Bill Faison's legislative theatrics

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday April 09, 2005

It is odd to find a Democratic state legislator who, among his first prominent acts in office, would seek the means to elect a Republican to the Orange County Commission. Freshman Rep. Bill Faison has done just that by proposing a district representation scheme that would create a district in which Republican Jamie Daniel was the top vote-getter in 2004.

Odder still is the fact that Faison promotes this legislation without even an attempt at collaboration with the commissioners or with the other legislators representing Orange County, all fellow Democrats.

Faison has been called many things over the past few weeks but "team player" is not among them.

What Faison is up to is pure politics. Faison is well aware that Barry Jacobs won the Orange County vote in last summer's Democratic primary. Faison's margin in Caswell County was enough to give him a scant 647 votes victory overall. To win, he spent three times as much as Jacobs, over $100,000 more, an astounding $39 per vote (the state average is $12.94).

Faison knows that Orange County is a breeding ground for progressive candidates who, like Jacobs, share a solid base of supporters with his legislative colleagues Verla Insko, Joe Hackney and Ellie Kinnaird. Thus, it's not surprising that Faison is acting aggressively to shore up his own support in Orange County. He is doing so by pandering to voters in his district who are disaffected from or unhappy with the decisions of the county's liberal local governments.

Thus, when residents of Carrboro's extra-territorial area contacted him, Faison was ready to go to work to battle an unpopular annexation plan. "I'll be happy to sit down and talk with them," he told The Herald. "If there are ways I can be of positive benefit to [the residents], I will do that,"

Note that he did not say that he would talk to the Carrboro Aldermen about a matter that is historically within the province of local government.

Without the cooperation of other Orange County legislators and local government, Faison's bill will not go far. The annexation process could be improved. Sadly, Faison's Lone Ranger routine will not help matters.

But, for political theater, Faison hit the mark. As annexation area resident Katrina Ryan wrote on, "We were thrilled when Rep. Faison showed us the advance copy of the bill."

Next, Faison went to bat for the right-wing residents of rural Orange County, those Republicans and other conservatives who feel inadequately represented by the composition of the county commission. Once again, his action was in the face of local elected officials rather than in cooperation with them.

Once again, there was no buy-in from other area legislators. And, once again, Faison's bill seems unlikely to make it out of committee.

But Faison has surely helped his 2006 re-election campaign. Orange County conservatives now know that he's their man. They can be counted on to support his next campaign in rural Orange. Add to that the disgruntled suburban voters he embraced in the southern reaches of House District 50 and you have a strong political foundation for a politician whose re-election is far from certain.

Faison justifies his proposal in part with the claim that he vetted it before a 55-member "diverse ... advisory council ... from across the county." After repeated efforts to obtain a list of its members were met with stonewalling, I queried dozens of prominent citizens about this council.

Few had heard of it and only one could name a member. By refusing to reveal its membership, Faison invites the suspicion that his council is little more than a group of fellow travelers hand-picked to lend an air of legitimacy to his initiatives.

In 1986, two longtime conservative commissioners, Ben Lloyd and Norman Walker, were ousted by "small-town" [Hillsborough] liberals John Hartwell and Steve Halkiotis. In the 19 years since, there has not been a conservative candidate who has run a strong countywide campaign that attempted to appeal to centrist voters.

By contrast, the ultraliberal Margaret Brown busted her tail to reach the voters and soundly defeated an incumbent in 1996.

It is far from proven that a right-of-center candidate could not do the same. But rural conservatives seem to view election victory as an entitlement. In Orange County, the political work ethic apparently belongs to the left.

Nonetheless, Orange County would ultimately benefit from a system that would bring some additional diversity to the BOCC. There are a number of options worth considering besides the one Faison is trying to ram down our throats.

Faison's grandstanding may fit with his own re-election strategy but grandstanding is rarely the way to get things done in government. Faison has done little to improve the lot of his Orange County constituents and much to sow division among them.



