I know this blog has been kind of quiet

With my posting elsewhere, finishing the new book, starting work on a screenplay, and, oh yeah, doing all the City Council stuff, I’ve been pretty slack about blogging here. But I’m leaving this site up because it archives all the issues I tried to raise during the campaign last year, and I intend to be accountable to my supporters. I will earnestly try to move the ideas here forward, or learn why they won’t work.

Currently I’m moving ahead on living wages for city contract workers; a civil liberties ordinance that will explicitly instruct city police to not preferentially enforce laws due to gender, perceived gender orientation, race, ethnicity, religious preference or immigration status; a water conservation rate structure; moving the city’s money to local banks; green retrofit loans for city property owners; energy conservation in city facilities; bus passes for people experiencing homelessness (and who register with local agencies); and more.

So far it’s been fun and very educational.


A watershed year in Asheville politics

After decades as a participant and observer of Asheville and Buncombe politics I have to note that this year’s election represents a watershed. For many years the debate was relentlessly dragged to the right, but now we have begun to pull discussion back to its traditional middle ground.

It’s a watershed year when two of the front-runners, Gordon Smith and myself, have centered our campaigns on traditionally liberal issues: fair wages, domestic partner benefits, affordable housing and transportation, environmental stewardship and expanded public involvement in decision making. That’s progress!a speech

It’s a watershed year when big dollar, pro-development donors like Jerry Sternberg, Albert Sneed and Chris Peterson place their electoral bets on the socially liberal and pro-sustainability candidate Esther Mannheimer. The arch-conservative candidates that they used to back are no longer politically viable here, so they have apparently dropped the old litmus test and accepted the inevitability that Asheville is a progressive city. We should celebrate this!

Its a watershed year when we see Kelly Miller, whose day job is at the Chamber of Commerce, spending almost as much time talking about greenways and multi-modal transit as he does about business development and tourism. And despite the anti-populist, anti-health care leaning of his employer, he has even crossed the aisle to register as a Democrat. Another cause for celebration!

Looking at the current Council we can see the same phenomenon. Jan Davis, once regarded as a centrist Democrat, is now generally regarded as conservative—not because he has significantly changed but because the field has shifted under his feet. When Jan is considered conservative and Joe Dunn is no longer on Council, progressive ideals are winning. And Bill Russell, while sharing Carl Mumpower’s Republicanism, has carried that standard leftward reflecting the fact that he is a member of a progressive community.

The Council as a whole is at least entertaining a move away from the “growth at any cost” mentality of recent years and toward the idea of meaningful sustainability—with an energy office that’s made a good beginning on conservation and discussions that have made first steps toward Downtown and Transit Master Plans.

Part of the ongoing shift is clearly due to the democratization of the media. The left has always been underfunded compared to the right, with conservative candidates historically needing to substantially outspend their liberal opponents to win elections. (Recall that Bill Russell outspent Bryan Freeborn in 2007 by 6:1 to get a 74 vote victory.) That money advantage would breed further money advantage because the creation and maintenance of massive data bases with direct mail and phone bank campaigns was expensive.

But that is changing. Online fundraising pioneered by Howard Dean and honed in the Obama campaign works at all levels of politics to level the playing field. Online publishing in blogs, Web sites and newsletters has made some forms of communication all but free. Modern media has knocked the stilts out from under the dominance of special interest money. There should be dancing in the streets!

Two years ago, two PACs spent $40,000 on direct mail and TV advertising to oppose progressive candidates for Asheville City Council. This year my campaign newsletter has reached well over 10,000 people on an ongoing basis for several hundred dollars—that’s for unlimited e-mails over a full year. My Web site is completely free. Automated phone calls, the eco-friendly alternative to the paper waste of direct mail, cost about 7 cents each ($1,500 so far in this campaign). Newspaper ($2,500 to date) and radio ads ($2,040) are still pretty costly, but we produce the ads on personal computers for free. We can produce and distribute campaign videos free via YouTube. Our databasing and campaign calendar can be shared across computer formats via Google docs.

Other traditional campaign materials still run up the bill (Yard signs cost about $3 each, even with volunteers doing the screen printing; campaign buttons we make on my dining room table cost 50 cents; and door tags run ten cents apiece) And there were other expenses when we rented the YMI Cultural Center for a fundraiser ($500), rented dishes to avoid paper waste ($400) and paid a band ($850) it ran up the bills. But the point is that the new media is lowering overall costs, enabling a grassroots campaign to compete successfully with the special interest money that so often controls politics. (We have about 450 donors who’ve kicked in an average of about $48 apiece.)

