Over the last few weeks, it seems as though a number of Asheville and Buncombe politicians are moving pieces in a political puzzle. From a retirement to a withdrawal to bids to switch offices or positions — along with 15 candidates running for Asheville City Council, a lot is happening these days in local politics.
Holly Jones runs for lieutenant governor
Buncombe County Commissioner Holly Jones announced her candidacy for lieutenant governor last Wednesday morning, Aug. 12.
“As many of you know, I’ve spent 14 years serving this wonderful community as an elected official — what an honor, what a privilege to represent these citizens,” Jones said during a packed press conference later that day. “I would have been content to continue to serve this wonderful community, except for what Republicans are doing to our state.”
The room erupted in applause, and when it settled down, Jones continued: “They’re doing long-term damage, and we’ve seen it firsthand. In 2011, our community was ground zero for the Legislature’s assault on local government. They meddled in our airport business; they redistricted our county. One year, they created a recreational authority, and the next year they dissolved it. They even tried to seize our multimillion-dollar water system.
“It’s the heavy hand of big government, from the party that says they’re about small government. It’s hypocrisy, and it’s harmful.”
Jones went on to say the problems don’t stop in Buncombe County. Other counties and municipalities around the state are feeling these same pressures, she said, “and they’ve done it against the wishes of local officials and without the support of the citizens who are affected by their actions.
“These Republicans are more interested in power than they are in governing,” she continued. “They’ve caused uncertainty and instability just because they can. And as one Republican legislator stated, and I quote, ‘Municipalities and cities are subdivisions of a state, and a state can play with their property if they feel like it.’”
Growing up in North Carolina, Jones said, “I know the value of public education. I know the value because of the opportunities they afforded me. And as a mother of a teenager, it makes me angry and dismayed that she and her peers may not have the same opportunities that I did because of these republican legislators.
“For most of my life, North Carolina was a leader in the South,” Jones explained. “I was proud of that. The GOP has made us a laughing stock and left the rest of the country wondering, ‘What happened to North Carolina?’ … While the rest of the Southern states were taking down Confederate flags, our Legislature was protecting Confederate monuments.”
Jones ended her speech by saying North Carolina needs to “get back on the right track.”
Gantt retires, Newman to run for chair
In late July, long-serving Buncombe County Commissioner and Chairman David Gantt notified the public that he would not seek re-election at the end of his term in late 2016.
“We’ve done some things that are mighty good,” Gantt said of the county’s accomplishments in the last 20 years. “I say ‘we’ because one commissioner can’t do a thing.”
Two weeks later, fellow Commissioner Brownie Newman announced his intention to run to fill Gantt’s spot as chair. Newman was elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2012 after serving two terms on City Council.
“I want to let my friends and community know that I plan to run for county commission chair in 2016,” Newman wrote on his Facebook page. “I truly enjoy serving on the commission and have found it to be a place where we can make a difference.
“During the time I have served,” he continues, “we have made major new investments to rebuild our public schools. We are creating a Family Justice Center to confront domestic violence. We have committed to reduce the county’s carbon footprint and are taking immediate steps to move down that path. We rewrote our personnel policies to assure all our public employees are treated equally, regardless of who they love. Our land conservation initiative has permanently protected thousands of acres of family farmland and natural areas.”
As chair, “I want to build on these successful initiatives and take on the big challenges facing our community,” he says. “Are people who work full-time (along with senior citizens and people with disabilities) going to be able to afford to live here? Are we going to protect the natural beauty and ecological integrity of our mountains, even as the community grows?”
— Able Allen contributed to this report
Bothwell announces goal of switching from Council to Commission
With Gantt leaving and Jones running for state office, there will be a couple vacancies in 2016 for the county Board.
Shortly after Jones announced her intent to run for lieutenant governor, City Councilman Cecil Bothwell announced his intention of running for the Board.
Bothwell, now in his second term on the Asheville City Council, will run for a District 1 position, the district currently represented by both Jones and Newman. District 1 covers all of Asheville and a few nearby outlying areas.
“I intend to bring the same environmental awareness and civic concern to service on our county commission that I have delivered for my constituents for the past six years,” Bothwell writes in a press release.
Bothwell has been named the Best Local Politician in the Mountain Xpress reader poll every year since he was first elected and has been tapped Best Local Hero in five of those polls — though, this year (and in 2013), he also placed third as Best Local Villain. “He challenged Rep. Heath Shuler in the 2012 Democratic Party primary and began his political career in the 2008 Buncombe Commission race, when he lost to 20-year incumbent Bill Stanley by 0.8 percent of the ballots cast,” the release reads.
“A 35-year resident of Buncombe County,” the release adds, “Bothwell is best known for his advocacy of sustainable energy solutions, defense of civil liberties, and advocacy for forward-looking transportation and transit planning.”
If Bothwell wins a seat on the county Board, it will open up yet another position on City Council in 2017.