Shuler to face challenger in Democratic primary
Despite his limited name recognition and his significantly smaller war chest, Cecil Bothwell is confident he can outrun U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler during next May’s primary race for the 11th Congressional District’s Democratic nomination.
“I would not be doing it if I did not intend to win,” said Bothwell, a city councilman and former newspaper reporter in Asheville.
Bothwell and Shuler are at opposite ends of the Democratic spectrum, with Bothwell in the liberal corner and Shuler in the more conservative camp. Should Bothwell make it past the primary, however, he is not concerned about how his liberal leanings or Asheville ties will play with the region’s rural and historically conservative mountain voters.
“I think I am more likely to win in November than he is,” Bothwell said.
In past elections, Shuler, D-Waynesville, has demonstrated an ability to curry favor with voters from both political parties.
A 2010 Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute poll of almost 600 registered Jackson County voters revealed an astonishing anomaly in Shuler’s supporter base: Republicans gave him just as high an approval rating as Democrats.
Shuler said Bothwell would be unlikely to pick up the necessary independent or conservative voters in a general election.
“They won’t get any support from the other side on any issue they have,” Shuler said.
Bothwell originally planned to run as an independent but found the requirements to get his name on the ballot overwhelming.
“When I began to explore the possibility, it turned out I would need to collect something close to 20,000 verified signatures,” Bothwell said.
Bothwell added it would be “very, very difficult to win” with three candidates vying for the position.
Bothwell decided to run against Shuler in March after the three-term congressman voted against key bills in the national Democratic agenda: namely health care reform and the federal stimulus bill.
“I decided somebody had to run against him,” Bothwell said.
Name recognition could be Bothwell’s biggest challenge if he hopes to defeat Shuler, said Chris Cooper, a political science professor from Western Carolina University.
“I think that is a major reason why incumbents win,” Cooper said.
As a former editor at the Mountain Xpress and member of the Asheville City Council, Bothwell is known in Buncombe County. However, it is unknown how many voters outside of Asheville recognize Bothwell as compared to Shuler — an incumbent and revered football hero.
Last election, however, a relatively unknown candidate from Asheville pulled down nearly 40 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary and carried Buncombe County, the most liberal county in the region.
Shuler’s conservative stance helps him during the general election but drags down his primary numbers. Democratic voters punished Shuler during the last primary for not being liberal enough.
The fact that a “newcomer to politics” received such as large percent of the votes “indicates widespread dissatisfaction” among 11th District Democrats, Bothwell said.
But, the same dip in poll numbers did not hold true in the general election.
Shuler handily won re-election by more than 20,000 votes in 2010 against Republican Jeff Miller of Hendersonville.
“We went through the most difficult election in history for Democrats, and we still won by 10 percent,” Shuler said. “We feel very good.”
But, the primary race could also force Shuler, who has received flack for his not-always-party-line voting record, to prove he is a Democrat by taking a leftist standpoint, Cooper said.
And, that could come back to bite him in the general election.
“In some ways, the best thing for the Republican Party is for Cecil Bothwell to do well,” Cooper said.
While Bothwell has already started his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Shuler said he does not expect to spend much time or money running a primary race.
“Campaign mode does not kick in til August,” Shuler said.
Until then, Shuler said he will continue to do what he was elected to do — work.
“You still have to focus on the job at hand,” Shuler said. “Being placed on the budget committee … takes priority over fundraising.”
Shuler said he thinks the new district make-up gives him an advantage over the more liberal Bothwell now that Asheville, a traditionally liberal sect of voters, has been cut out.
Shuler said the district has “a Blue Dog type make-up,” referring to the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats in Washington that Shuler heads.
Asheville booted out
Come Election Day, Bothwell won’t be able to vote for himself.
Although he is still legally allowed to run for its congressional seat, Bothwell no longer lives in the district he hopes to represent.
Every 10 years, the lines for Congressional districts are redrawn following the national census, to ensure that each district has roughly the same number of voters.