A difficult side-effect of the growth of the new media is the decline of the old, reducing news coverage that is essential to democratic governance. In its place we are seeing the growth of independent Web sites and blogs. The best of them are developing a track record for accuracy and accountability.

In this regard I feel compelled to comment about the newest Web presence in the current Asheville City Council race, that of a PAC which calls itself the Progressive Research Group.

Understandably, I have heard the suggestion that I must be connected to PRG since Elaine Lite appears in a video on the site. It is true that I supported Elaine’s bid for City Council two years ago, and I count her among my supporters, but I can categorically state that I am not involved in or connected to PRG in any way.

My observations about PRG’s site are the same I would offer about the Carolina Stompers on the right, or Ashvegas in the middle: Is the information offered accurate or inaccurate? If the information is correct it qualifies as voter education. If it is incorrect, it amounts to “swiftboating.” Voters need to read through the opinion on clearly political sites when they are offered spin, and weigh the facts.

Fortunately in a town as small as Asheville, we can ask the candidates questions first-hand, and expect to get answers. For upcoming candidate forums, check my event listings. To write me personally, click here.

Remember, you have three votes in the primary and three votes in the general election. Make your votes count.

Job #1 when I’m elected to City Council.

Three strikes and you’re not funded

When we look at the effect of crime on our community it’s helpful to focus on the damage done rather than let ourselves be distracted by emotion and opinion regarding the nature of individual crimes. That is to say, there are people who urinate in the street and there are people who commit financial fraud—depending on one’s sensibilities the first may disgust, but the second frequently causes meaningful harm.

Bernie Madoff and Bobby Medford (now sharing residence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex near Raleigh) did far more damage to individuals, families and the fabric of our community than the sorts of criminals that consume most of our law enforcement and judicial time and resources.Cecil266

What we call “white collar” crime costs all of us much more money than the property crimes that are featured in most news reports. When a masked bank robber gets away with a bagful of money we see it on page one, but when a corporation systematically cheats employees out of millions of dollars it often rates little more than a paragraph on a back page. The truth is that bank robbers and muggers represent a very small threat to our common good, while so-called “white collar” crimes not only cheat us daily, but have created the current economic crash.

There’s no reason for our tax dollars to go to companies that violate the law.

I believe Asheville should join other cities in enacting a three-strikes business law. If a company has been convicted of felony violations of tax, employment, civil rights or environmental law, Asheville should refuse to do business with that company. Your tax money should not support crime.

And while we’re considering the focus of our law enforcement efforts, here are a few other ideas worth weighing:

• Drug prohibition has been attempted for over 100 years, yet the rate of addiction to hard drugs has remained virtually constant (1.5 percent of the population), the number of casual users has increased and we have created powerful gangs and cartels that corrupt governments and incite violence. We need a new approach and we should explore what we can change at the local level with more focus on treatment programs and education.

• Prostitution has apparently been practiced since the dawn of civilization (depending on how you define it, it may predate our descent from the trees). The root cause is clear: men hold much of the power and wealth and are willing to pay for sexual gratification. Those less powerful or wealthy will sometimes oblige. Prohibition may have even less effect on prostitution than it does on the drug trade. We should reconsider local enforcement efforts and focus on helping people create better lives: education and job opportunities are cheaper in the long run that revolving door arrests that render those with police records less and less employable with each trip through the detention center.

• While illegal immigration has been raised up as a hot button issue
, most discussions seem to avoid the economic roots of the problem. There are disadvantaged people desperate for income and employers willing to break the law to hire low-wage workers, to get the gratification of making more profit. When you remove the racism and jingoism from the argument, the possible damage to current citizens is that of being out-competed for jobs by persons willing to work for less. At the same time, our society is happy to avail itself of cheap goods manufactured by the same cheap labor if it is on the other side of a border fence. One way the city government can address this is to require that all city contractors pay a living wage to employees—the underbidding by undocumented workers no longer works. Whatever one’s take on all this, it is not a local issue. Our local law enforcement agencies should not be required to participate in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts.

Energy challenge

I’ve been thinking about my recent post Keeping Down With The Joneses, in which I report on a project that uses our innate inclination to be “normal” to shape conservation habits.

Until we implement that kind of plan I have no way of knowing how much energy my neighbors use, but I can report my own.

