In case you haven't noticed, Asheville and Buncombe County have been inundated by a political tsunami. As an amateur political seismologist, I can tell you that the underlying political earthquake came from several directions and still caught most of us by surprise.
There were the national tremors caused by the bad economy, unemployment and huge deficits.
Pressure intensified as social issues became increasingly politicized. Reproductive freedom, the civil rights of the LGBT population, gun control and immigration added to the agitation of people who simply could not believe we elected a "neegro" to live in the White House.
Further seismic pressure took place at the state level, brought on by the unforgivable chicanery and arrogance that have characterized the Democratic Party for the last several years. Exacerbating the upheaval were the scandals that plagued the departments of Agriculture and Transportation, the shady lottery ratification, and corruption reaching all the way to the top, including the criminal activities of House Speaker Jim Black and Gov. Mike Easley.
Here in Asheville and Buncombe County, the early vibrations reach back decades to when, almost without discussion, the city imposed extraterritorial jurisdiction. Extending city zoning over a one-mile perimeter around Asheville, this resulted in the loss of many new industries that might still be here providing jobs.
Then there was Asheville’s sign ordinance, designed by an elite committee and enacted by the city government without allowing the business community any serious input into the process.
This spawned the Council of Independent Business Owners, which seeks to protect the rights of the community’s small businesses.
A further perceptible shift occurred when RiverLink emerged and began making major waves concerning property in the River District. The flap over the old Asheville Speedway is just one example of how mismanaging a sensitive situation sparked resentment that ultimately hindered the very goals the group was trying to promote.
Meanwhile, the passage of the onerous Unified Development Ordinance and the subsequent unreasonable enforcement by both the Planning and Zoning Commission and city planning staff continue to make development in Asheville very expensive and, in many cases, cost-prohibitive.
Bigger rumbles began to occur under the Sitnick administration, when the progressives began to gain power, spawning anti-growth and anti-business measures.
The regional water agreement fell apart because the city double-crossed Henderson County, which had generously agreed to let the Regional Water Authority tap the Mills River as an additional water resource. The resulting court battles and city/county frictions continue to this day.
Another seismic shift was felt when Sitnick joined those obstructing the completion of the Interstate 26 connector, wreaking serious havoc that continues to this day. Once again, a liberal Democratic political position wound up driving the community toward more conservative politics.
And when Buncombe County imposed countywide zoning after a majority of voters opposed a nonbinding zoning resolution, there was very perceptible seismic growling, further disturbed by steep-slope, ridge-top and subdivision regulation.
Windows were rattled when the city tried to impose stream buffers without notifying property owners whose land would be negatively impacted.
More than $1 billion worth of downtown development was delayed, discouraged and outright rejected by city leaders who instead built Boondoggle Park in City/County Plaza. This created the need to involuntarily annex adjacent areas to boost our tax base.
This move was a particular catalyst to the calamitous event that was soon to occur.
Then, on Election Day (Nov. 2, 2010), the magnitude 10 earthquake struck with a cataclysmic force unknown in these parts since 1865.
Virtually under our feet, the political ground shifted. The ensuing tsunami was earth-shattering, sweeping from Raleigh to the mountains and back again.
There was shock and awe. The U.S. House of Representatives now had a Republican majority and, even more startling, both houses of the North Carolina Legislature were under Republican control for the first time since Reconstruction.
As the political winds and waters subsided, there stood a lone figure: Czar Tim Moffitt, in his flowing black cape and triangle hat, his long, sharp scimitar gleaming in the sunlight.
King of the hill, the newly elected Statehouse member made unbelievably sweeping changes in the way Asheville and Buncombe County govern. Moffitt kept his campaign promise to make involuntary annexation almost impossible. He changed the structure of our county government, adding two commissioners and creating district elections.
He stood with his fellow Republicans in letting a temporary 1-cent sales tax expire, resulting in the passage of an austere budget that will threaten the effectiveness of our educational, health and law-enforcement systems, will restrict women's reproductive rights, and will take funds from Planned Parenthood, impacting family planning, sex education and the treatment and prevention of STDs for many young people in our community.
There is much more to come, including doing away with the ETJ and possibly watering down the steep-slope ordinance and other zoning requirements.
Still, the tsunami has left both devastation and a clean slate.
Individuals will view these massive changes from different perspectives, but what’s indisputable is the awesome power of politics to affect every aspect of our lives.
The newly drawn electoral districts may well keep the Republicans in power in our state for years to come. If you’re a Republican, you vote to keep it that way. If you’re a Democrat, you vote to oust the Republicans. If you’re an independent, you vote to keep both parties in check. If you fail to vote, you substantially increase your chances of being a victim of the next tsunami.
When the polls are open, BE THERE.
Asheville native Jerry Sternberg is a longtime observer of the local scene. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.