Commentary

Christensen: Proposed Vance-Aycock site closures may hint at payback

rchristensen@newsobserver.comMarch 23, 2013 

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold.

And the Republicans may finally be getting a bit of payback against Democratic heroes Charles Brantley Aycock and Zebulon Vance.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory recommended in his budget last week the closing of Aycock’s birthplace in Wayne County and Vance’s birthplace in Buncombe County. They are two of the four state-run historic sites and one museum of history site that his budget proposes closing for a savings of nearly a half million dollars. Twelve jobs would be eliminated.

To refresh your memory, Aycock and Vance were both Democratic governors who ended a period of Republican rule. Vance was elected governor in 1876 ending the period of Reconstruction. (Vance was also North Carolina’s Civil War general and later was a U.S. Senator.)

Governors of their times

Aycock was elected governor in 1900 ending a period of coalition rule between the Republicans and the Populist parties. Both were men of their time – Vance was a slave holder and Aycock led an effort to disenfranchise black voters. In the 1800s, the Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, was the party that was seen as the friend of African-Americans.

Vance and Aycock became heroes to the Democratic Party for a century. Likenesses of Vance and Aycock stand as North Carolina’s representatives in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. They are also the only two governors with statues on the state capitol grounds in Raleigh. Until recently, the Democratic Party’s fall fundraising dinner was known as the Vance-Aycock Dinner.

Vance and Aycock are the only two governors whose birthplaces are state historic sites – with the Aycock site just outside the town of Fremont and Vance’s in Weaverville.

Poor attendance cited

McCrory is proposing to close the Vance and Aycock birthplaces along with the President James K. Polk Memorial in Pineville (another Democrat) and the House in the Horseshoe site in Sanford. The Mountain Gateway site in Old Fort would also be closed. The rest of the state’s 27 historic sites would remain open.

Art Pope, the governor’s budget director, said the sites had poor attendance and that local communities had the option of finding the money to reopen them.

The Aycock and Vance sites draw smaller crowds than most of the state’s historic sites. The Vance site has had 8,551 visitors during the current fiscal year that ends July 1; the Aycock site has drawn 5,441 visitors. This compares to 58,728 visitors so far to the state Capitol and 121,366 visitors to the Battleship USS North Carolina.

Keep an eye on statues

But there were at least five historic sites that drew fewer visitors than the Vance site that are not on the McCrory hit list including Historic Bath, Stagville Plantation in Durham, Somerset Place in Cresswell, Fort Dobbs in Statesville and the CSS Neuse Museum in Kinston.

So there were choices being made that went beyond visitor attendance.

I honestly don’t know if the Republicans were seeking political payback. But if the Vance or Aycock statues on the state Capitol grounds are carted off one day, we will definitely know there is some political mischief afoot.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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