The re-organization of the 11th District added several Republican-leaning counties and carved out Asheville’s liberal voters.
Now, the district is 38 percent registered Republicans and only 36 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats, a possibly election-making difference when compared to the 43 percent who were registered Democrats before the re-organization. That means the general election could be decided by the 26 percent of unaffiliated voters that making up the remaining portion.
Meanwhile, Asheville was shunted into the 10th Congressional district, which is already a Republican stronghold and could absorb Asheville’s Democratic voting bloc without tipping the scales.
Bothwell chose not to run in the 10th District, which reaches from the foothills to the outskirts of Charlotte, because he does not agree with how the state’s congressional districts were redrawn. State law does not require a candidate to live in the Congressional district he represents.
“The fact that the headstrong Republican idiots in Raleigh have temporarily tried to move Asheville into the Piedmont is laughable,” Bothwell said.
Bothwell still considers himself a resident of the 11th Congressional District even though the maps say otherwise. He hopes it won’t be the case for long.
“I will do all I can to speed the redrawing of district maps to reflect reality. In the meantime, I aim to represent my people, the people of the western counties, in Washington,” Bothwell said.
Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face one of at least eight Republican candidates that have joined the race. The Republican candidate will face slightly better odds this election as a result of the re-organization of the congressional district.
Republican candidates pile on for the chance to take on Shuler
At least eight Republicans have lined up to spar with incumbent Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler for Western North Carolina’s 11th U.S. Congressional seat, but they have to knock their fellow party members out of the competition first.
The controlling political party — whether Democrat or Republican — has never had an easy time securing the 11th District seat, but the cluster of Republicans planning to file will face better odds this election season following the re-organization of the state’s congressional districts.
“This is always a competitive district,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. “I think the big change this year is redistricting.”
The 11th District formerly included Asheville, with its traditionally liberal voters. After some shuffling earlier this year, however, Asheville was booted out of the district while Republican-leaning counties were brought into the fold. Now, only 36 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats, a possibly election-making difference when compared to the 43 percent who were registered Democrats before the re-organization.
“It makes it a lot more likely that a Republican is going to win,” Cooper said.
Even though the district is weighted more heavily toward Republican candidates, it in no way ensures a win for the party, especially given Shuler’s appeal to conservative mountain voters despite the word “Democrat” beside his name.
A Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute poll of almost 600 registered Jackson County voters in 2010 revealed a striking anomaly in Shuler’s supporter base: Republicans gave him just as high an approval rating as Democrats.
The huge field of candidates could be daunting to voters in the run-up to the May primary. Having too many candidates divides the Republican Party’s funding and support.
“The key (now) will be whittling down the field,” Cooper said. “The party as a whole will be a lot better off if they can get behind one candidate sooner.”
But, the growing field of candidates does not concern Jeff Hunt, a candidate from Brevard, who touted his 17 years of experience as a district attorney.
“The more the better,” Hunt said.
Once the party has narrowed the field to one or two candidates, name recognition will be one of its biggest hurdles.
“It’s going to be huge,” Cooper said. “I think that is a major reason why incumbents win.”
Compared to Shuler, an incumbent and hometown football superstar, the current Republican candidates have little or no name recognition. The candidate who may be able to beat Shuler is “a moderate Republican, a fiscal conservative,” Cooper said.
“Somebody with some name recognition who isn’t too far to the right,” he said.
The district is now 38 percent registered Republicans and 36 percent Democrat — a toss-up that could put the contest in the hands of the unaffiliated voters making up the remaining 26 percent.
Republican primary candidate Mark Meadows, who hails from Jackson County, said the change makes Western North Carolina one of the strongest, if not the strongest, Republican districts in the state.
Meadows, a 52-year-old real estate developer from Cashiers, noted that even with Asheville as a part of the old district, former Republican presidential candidate John McCain still received 52 percent of the vote in the 11th Congressional District in 2008.
