are running for office in Anderson County.

Also of note: I am a progressive Democrat, running as a Republican in the Republican primary.

While this may shock many of you, it is no surprise my fellow Anderson Countians, even if my speaking openly about it is. Today, in the Kroger checkout line, a fellow Democrat asked what I was running for, then said she and her husband had changed their registration, too.

Several of our current elected officials used to be registered Democrats. Not anymore. The man who was my magistrate when I moved here in 2015 was a Democrat, but he lost his next race and is now a registered Republican, running against me and two other men to try and win his old seat back.

This is common here. Why is it happening?

Anderson County, which leaned Democrat a decade ago, voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020. The tide has not only turned, the tide often presents—if you regularly attend local public meetings as I do—as deeply conspiratorial and filled with “my own research” about CRT, masks, vaccines, election integrity, gun rights, etc.

And the tide is not so much Republican as Trumplican, an exposition of the down-ballot turmoil Trump and his Big Lie acolytes have set in motion.

I first began considering a run for magistrate or school board—the two offices where I think I could best help my community—after attending a December 18 town hall at the Anderson Library, hosted by Rep. James Tipton and Sen. Adrienne Southworth.

Approximately 20 people attended. I sat across from the man who (allegedly, accidentally) brought a handgun to one of our recent school board meetings. One woman insisted we learn more about the corrupt Dr. Fauci. A woman in back, her voice shaking, said we could get any covid medicines we wanted by going to a website and paying $30; she seemed angry that some of her family members were not listening to her medical advice. One man insisted he would not go to the hospital if he had covid, or even if he had a broken leg, that he would rather die at home. Others said, what are you doing in Frankfort to defend our freedom?!

And to most all of this, Rep. Tipton and Sen. Southworth replied with avoidance, with: Thank you, I see another hand over here, do you have a question?

I left that meeting stunned. How could elected officials listen to nonsense, some of it dangerous, for an hour and a half and say next to nothing?

I left that meeting thinking: We need normal people with the courage to call lies, lies and conspiracies, conspiracies, to run for every office.

I left that meeting thinking: Why not me? I have never run for office. Any office. Never even considered it. But here I am.

What chance do I have of winning a Republican primary? The obstacles are many. I am a proud, opinionated, outspoken progressive and will remain so. I am appalled everything Donald Trump represents. I was not born and raised in Anderson County, or even Kentucky, so I do not have a network of childhood friends or family to rally around me. I am a woman, running against three men, two of whom have already served as magistrate.

And yet, I am going to give this my best shot. I am not afraid to lose and hope I win! I am not running to espouse ideology, which has zero to do with being a magistrate. I am running because normal people who want to serve their communities should not be afraid to run.

As someone who has long-admired American Civil Rights hero John Lewis, I consider his oft-repeated quote. “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

And good, necessary trouble this is, even if it does not end with me wearing a Homecoming crown.