In a 24-hour span from Tuesday into Wednesday, Western North Carolina experienced flood destruction on a level not witnessed for 17 years. Yet, as the floodwaters rose with fury — destroying homes and businesses in their path — and finally receded in the late morning hours of Wednesday, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC-11) released no statement, no list of resources or shelters for constituents, and not a single tweet in support of the thousands in WNC residents suffering from the flood. On Wednesday morning, more than 30 of his constituents were still tragically unaccounted for, according to the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.
Lest we think he was simply off the grid, 26-year-old Cawthorn tweeted or retweeted Republican talking points nine times from his official House account while the raging storm took hold of his district, reaping destruction on towns and rural communities. From tweets about finishing “the wall” to swearing America will never be an “Islamic state,” Cawthorn flatly, and blatantly ignored the people he has sworn to represent. As towns like Canton flooded Tuesday evening, Cawthorn blissfully posted pictures on Instagram (screenshot linked) of smoking cigars and listening to conservative podcasts.
In a call with his office at around 11:20 a.m. on Wednesday, more than a day after floodwaters began to rise, staffers were still scrambling to respond to basic questions, apparently surprised by the onslaught of calls from constituents stating they have “been working on it all morning.” Many local officials and first responders got no sleep Tuesday night working bravely and diligently to respond to the crisis.
When asked about Cawthorn’s lack of response and tone-deaf tweets during the flooding, the staffer said that while Cawthorn does see and approve all tweets, the account is run by staff — a sign that Rep. Cawthorn has yet to focus his staff toward essential, homefront communications when so many of his constituents were without access to vital information.
In a returned call moments later, I was informed by his legislative director via another staffer that Cawthorn staffers had drafted — but not yet signed or delivered — letters to Governor Roy Cooper (D-NC) and President Biden asking that a state of emergency be declared in the region, the bare minimum of what we could expect from our representative in Washington. Thankfully he showed up at a press conference in the early afternoon committing to getting state and federal funds to help the communities (while still continuing to tweet out deeply partisan talking points and still having not released any information, resources or support from his official channels).
Cawthorn’s first public comments on the matter were around 24 hours after the Pigeon River reached initial flood levels, followed by retweets of hours-old resources from other public organizations working on the crisis. His tweets in support of the community and of photo ops with damage came more than 12 hours after floodwaters fell back below the flood line. Too little, too late.
Despite what he might think, amidst his endless quest for national headlines, Cawthorn remains our voice in Washington, and his office, a vital lifeline for Haywood County residents in need. We deserve a voice that actually cares about us rather than his own celebrity — a representative who can put down a partisan quest for stardom when our community is in crisis.
Callie Pruett is a native of Western North Carolina and a passionate advocate for WNC and the Appalachian region.