As a testament to the shift in party leanings, almost 59 percent of the district’s voters would have cast their ballot for McCain under the new district lines.
Chris Petrella, a 44-year-old candidate from Spindale, said it is no surprise that so many Republicans are entering the race. Ousting Shuler, given his appeal among moderates and even many conservatives, was a daunting prospect before redistricting took Asheville’s liberal voters out of the picture.
But don’t expect the candidates to tell you that, said Petrella, who owns an economic development firm.
“The politically correct answer is that Obama has done something so terribly wrong that it is time to change the change,” Petrella said of why the Republican field is so crowded. “Any idiot who wants to have Congressman on their resume has decided to throw their hat in the ring.”
But it isn’t going to be as easy as it looks, not even with the new voting demographic in the 11th district favoring Republicans.
“There is a misperception that winning the nominee in the Republican primary will automatically anoint you to winning the general election,” Petrella said, adding that he had gotten into the race “before it looked easy.”
Candidates will official declare their intention to run during a filing period in the month February.
Because he is running for re-election in a swing district, from a national standpoint, Shuler is one of the Democrats to beat. If Shuler expects to win, he must spend time in the district and remind people of what he has accomplished during his term, Cooper said.
“Good old-fashioned retail politics is going to win this race,” he said.
Democrats: GOP blatantly gerrymandered WNC’s seat in Congress
New Congressional districts crafted by state GOP leaders that appear to position the party for political domination in North Carolina for the next decade drew sharp criticism late last week during a state hearing in Cullowhee.
Asheville and parts of Buncombe County would be booted out of the 11th Congressional district and lumped in with Piedmont counties and metropolitan areas on the outskirts of Charlotte.
The liberal voting bloc of Asheville would be replaced with four conservative-voting northern mountain counties — tipping the district decidedly more Republican and making it difficult for a Democratic Congressman, even one as conservative as U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, to get elected.
And that smacks, opponents said, of in-your-face gerrymandering by the GOP. Because if the plan stands despite the court challenges that are sure to come, Republicans will have neatly sliced out and diluted the liberal votes Democrats have long counted on from the Asheville area. The mountain district would shift from 43 percent of the voters being registered Democrats to 36 percent.
SEE ALSO: Proposed N.C. House District map
SEE ALSO: Proposed N.C. Senate District map
The districts must make geographic sense to not be overturned. If Democrats can prove gerrymandering and show that districts are not geographically “compact,” a lawsuit over the district lines could send North Carolina’s redistricting efforts back to the drawing board.
“Sirs, you overplayed your hand with this one,” said Janie Benson, who chairs the Haywood County Democratic Party. “It may be good politics for the moment, but it is not good for the people of Western North Carolina. Asheville is the soul of the area. Asheville is the historic, the judicial, the health, the shopping and the entertainment center of our area.”
Benson was one of at least 12 Democrats alone from Haywood County who gathered at Western Carolina University for an interactive redistricting hearing that included various other North Carolina sites.
A before-the-event poll at WCU by The Smoky Mountain News found one lone Republican signed up to speak, Ralph Slaughter, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party. He, not surprisingly, thought the proposed map simply looked great.
“There will be more minorities involved this way than were before,” Slaughter said. “I really don’t have a problem with it. This comes closer to the equalization needed, population-wise.”
N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Hendersonville, said as a result of the redistricting Buncombe County would actually gain more representation than it has ever enjoyed before — it would, he pointed out, have two congressional voices instead of just one.
“Most of the bigger cities in the state have more than one representative,” Apodaka said. “It’s a sign of things happening all over the country.”
Jeffrey Israel of Haywood County, however, said he could find no historical basis for removing Asheville from the 11th Congressional District.
“It attempts merely to subvert the traditional political will of the western mountains and can only be thought to stab a knife in the progressive heart of Western North Carolina,” Israel said.
In addition to threatening Democrats’ hold on the 11th Congressional District, Democrats could also lose control of the 7th, 8th and 13th districts as a result of the redistricting.
