Women’s suffrage celebrated

Published 11:32 am Friday, August 20, 2010

Staff Writer

Undeterred by a receding thunderstorm, about 22 people gathered at the steps of the former Beaufort County Courthouse to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Woman Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The amendment gained the force of law when it was ratified by Tennessee lawmakers in August 1920, ensuring enough states had approved the measure to make it stick.
Set on the day that Tennessee took that crucial step 90 years ago, Wednesday’s event was organized by the campaign of Watsi Sutton, a candidate for District Court judge in the 2nd Judicial District.
Sutton intended the happening to be a partial celebration of the endorsement of her campaign by the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, but it ended up being as much a reaffirmation of women’s right to vote.
“We are excited and energized,” the candidate said on the old courthouse steps, now the entrance to Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library.
Ayanda Meachem, an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina and an NCAWA member, showed up to congratulate Sutton on the endorsement.
“When we endorse candidates we don’t just endorse them because they are women, we endorse them to advance women’s rights,” Meachem said.
Sutton is running a nonpartisan race in a five-county district that includes Beaufort County, but the significance of Wednesday’s anniversary drew a bipartisan mix of people.
Among the speakers was Donna Lay, president of the Beaufort County Republican Women’s Club.
“If you are a woman, you have the right and the responsibility to never let this war of suffrage that was endured by our mothers and grandmothers be forgotten,” Lay said in a speech.
Later, Lay was careful to say her appearance was intended as a nod to the 19th Amendment, not Sutton.
“It’s a nonpartisan race,” Lay commented. “I wish her all the luck.”
Also on hand was Ed Booth, a Democratic Beaufort County commissioner.
Washington Mayor Archie Jennings hadn’t heard about the occasion in advance, but happened to be driving by and decided to stop.
Invited to join in a group photograph, the mayor declined.
Advised that the gathering wasn’t political, Jennings replied, “I know, but it could be,” drawing laughs from people huddled together on the steps.
Sutton, a Washington attorney, is competing with Darrell Cayton Jr., also a Washington attorney, as both seek to replace retiring Judge Sam Grimes.
“My supporters provide a good picture of a cross section of the electorate,” Sutton said in an interview.
Those supporters might not have much money to give to her campaign committee, but they give of their time, said Sutton, who has been far less successful in fundraising than her opponent.
Sutton acknowledged the fundraising deficit, but she added that many supporters have given her small amounts of money.
“I think that sends a very clear message,” she said.
In a recent interview, Cayton indicated experience, not money, will make the difference in this race.
Asserting that he’s the more experienced candidate, Cayton said someone had mentioned to him the fact that neither contender had served as a judge.
“Every day you go in the courtroom you basically are evaluating cases as a judge does,” Cayton countered.
The voters will decide whose experience counts the most when the two go head-to-head in the Nov. 2 general election.
Back at Wednesday’s event, Ann Cherry, a volunteer for Sutton’s campaign, referred to the constitutional amendment that made Sutton’s elective effort possible.
“From day one, it changed the face of the electorate forever,” Cherry said.