“I am not a vindictive person,” said Sen. Chuck Edwards, speaking with Xpress after the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast meeting with state legislators on Oct. 4. “I find it would be against my nature to do anything to harm my constituency because I disagree with any particular policy.”
The District 48 Republican, who represents Henderson, Transylvania and eastern Buncombe counties as of the Sept. 17 redrawing of state electoral maps, was responding to Asheville City Council’s pending move to amend the city’s charter. At Council’s Tuesday, Oct. 22, meeting, members are expected to undo the election districting imposed on Asheville last year by Senate Bill 813, of which Edwards was the sole sponsor.
Brad Branham, Asheville’s city attorney, noted in a staff report about Council’s action that choosing to countermand district elections “may result in diminished goodwill and additional provocation from the General Assembly.” While Edwards downplayed those consequences, he said he remained firm in his desire to see the city take a different approach to electing its municipal representatives.
“I’m extremely disappointed to see that the city of Asheville continues to deny citizens in any particular district [the chance] to have a Council person that would represent their particular interests and be held accountable through an election system,” Edwards explained. “I get constant feedback from constituents in Asheville that they can’t get City Council folks to pick up the phone, let alone to listen to a specific concern that they might have in their neighborhood.”
Edwards noted that he would wait for Council to finalize its moves before deciding on a response. He would not rule out introducing another piece of legislation to undo the charter change, saying that “all possible options” were on the table.
Asked about the alternative proposal of Council member Vijay Kapoor, which would keep Edwards’ districts but add two at-large Council seats — expanding the body to nine members and limiting them all to two terms in office — the senator said he appreciated Kapoor’s spirit of compromise but had not evaluated his specific plan. Kapoor recently drew the ire of colleagues Keith Young and Sheneika Smith, Council’s two African American members, after asking Asheville’s Office of Equity and Inclusion to evaluate the racial impacts of districting, which Young and Smith have claimed dilute black voting power.
Asheville’s transition to a district system, Edwards suggested, would be a much-needed step forward. Of the 15 most-populous municipalities in North Carolina, he pointed out, only Asheville and Wilmington currently elect no local representation using wards or districts.
“The current election system for the city of Asheville has been in place since the late 1700s,” Edwards said. “There has to be a point in time that the leadership of Asheville would look to modernize that election system to become, in some form, more like most of the municipalities in North Carolina.”