Luke Hyde of Bryson City, before the official hearing started, said that he believes “gerrymandering was wrong in the early 1800s, and it is still wrong in 2011-12. It does not benefit the voters or serve anyone well. I’m opposed to either party redistricting against logic and geography, and I don’t think it will stand in court.”
The GOP won the right to control the redistricting process after taking control of the state General Assembly in last November’s election. Redistricting takes place every 10 years after new census numbers are released.
“No matter how you shape it, now matter how you slice it, Asheville is not a Piedmont community,” said N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill. He said compactness is out the window under the new map, with a drive from Avery County in the north part of the district to Cherokee County in the west taking four or five hours — if you don’t stop for restroom breaks along the way.
Lawmakers will vote on the redistricting plan in a special session that starts July 25.
N.C. House and Senate districts due out this week
The maps will reflect new state legislative districts. How western counties are sliced and diced has been the source of much speculation, and will impact which party has an easier time getting elected to seats in the state legislature.
On Monday, July 18, a public hearing on the state redistricting process will be held at Western Carolina University. The session will be held from 3 until 9 p.m. in Room 133-B of the Cordelia Camp Building on the WCU campus. Speaker registration will begin at 2 p.m.
Members of the public may comment on the current district plans, communities of interest, voting history or any other topic related to redistricting. Each speaker is limited to five minutes.
Two weeks ago, state GOP leaders released redistricting plans for the state’s congressional districts. Democrats have accused Republicans of gerrymandering, or drawing the maps to favor the likelihood of Republican candidates being elected.
To sign up for the public hearing, or to submit comments on line, go to www.ncleg.net/sessions/2011/publichearings/redistricting.html.
Proposed 11th District rips out the center of WNC
Redistricting is always political, and voters on both sides have to accept that. The party with a majority will get districts that it hopes will advance its ideology.
But the recently released map for our 11th Congressional District has ripped out the cultural and business heart of Western North Carolina. By taking a large part of Asheville out of the 11th, we’re left with a district lacking a center, merely a collection of mountain counties strung along the spine the Smokies.
Look, there’s a lot most of us don’t like about Asheville. Most of us in this part of the state prefer small towns and isolated mountains and we don’t like traffic and crowds. Some of us can’t stand the very idea of malls and mega shopping centers.
Still, it is the metropolis of our region. We go there for festivals, we go there to shop for big-ticket items, to attend concerts and other cultural events. We use its hospitals. Many of us go there everyday to work, returning to our small towns every evening.
It gives our district more clout to have a vibrant, growing city whose name constantly comes up around the country as one of the best places to live and raise a family.
On the other side of the coin, I imagine folks in Asheville might be more upset than we are. Now they have to share a representative with Gastonia, a former mill town that has become, more or less, a suburb of Charlotte. There’s little hope that a representative from that new Piedmont district will actually know anything at all about Asheville, which is a mountain town through and through.
Redistricting is difficult and complicated, no doubt, and there is no mandate to think about a region’s culture and history. But Asheville and all of Buncombe County should be in the district that includes the seven western counties. In this case, we belong together, and I hope the lawsuit challenge that is sure to come succeeds.
A report sent to the General Assembly last month recommended — for all intents and purposes — that all three community colleges west of Buncombe merge administrative functions with a larger institution. This is just a bad idea that hopefully will be shelved.
The report’s intent was to find ways to save money at the state’s community college system. That’s a great idea, but unfortunately it is those of use in smaller, rural counties that would suffer from the proposal.
According the report, community colleges with less than 3,000 full-time equivalencies (which is sort of like a full-time student) would merge many of its accounting and administrative positions with the larger colleges. That means no president and no deans locally. Haywood, Southwestern and Tri-County community colleges all have less than 3,000 full-time equivalencies.
Right now, community colleges get 27 percent of their funding from the counties where they are located. Cut the staff, get rid of the local presidents and move staff to Asheville, and you can kiss that money good bye. The local county commissioners would not pay, I’ll guarantee it. Then the savings would disappear.