I watch with glee as media pundits and local politicians `howl` at the legislation Democrat Rep. Bill Faison-Orange has proposed for actual fair and democratic representation at the county level. It's clear to anyone concious that, if left to local officials, the "good ole boy" network that has controlled Orange County through it's recent unpleasantness of one party rule, is starting to crumble.
Take note in the amount of effort that the Democratic Elite in Orange County is espousing against a "possible" Republican getting a seat in county government. Now, I personally wouldn't want a Republican to run any form of government, let alone suffer the totalitarianism of our current Democrat beauracracy, yet the possibility of an Independent or Libertarian candidate having a chance to represent districts is a truely progressive idea.
Artie Franklin published his formula for "super districts" in today's Chapel Hill Herald and he has a very valid point. An idea based on demographics and bouyant statistics. It would allow urban, hyper-urban, and rural/suburban designations to co-exist politically. This would eliminate the culture of municiperialism and create the foundation of a community that we can all be proud to call "home".
Yet, harmony, is the chaos theory here. Many local politicians are making noise about any "change", any progressive and democratic moves are labeled " politically motivated" and "oh my gosh! a Republican might get elected!" Our harmony is assured in a healthy tax base, one that doesn't penalize families, and knowing that we can ALL feel comfortable living in as blessed a place as Orange County.
The "Good Ole Boy" harmony is assured in their unchecked and unchallenged "authority" and their warped spin on ANY opposition. Always be sceptical of any election that gets 100% of the popular vote. Remember the old adage "A guilty dog barks loudest" and it becomes abundantly clear where the "arrogance" lies.

I actually agree with everything Dan has to say, and my "warped spin" on local politicians rarely matches Dan's.

Mary, please elaborate. Your response was both brief and confusing. Also I'd like to hear more on your take of the "arrogance" of Bill Faison.

Let us remember that Mr. Coleman is a founder of the NC green party. The greens, with their combination of ignorance and arrogance, were the spoilers who delivered us unto George Bush in 2000. Just last year, he longed to be delivered from the " vapid politcs of Edwards, Kerry and Dean." I doubt that Rep. Faison is affected by his evaluation of his methods. After all, to most of us, the lone ranger was a hero.

You accuse the 'good ole boys' of having a 'warped spin' on any political opposition. I'm merely saying that I'm not 'in' with any politicians around here and, yet, I agree with everything Dan has to say about Faison. This suggests to me that Dan's complaints about Faison speak to something bigger than local politicians protecting their own. I don't necessarily object to a well-thought out Orange County district representation plan or to some statewide involuntary annexation reform. I do, however, object to Faison's methods of affecting change. Faison simply has not been in office long enough yet to be able to claim that he has legitimately tried to work with local governments to no avail. Faison is clearly reaching out to everyone with a grudge and building a polarizing power base. Faison is my Representative. I take exception that my Rep. is walking down a nasty road where he is in peril of only representing part of his constituency.

Thanks, Mary. I hope readers got the point that my column was not about the representation issue per se but rather was a discussion of Faison's use of that issue.

Thanks also to Katrina for reminding us of the right's abiding fascination with vigilantism. Unfortunately not all vigilantes have script-writers like the Lone Ranger's to ensure that they can do no wrong. In the real world, for every Kemosabe there is a Matthew Hale and usually more than one.

Meanwhile, Katrina is a bit too clever in her attempt to refashion snippets of my own history and writing to suit her purposes. I'll leave aside as ancient history her repetition of the tiresome charge that Ralph Nader was responsible for Al Gore "losing" what should have been one of the easiest non-incumbent presidential victories in US history.

But, having thrown that out and falsely linked it to me, she takes a quote out of context from, of all things, a 2003 column of mine urging the Green Party to stay out of the 2004 presidential campaign. The actual line she misquotes is "The American people have a right to hear a left perspective and not have it folded into a vapid politics of the center like that of an Edwards, Kerry, or Dean." (I won't elaborate on that statement here since it's way off topic!)

