It’s Time to Challenge the Districts

I firmly oppose districting in Asheville, and I believe it is a moral imperative that we fight the state on this issue.

State-imposed districts are a legislative overreach that interferes with our ability to choose our elected officials. Asheville voters, myself included, overwhelmingly voted against them, and while I understand the concern of some city officials that this will be a difficult fight, I believe it is a fight worth having.

I favor an at-large system for three reasons.  First, an at-large system requires every member of the City Council to act in the interest of all of Asheville’s residents. Districting the city has the potential to sow factionalism and division in city government. In a moment when Asheville faces significant challenges in bettering transportation and housing our people, we do not need infighting to distract us.

Second, eliminating the primary nearly ensures that the winner of any district will not garner a majority of votes. The State never set out guidance for what happens if no candidate gets a majority of votes. Currently, our best understanding is that the candidate with the largest vote total wins.  Without a primary to winnow the field, this could produce a situation where a district is represented by a person for whom the majority of their district did not vote.

Additionally, the elimination of the primary means that small, grassroots candidates are less likely to be elected. Primaries provide an important opportunity for grassroots candidates to introduce themselves and their issues to the public. Without a primary the role of money and the name recognition it can buy will loom increasingly and oppressively large in our elections.

Third, districting Asheville was an intentional ploy by the state GOP to interfere with our elections in order to get conservatives elected in a city where progressives are in the majority. In districts where multiple progressives vie for a single seat, there is a very real danger that they will split the vote, enabling a conservative to be elected, directly contravening the will of the electorate.

I believe that all of our city council members are acting in good-faith and making the decisions they believe are most likely to benefit our city. We cannot, however, continue to dither on this issue. We didn’t ask for districts, and in 2017 Asheville spoke with one voice that we do not want districts. It’s true that we may not win the legal challenge, and it’s true that even in winning we may only get the opportunity to redraw the districts, but the larger issue at hand is that we have to stand up for our city and our values against a GOP onslaught from Raleigh.

As a candidate for city council I want to be crystal clear that I believe that the imposition of districts on Asheville was wrong, that the State ignoring the will of our people is immoral, and that we should fight this law in the courts, including seeking a court order freezing the legislation until our challenge is complete. Finally, if elected, I promise that I will seek bold and creative approaches to oppose any interference from Raleigh into our local elections and governance. 

Published in the Asheville Citizen Times (6/16/2019)