Plus, community colleges by definition are supposed to serve and reflect the communities where they are located. Without local leaders, they would lose that local focus and the ability to work closely with the local business community.
Finally, this fundamental change would only save a pittance: $5 million out of a $1.2 billion state budget. That’s less than one half of 1 percent. That speaks, it seems to me, to a pretty efficient operation.
Our community colleges are going to take their budget cut from this General Assembly session and make do as best they can. But this merger plan is just a bad idea that would do much more harm than good.
Taking Asheville out of 11th makes no sense
To carve Asheville out of the 11th Congressional District is completely irrational.
My campaign will work with all Western North Carolina Democrats to fight this gerrymandering. We’ll oppose it on every level. We look forward to supporting a united legal challenge. And, I urge Re. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, to join us in this.
Asheville is, after all, the economic hub of this region with 40,000 daily commuters who follow the river valleys to work each morning. Asheville is the medical center for the region for the same reason: rapid transportation can be a matter of life and death. Asheville is the legal nexus as well, with its Federal Courthouse serving all of the western counties and is also the banking and business core of the region.
More compelling is the fact that fully one third of the residents of WNC live in Buncombe County!
The French Broad River inexorably links Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and Madison counties. The economic ties of our region are all a function of our mountain watersheds. The Land of Sky Regional Council, which includes those four counties, is not an artificial consruct — it is a planning district dictated by geographic reality. Our railroads and highways follow the river valleys due to geographic necessity as well.
By jamming Asheville into the 10th Congressional District, and adding Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Mitchell and Wautauga counties to the 11th, the Raleigh Republicans have removed the region’s media center, the source for the news that lets people see what government is doing in order to cast intelligent votes.
For voters in those north-central counties, Winston-Salem and Charlotte are the major media sources, while Morganton and Hickory are the closest economic centers. Meanwhile, Asheville’s news media will suddenly be reporting on congressional news related to Gastonia, which is clearly a part of the greater Charlotte metropolitan area.
The GOP can pat itself on the back, believing that its cookie-cutter tomfoolery is long deserved payback for past Democratic sins, but what they’re doing is showing us that all they care about is power — not the people of our state. They don’t want the people of WNC to have a representative in Washington who stands up for our regional interests. That should be a matter of concern to Republicans and Democrats alike in these mountains. They don’t want us to have a champion in Congress who will fight for our jobs, our health and our lives.
Of course, their stated goal is to create another “safe” Republican seat in the 11th District. But contemplating that outcome should also be extremely unsettling to WNC voters.
Republicans have long been trying to scuttle Social Security and Medicare. They are the same people who brought us NAFTA, CAFTA and WTO deals with China — sending our jobs out of the country. The Republicans’ apparent overarching goal is to divert American wealth to the wealthiest, while middle class workers in WNC lose their jobs, their homes and their health care.
This is the time for us to unite as Democrats — blue dog, yellow dog, middle of the road. We are share one common bond — we are Mountain Democrats!
Let’s show Raleigh Republicans that we may vary in our political opinions, but when our home turf is threatened we come together to defend our mountain homes.
I feel that challenging these maps constitutes an absolute obligation to my constituents, both as an Asheville City Council member and as a candidate in the 11th Congressional District. These western mountains are my home, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
(Cecil Bothwell is an Asheville city councilman and a Democratic candidate for the 11th Congressional District seat now held by Rep. Heath Shuler. The proposed redistricting map released last week would take Asheville out of Shuler’s 11th District.)
Two more seek 11th District GOP nomination
By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer
Last week, John Armor, a Highlands attorney, became the third candidate to declare his bid for the 11th District Congressional seat.
Two more seek 11th District GOP nomination
By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer
Spence Campbell, chair of the Henderson County Republican Club, declared his intentions two weeks ago to run for the 11th Congressional District seat against Rep. Heath Shuler.