As reported by the Asheville [North Carolina] Citizen-Times, "GOP activist slammed for 'Daily Show' comments. Yelton: 'There's nothing I would take back'," by John Boyle, on 25 October 2013 -- ASHEVILLE — Local gadfly and Republican activist Don Yelton says he has no regrets about remarks he made on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, even though the comments ignited a national firestorm of criticism and allegations of racism — and cost Yelton his position as a precinct chairman.
“I don’t know of anything that I said that I would take back,” Yelton said Thursday. “But I would prefer to discuss it and explain it at length.”
The Buncombe County GOP needed little time for that explanation, asking Yelton to resign as a precinct chairman just as video from the interview was getting increasing attention on news and other websites around the country. Yelton later agreed to step down.
The segment about voter suppression and North Carolina’s new voting law aired on Comedy Central Wednesday night. Daily Show staffer Aasif Mandvi interviewed Yelton a few weeks ago in Asheville, and the North Buncombe resident had plenty to say, remarking at one point that it’s racist for black people to use the N-word.
He also told Mandvi, “I had a picture one time of Obama sittin’ on a stump as a witch doctor and I posted that on Facebook. I was making fun of the white half of Obama, not the black half.”
Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine listed that comment as No. 3 in his list of Yelton’s “Top 5 Racist Remarks Delivered in Front of a Camera.” No. 2 was Yelton’s statement that “If (North Carolina’s new voter ID law) hurts the whites so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.”
The article was titled, “Don Yelton, GOP Precinct Chair, Delivers Most Baldly Racist Daily Show Interview of All Time.” Topping Coscarelli’s list was this Yelton remark about African-Americans’ use of the N-word: “Now you have a black person using the term (N-word) this and (N-word) that and it’s okay for them to do it.”
Democrats statewide denounced Yelton’s comments, and the organization Buncombe County Young Democrats held a viewing party Thursday night to watch and discuss the segment.
In an interview with the Citizen-Times, Yelton defended his remarks Thursday.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa...What did I say about the N-word?” Yelton said, then repeating the racial slur three times. “I said when a (N-word) can call a (N-word) a (N-word), it is not a problem. That’s racist. That’s the worst form of racism I’ve ever seen in this country, and it proves it’s racism. That I stand by.”
NAACP, local GOP respond -- The N.C. NAACP State Conference found Yelton’s comments outrageous, but the civil rights group also claimed they provided a window into Republicans’ thought processes.
“I was disgusted, but not surprised, by Don Yelton’s arrogant remarks about North Carolina’s voter suppression law,” the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference, said in a statement. “This Republican executive committee member laid bare everything that we know politicians are trying to do through this legislation — which is to manipulate our voting laws, making it harder for certain communities to participate, in order to unfairly win elections. This shameful law is not about stopping voter fraud; it’s about stopping voting.”
The General Assembly this year passed a multifaceted voting law that requires a photo identification to vote, shortens early voting and ends registration of high school students, among other provisions.
Yelton, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party, ran unsuccessfully for local political office three times. In 2004 he ran as a Democrat for chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, followed by a 2006 campaign as a Republican for Clerk of Superior Court. He also ran for a county Board of Commissioners seat in 2008.
“Hopefully, Don Yelton can find another political party other than the Buncombe County GOP,” current County Commissioner David King said via Twitter on Thursday.
The county GOP quickly distanced itself from Yelton on Thursday, with Chairman Henry Mitchell stating the party would force his removal “from any and all positions at any level within the state,” if Yelton didn’t resign as precinct chair.
Yelton previously served as a vice chairman of the county party, and he was removed from his position as precinct chairman for a period of time in 2012-13, Mitchell said.
Yelton is well-known for his sometimes over-the-top comments at commissioners’ meetings, as well as memorable dust-ups with local leaders.
The Buncombe GOP issued a statement Thursday expressing its “sincerest regrets and disappointment in the comments made by Don Yelton” on the Daily Show.
“Let me make it very clear, Mr. Yelton’s comments do not reflect the belief or feelings of Buncombe Republicans, nor do they mirror any core principle that our party is founded upon,” Mitchell said. “This mentality will not be supported or propagated within our party.”
Alex Fisher, president of the Buncombe County Young Democrats, said she was contacted by Daily Show producers and asked to help line up some interviewees for a segment on the Voter ID bill several weeks ago, though that part of the segment was cut for time.
“I was definitely not expecting what I saw, and what I saw was blatant racism,” Fisher said. “My mouth was open the entire time. I just… it was just horrifying. You can’t just drop the N-word and think that’s OK. I think it sheds a lot of light on how much work we still have to do.”
Yelton holds firm -- While he agreed to step down as precinct chair, Yelton said he made valid points on the show and will not be cowed by any political organization. He also has no concerns that the segment made him look bad.
“The Democrat Party in Buncombe tried to make me look bad for a long time,” Yelton said. “I’m used to that. It’s just made me tough. And the Republican Party has made me tough. I’m sick and tired of people who don’t stand up for what they believe.”
Yelton appeared on local television and radio Thursday, but he said no other national media had approached him.
Mitchell said in an interview that he heard from media from across the country Thursday, some of whom thought Yelton was the local party chairman.
“We’re trying to straighten all that out,” Mitchell said.
The Daily Show had contacted Mitchell and done a telephone interview with him, Mitchell said, but he never heard back from them. He only found out last week that Yelton had done the extensive interview.
“He didn’t run anything by us,” Mitchell said. “I would have told him not to do it. They interviewed a lot of Democrats in Asheville, too, but the only person they showed was Don Yelton.”
While Yelton acknowledged and took responsibility for all his comments on the show, he did say Mandvi “cut and pasted” some remarks to make him look worse. Mitchell was unmoved by that argument.
“They can cut and past and clip all they want to, but the bottom line is he said it,” Mitchell said. “In the long run, it’s going to benefit the party with Don not being a part of it.”
Yelton had been chairman of the North Buncombe precinct, where he lives. Mitchell said Yelton was replaced Thursday by Michael Cline.
Yelton said he knew the left-leaning Daily Show, which airs at 11 p.m., often makes sport of Republicans and likely would try to make him look foolish. The producer told him they had seen Yelton’s comments at a hearing in Raleigh on the voting legislation and wanted to talk to him.
“I knew going in what was going to happen, and nothing happened that I was surprised at,” Yelton said. “If you and I disagree and we never communicate, are we ever going to accomplish anything?”
Yelton’s remarks also made news on the websites Gawker and Huffington Post. Gawker noted that Mandvi “appeared to have been caught off-guard by just how hilariously oblivious his interviewee was.”
After Yelton had said his best friend is a black man, made the comment about the Obama witch doctor picture and delved into the N-word issue, a seemingly stunned Mandvi said, “You know that we can hear you, right?”
The day after the bit aired, Yelton laughed heartily at times in recounting the interview.
“There’s nothing I said that I would take back. So be it,” Yelton, 66, said. “The activity going on across the state today proves what I said is true — the Democrats are jumping on it like flies after honey.”
Yelton said the entire interview lasted two hours, with the footage cut down to just a few minutes. He says he spoke the truth about new voting laws hurting Democrats, but he also notes that years ago, when Democrats enacted early voting and other measures, they said it would help them win elections.
A part-time environmental sciences teacher who worked for Buncombe County’s recycling program in the early 1990s, Yelton said he isn’t angry about the interview, even though he’s heard from a lot of people who’ve asked him why he did it.
Every media outlet has its “purpose and direction,” Yelton said, and such interviews often aren’t about discussing the underlying issues.
“It’s the same old (excrement),” Yelton said. “Just another pile.” (Asheville Citizen-Times)