The Beat

Seeking commonality: Rep. Patrick McHenry told CIBO members that Asheville and his native Gastonia — the former now part of his 10th Congressional district — have in common the region’s loss of manufacturing jobs and the need to support small businesses. photo by Max Cooper
Seeking commonality: Rep. Patrick McHenry told CIBO members that Asheville and his native Gastonia — the former now part of his 10th Congressional district — have in common the region’s loss of manufacturing jobs and the need to support small businesses. photo by Max Cooper

On Nov. 10, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry held his first public event in Asheville since the N.C. General Assembly’s redistricting plan shifted most of the city to his 10th Congressional District. The Council of Independent Business Owners hosted McHenry at its monthly “power lunch” at Magnolia’s in downtown Asheville.

The four-term Republican worked the crowd like a standup comic, admitting that, at 5-foot-6, he's a bit shorter than Asheville’s previous congressman, Democrat Heath Shuler (“Can you see me over the podium?”) and joking that adding Asheville to the 10th has "quadrupled the number of vegetarian restaurants in my district."

But McHenry, who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, got serious too. Among other remarks to the conservative business group, he blamed the sluggish economy on new federal regulations, particularly those related to President Barack Obama's health care reform plan and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed last year.

To get the economy back on track, McHenry said he favors tax breaks, regulatory reform, simplifying the tax code and improving education by focusing classrooms on practical training.

"We should be making sure education systems and training systems are the best in the world," he said, adding, "When we talk about inequality of wages, what we're really talking about is an inequality of skills."

Making the country more competitive with rising countries like China and India should be the No. 1 priority, he continued.

Closer to home, McHenry acknowledged the controversy surrounding the General Assembly's decision to leave most of Buncombe in the 11th District while moving much of Asheville to the 10th, which encompasses Piedmont areas having little in common with the mountains either culturally or economically.

"The one thing Gaston County and Buncombe County have in common is that they're both in the 10th District now," he quipped, garnering a few laughs.

McHenry also told Xpress that while the change wasn't his idea, he would work to be responsive to his new constituents. (Earlier this year, however, Politico reported that McHenry was North Carolina's congressional point person on the redistricting plan.)

"I respect Asheville, and I respect Buncombe County. It is the economic heart of Western North Carolina," he told an audience that included Asheville City Council member Esther Manheimer and state Rep. Tim Moffitt.

Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy announced recently that she's considering challenging McHenry in next year’s congressional election. — Jake Frankel

Two Asheville staffers suspended in Facebook comment scandal

Asheville Police Department Interim Chief Wade Wood released a statement Nov. 7 saying his department takes critical comments by Forensic Technician Lynn Fraser "very seriously." In a Nov. 7 post to her personal Facebook page, Fraser called Occupy Asheville protesters "dirtasses.”

The same day, Jason Bugg posted a screen shot of another controversial post from Fraser on his blog. Her Nov. 6 post showed a graphic that read, "Some people just need a hug … around the neck… with a rope," adding in the comments field “Occupy Asheville bunch” in response to a comment asking, “Who are we hugging?”

“The Facebook comments posted on the Mountain Xpress website have been brought to the city’s and my attention," Wood's statement said. "We take this situation very seriously and we are looking into the matter. … The Police Department and I believe all people should be treated with respect, and we hope the comments of an individual would not impede the department’s ability to continue the respectful and nonconfrontational partnership the city has had with Occupy Asheville participants. We will continue to work with this and other groups to enable their right to legal expressions of free speech.”

Melissa Williams, the city's public information and social media specialist, also weighed in, commenting, "'dirtasses' LMAO." In a follow-up comment, she said: "I know you feel at the end of your rope, but it's all going to be OK. Perspective, prayer … all that helps. Enjoy your day off and count your many blessings, Lynn!"

Williams, a friend of Fraser's, told Xpress she didn’t intend to endorse Fraser's "dirtasses" comment. "I put [dirtasses] in quotes because it was a silly word, a word I'd never heard, I thought it was exaggerated," Williams explained. "I was more laughing at the word and hoped it highlighted the silliness of that word and her use [of it]. I wanted her to take a moment and put everything in perspective and not let her stress define her reaction."

A statement from Occupy Asheville said Fraser's remarks "show an insular culture among law enforcement that leads to stereotyping, profiling, abuse and false arrest of those in our community committed to re-imagining our social, economic and political structures." — David Forbes

“History is participatory,” author Wendell Berry tells WWC audience

Author and activist Wendell Berry resists telling people what to do, but when you’re almost 80, it comes with the territory. On Nov. 9, he addressed an overflow crowd at the Warren Wilson College chapel, reading from a collection of his short stories and answering questions about such things as the value of a college education and his thoughts on the “Occupy” movement.

When Berry came onstage, the crowd greeted him raucous applause, no doubt fueled by his notoriety for activism against mountaintop-removal mining, nuclear power and American wars abroad, among other issues.

First, the award-winning author provided a one-hour reading from two short stories in the "Making It Home" series. The tales chronicle a soldier's return home to the fictional, small Kentucky community of Port William and highlight the significance of ordinary things. There’s man's "intimacy between himself and the things he needs," as exemplified in the act of making one's own rope or the simple freedom present in the act of walking outdoors: "Just get up on your legs and go,” Berry read.

After the reading, Berry was joined onstage by Warren Wilson College Dean Paula Garrett, who posed questions she had collected from students. While he gently protested being placed "in the role of prescriber," Berry offered his thoughts on such things as the role of faith in environmentalism, the ongoing "Occupy" movement, and the cost of a university education.

"College isn't for everyone," the septuagenarian told the crowd, adding that the decision to earn a degree merits serious thought, especially in view of the high cost of attending. "College has been oversold," he said, and it can promote a feeling of inferiority among those who opt not to earn a degree. As for the institutions themselves, Berry argued that small colleges offer more institutional flexibility than large ones, comparing the smaller ones to a canoe: "Easier to steer, compared to a battleship, when it's time to change course."

On the role of faith in the environmental movement, Berry argued that humans are faithful by nature, and that even when earthly affairs look bleak, "things aren't going to get so bad that someone can't work to make it a little better."

As for the “Occupy” movement, Berry said he views it as "a manifestation that people are getting really worried." Even so, "a movement unaccompanied by local change won't amount to much.”

Still, as Berry summed it up: "Objectivity is impossible." He urged listeners to work for change and inform themselves. Said Berry, "History is participatory." — Susan Andrew

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