Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Microcosm: Interesting Local Primary

Cross-posted to People First Politics

As a microcosm of current American politics in an age of angry Teabaggers and motivated Progressives, the Western North Carolina city of Asheville has been providing some fine entertainment. The Mayoral/City Council races to be decided in November enjoyed their much-anticipated primary yesterday, and the results are quite promising.

Asheville has been described as a "New New Age Mecca" by CBS and "America's New Freak Capital" by Rolling Stone, and indeed hosts a large and thriving population of musicians, artists of all varieties, organic consumers, gays, pagans, hippies and activist vegans. It's got Code Pink and PETA and even a group of Quakers who pass out subversive literature promoting peace on earth. Its first Gay Pride parade marches this coming Saturday. But Asheville has also long been famous as a hard core Appalachian backwater for its notorious police force, its crooked magistrates, and its semi-official love of the KKK.

The Klan had a march a few years ago downtown, and the city ignored all loud protest and numerous petitions to allow them their march anyway. Their only restriction for the permit was "no guns." Before the march, the police confiscated numerous guns from the sheet-sters, then let them march anyway. Police brutality against citizens peacefully protesting the march to war in Iraq, officers who routinely violate citizen's rights and do things like shoot people's dogs inside fences... Things have been slowly getting better, could get a whole lot better if yesterday's primary statistics mean anything.

There are three seats on the City Council open this year, along with the mayoral race. The incumbent mayor, Terry Bellamy received a substantial majority of votes, challenger Robert Edwards, will have to work very hard to unseat her. It was the City Council race that has provided the biggest reality show yucks, though. Incumbent Carl Mumpower, who challenged Heath Shuler in the 2008 Congressional and hardly made a showing, has been busy playing his King of Teabagger role with relish, trying to garner national attention as a mover-shaker. His latest act was to label local schoolteachers "Nazis", leading to actual death threats against teachers and causing parents to become afraid for the safety of their children. And just to flesh that out, when chastized for it, Mumpower went on to liken our elementary school teachers to Communists, Castro, Hezbollah, and yes, Al-Qaeda.

So it was with some satisfaction to see when the primary votes came in, that more progressive challengers Gordon Smith, Cecil bothwell and Esther Manheimer (who happens to be married to a public school teacher) took the vast majority. This may be a reflection of the Democratic/Progressive activism that started making itself obvious in 2006 with the defeat of Rep. Charles Taylor (a.k.a. "Chainsaw Charlie") by Blue Dog Heath Shuler, and expanded in 2008 to swing toward Obama. The energized left is apparently still engaged and still willing to get out and vote, which is something that perhaps D.C. ought to be paying some attention to.

The way the votes break down is quite dramatic. The percentages don't look like much, but it's a primary (only 13% of voters turned out). I've listed below, with both measures to make it easy to parse. City offices are non-partisan, but the candidate positions are fairly clear even for those who aren't Carl "Nazi" Mumpower...

Challengers
• Cecil Bothwell: 19.63% - 52% of ballots cast.
• Gordon Smith: 18.87% - 50% of ballots.
• Esther Manheimer: 17.29% - 46% of ballots.
J. Neal Jackson: 6.71% - 18% of ballots.

Incumbents
Kelly Miller: 13.05% - 35% of ballots.
Carl Mumpower: 12.30% - 33% of ballots.

City Council member Robin Cape did not seek reelection, but following the filing deadline decided to run as a write-in candidate for the November general election, thus avoiding the primary. Three seats are open. If this trend continues through next month's general, the tenor of Asheville's City Council with change significantly toward issues the residents feel are most important - preservation, affordable housing, public transportation expansion, Green and environmental issues, education. On that last front, let's hope that city officials won't be calling our school teachers Nazis or terrorists again any time soon.

I think people in the area I live are beginning to turn on the ugly hate-politics of the hard-right WingNuts, even the more conservative contingents. This would certainly be a healthy thing to spring from the 'grassroots' of our own neighborhoods, cities, counties and regions to force a big change in the way politics is currently practiced in the isolated backwater of Washington, D.C. It's about damned time.

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