Row over pledge disrupts meeting

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Sheriff intervenes during magistrate, GOP chairman’s heated exchange

By Randy Patrick

The Pledge of Allegiance is a symbol of national unity, but a proposal to require it be said at Nelson County Fiscal Court meetings made it a source of division and caused a quarrel between the Republican county chairman and a Democratic magistrate who is a war veteran.


Don Thrasher, who ran unsuccessfully for county judge-executive in last year’s election, presented the proposed ordinance to county officials to require that they open their meetings by saying the pledge.

“I think it’s really important for us, before all of our elected officials make decisions on our liberty and on our justice to pledge liberty and justice for all,” he explained at the end of the Fiscal Court meeting Tuesday.

But in introducing his proposal, he brought up the name of Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, calling the Somali refugee “vehemently anti-American,” and suggesting she persuaded a city council in her state to stop saying the pledge.

“For people to say our pledge and our flag are divisive is very problematic for me,” Thrasher said. “We have this underlying element of people who are trying to subvert our history, trying to subvert our patriotism, and it’s wrong.”

Magistrate Eric Shelburne, who served in the Army in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and in Germany, said he appreciates the flag and what it stands for, but that he was insulted by Thrasher’s comments.

“I don’t have to reaffirm my vows to my wife every morning,” he said. “When I come in here, I feel like we’re doing the county’s business.”

Shelburne said he and each magistrate pledged their loyalty to their country when they took the oath of office, and he didn’t think it was necessary to do it every day.

“So the fact that you bring this into a court is a little bit offensive to me,” Shelburne said. “I just want to put that out there. It makes me think you’re questioning my patriotism.”

“Well, I like how you turned it around,” Thrasher said.

“I didn’t turn nothing around,” Shelburne said, losing his temper.

The two men then started yelling at each other, and Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa tried to end the argument.

After the meeting adjourned, Thrasher went to the front of the room where Shelburne was standing, and the two got into it again. The sheriff and Jailer Buck Snellen got between them to keep the altercation from getting physical.

County Judge-Executive Dean Watts said he didn’t think it was appropriate to bring politics into a county government meeting or to politicize the pledge.

Jim Luckett, who was in the audience, said he didn’t see a problem with saying the pledge because he felt it was important to “pass our values down to the next generation.”

Shelburne later said he didn’t have a problem with it “either way,” but he didn’t like how Thrasher presented it, implying that anyone who disagreed with him was unpatriotic.