In a 2BR, 1 BA home with two adult residents my most recent bills are:
Electric $25.62
Gas $18.09
Total: $43.71

(I have gas hot water, gas range, gas dryer, ten year old standard fridge, high efficiency washing machine. I air dry most of my clothes though my roommate is inclined to use the dryer.)

The filing speech video

A new spirit of patriotism: my filing speech

I delivered this speech on the steps of the Buncombe County Board of Elections after filing as a candidate for Asheville City Council, on Monday, June 6.
I have just filed as a candidate for a seat on the Asheville City Council. I do so in part as an answer to President Barack Obama’s call for a new spirit of patriotism. It is also partly my answer to the first presidential speech I can remember hearing as a child, when another young president suggested we not ask what our country could do for us, but to ask what we could do for our country.

[photo by Edwin Shelton]

The patriotism I embrace is that of concern for the people of my country and my state and my community. To that end I echo Obama’s call for volunteerism, donating volunteer hours myself and encouraging others to join hands and hearts to lift up our community.

One lesson I have taken from our recent and ongoing economic collapse is that we shouldn’t count too much on passing along monetary wealth to our children. We have seen how suddenly dollar wealth can disappear due to forces far beyond our control. The important things we can create for our heirs are cultural and institutional. If we leave them well educated, with a society more firmly rooted in justice and equal opportunity and participatory democracy, we have left them more prepared to move ahead in their own lives. If we leave them an infrastructure that enables conservation of resources with cleaner air and reliable sources of water and food, we have handed them important tools for self-reliance. If we have moved along toward renewable energy systems and transportation modes that will work into the future, we will have given a lift not only to our children, but succeeding generations.

In Asheville, if we leave our heirs a city as beautiful as the city we have come to love, we will have left them both a beautiful place to live out their lives, and a place that will continue to attract others who patronize our businesses and bring new businesses into our midst, who purchase our arts and crafts and tune in to our music, who enrich our lives with their own stories and take home memories to share with others.

If, on the other hand, we guide our lives and our policies to enable short-term monetary gains, to use the resources of today’s taxpayers to underwrite pie-in-the-sky promises from outsiders only interested in cashing in on Asheville’s natural and cultural riches, we undercut our own and our children’s futures. We will burn today’s wood and leave ashes for those who follow.

I am convinced public policy should encourage conservation, through utility rate incentives and by using public borrowing power to help retrofit existing homes and businesses.

I am convinced public policy should protect current taxpayers rather than play the game called “increasing the tax base,” which has resulted in increased taxes for people in Asheville and hundreds of other growth-directed communities across the country.

I feel sure that a healthy, interdependent, locally focused economy can benefit the people who live here now, with increased job opportunities, particularly green jobs, and resulting in a community with higher real security in terms of food, water and energy.

And I have come to understand that the world is facing some very challenging times as we pass peak oil production and begin to address the most urgent crisis our species has ever faced, global climate change. The next decade will be critical in determining whether we make a smooth transition to sustainability or leave our children to ride an unpredictable roller coaster of economic upheaval and environmental disarray. Global warming is actually a local problem everywhere. It will have to be addressed city by city and business by business and home by home. It is a challenge we can only solve here and it is a challenge we can only meaningfully address now. If we succeed we will surely be remembered in our turn as the greatest generation and be ready to hand off that mantle to the next.

This weekend I celebrated the 4th of July like many of you, with friends and families, reenacting traditions that go back many years. In our case we went white-water rafting and canoeing on the French Broad river and camped up in Hot Springs. We shared sweet corn and watermelon and hot dogs while we sat around a campfire and stayed up late to watch fireworks while children played with old fashioned sparklers.

As happens so often when I’m camping, I thought about something my father taught me when I was a Boy Scout. He said, Cecil, when you leave a campsite, you should always leave it cleaner than you found it, better for the next person who comes that way. That’s a rule I have always tried to follow, where I camp, where I work, where I live. I even try to leave a few sticks of firewood as a gift to the next camper who passes by.

Of course, when you’re in a public campground, the sites are well used,the fire pit is a permanent fixture and there are remnants left by many previous campers. But out in the wilderness, I’ve always practiced what they call “no-trace” camping. That’s where you leave a campsite in the pristine condition you found it, so no one coming after would know that you had been there. If some thoughtless previous visitor left a mess, you clean that up too. In other words, you “keep it real” for the next person who comes along. I hope to serve Asheville as a member of city council for the next four years, and I will do my very best to leave this place better than I found it. I will do my best to keep it real.