Progressive (adj.): Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas or methods.
The Asheville City Council’s “progressive” majority has enjoyed something of a celebrity status for a couple of years now. Broadcasting live from here, nationally syndicated radio hosts Al Franken, Stephanie Miller and Bill Press have sung these people’s praises for making Asheville a model of liberal living. Making blockbuster appearances on those shows in front of left-friendly audiences, these city leaders have no doubt enjoyed the validation they’ve received. But I think maybe the hype went to their heads.
When Brownie Newman, Bryan Freeborn, Holly Jones and Robin Cape (whom I now call “The Fab Four”) voted to turn Asheville’s local elections back into Democrat vs. Republican races, they did a lot more than just force everyone to see a D or an R next to candidates’ names. They told many thousands of unaffiliated voters that they no longer need apply. They told third-party supporters that they would no longer enjoy a level playing field. And they told every voter in Asheville that they could no longer pick their three favorite candidates during the primaries. Instead, they would have to choose the top three prospects served up by one party or the other.
Many have already torn The Fab Four’s shallow and illogical arguments apart, so let me skip that and speak directly to my “progressive” friends who may still be maintaining some shadow of support for these four Council members. You need to realize that despite all the statewide and national attention Newman, Cape, Jones and Freeborn have received for all the “good” things they were doing under the liberal-pride flag, their recent actions now risk destroying any progress that had been gained for your cause.
Already, people from Wilmington to Seattle are asking: “Is this the new face of the Democratic Party? Of the progressive movement? Is it OK to disenfranchise thousands of voters and treat residents like unworthy swine, as long as you protect that narrow majority and keep the progressive reform agenda alive?”
What does it say about a philosophical movement when its self-appointed leaders are so willing to suppress diversity, so willing to ignore the passionate grievances of thousands, so willing to use their power to tilt the scales in their own favor by changing the rules right before they themselves are up for re-election? What does it say about these leaders that they’re even willing to threaten anyone who dares criticize their actions during public comment with arrest, as happened the night they voted this backward policy into effect?
This is not the behavior of people promoting an enlightened cause—it’s the same kind of oppressive dictate that history has seen over and over again when a powerful few believe the many no longer matter.
The day of the vote, Brownie Newman told my listeners that they shouldn’t bother calling City Council, saying it would be “a waste of their time.” Bryan Freeborn predicted that a month after the vote, people would have forgotten about it and moved on with their lives. Robin Cape, who rose to political prominence in Asheville by winning as a write-in candidate for the Woodfin Water Board, now seems content to suppress the very spirit that got her where she is: grassroots activism. And during the last campaign season, Holly Jones talked a lot about how she was a councilwoman for all the people of Asheville. I guess her definition of “all” is different from yours and mine.
Right now, all of America is watching what’s happening in Asheville. People I hear from on the left are still sick to their stomachs at the arrogance of power they’ve witnessed at the hands of The Fab Four over the past couple of weeks. People I hear from on the right are salivating at the great gift they’ve been handed to disrupt the momentum of these “progressive reforms.” Meanwhile, the great masses who call ourselves unaffiliated, independent or third-party have declared that enough is enough.
Lift up Brownie Newman, Bryan Freeborn, Holly Jones and Robin Cape with whatever accolades you wish, but what they’ve just done to 15,000-plus unaffiliated voters, to 12,000-plus Republican voters and to many of the 28,000-plus Democratic voters in Asheville who believe in real democracy—by tainting the electoral process for their personal political gain—is an embarrassment to a wonderful, dynamic and tolerant community. They must be held accountable for their actions, and a level playing field must be restored for ALL Asheville residents immediately!
Oppressive (adj.): Exercising power arbitrarily and often unjustly.
Which of the two words defined in this column do you feel in your heart best describes the Asheville City Council’s recent actions? Progressive or oppressive?
[Matt Mittan hosts Take a Stand! on WWNC-AM, Monday through Friday from 3-6 p.m. The show’s Web site is www.MattCave.us ]