Back to the topic at hand: Please note that the criticisms of my column and defenses of Faison thus far above have been very much in line with my point about his political use of these issues.

Mary and Dan,

When do you decide there has been enough discussion? As I understand it, there was a citizens advisory group about 10 years ago that made recommendations for changing representation. Nothing happened. The residents in the annexation area petitioned Chapel Hill for annexation, but Carrboro proceeded. You both know that I am a strong advocate for discussion, but doesn't there come a time when you need to admit that talking isn't having a positive effect and action needs to be taken or the topic needs to be forgotten?

I've never met Bill Faison & can't say he's not playing political games.

However, there is ample evidence that the County Commissioners would resist any meaningful process to address the well-documented disenfranchisement of a large number of county voters. They studied the issue in 1993 after my independent ccampaign for county commissioner pushed the issue to the front burner & when the carefully picked committee came back to Moses Carey & the Board with the unexpected conclusion that we should fix the problem, the Board swept it under the rug.

Whether or not Faison is playing games (and I must admit that his knowledge of history on this issue is spotty which indicates he may be interested in more than just the issue itself), the path to fair representation does not run through some kind of collabortaive process with the Board.

One root of this problem is the party affiliation aspect. There just should not be party affiliation at this level. The school board & town board elections work just fine without being subject to the overpowering electorla winds of unconscious straight-party ticket voting. And of course, it is inarguably unfair that a relative handful of Democratic Party voters chooses the commissioners in the primary.

Thius is just another way that our democracy suffers from the party poltics of our time.

Mark, there's not a dichotomy here between Faison's current approach and endless waiting on the BOCC. There are many other approaches he could have taken.

For example, he could have invited Insko and Hackney to co-host hearings with him on the topic.

He might even have had his own public meetings to at least give the impression that his conclusions on the issue resulted from a more transparent process. Note by the way that Faison claims his advisory council is from "across the county." Isn't it odd that neither the mayor of Chapel Hill, the mayor of Carrboro, or the director of the CH-C Chamber could name a member of it. Aren't these exactly the people he would have consulted to help identify members "from across the county"?

Terri and Mark M., I take your point on the seeming futility of merely waiting for the BOCC to take action of its own accord, but does Faison think this bill will pass? So far, I think his actions have successfully shifted things from unproductive discussion to unproductive argument. The ensuing animosity seems to be some people's goal.

This whole Faison vs Jacobs, Val and Pam vs Moses and Margaret is a struggle for who is going to control the democratic party in Orange County. They split on the commissioner's race and the young bucks won on the state house race. Part of the problem if you look at it that way is Faison has very little ties to the old guard in the party. Faison has lived in the County, he can and has heard the folks talk about how the commissioners don't listen or talk down to them. Mr. Faison reminds me of a young John Edwards. By that I mean he is ambulance chasing lawyer with deep pockets who has crashed onto the political scene.

The fact that Mr. Coleman doesn't know who some of Faison's political advisors are shows he is part of the old guard. The Majors' of Chapel Hill/Carrboro know very little if any of what is going on in rural Orange County just as I know little of what is happening in their respected towns. Did they ask me if I supported public funding of city council races or to put a serial number on beer kegs to track who is buying them? No they didn't, just as Faison didn't ask them or the commissioiners about the bills he is filing. The Commissioners have been stonewalling for 12 years now on this issue.

How long is long enough folks?

Mark C--are saying this is a classic double-bind situation? If left in the hands of incumbents, it won't happen. If action is taken, it's dismissed as combative.

I'm not sure how I feel about the proposed bills or the process. It's too complicated for the amount of time I have to devote to understanding it all right now. But the public response does seem to share a certain similarity to the response to Carey's merger proposal. The minority voice is supportive, the majority voice is resentful and blasting away at the initiator.

Patrick, If Faison says he has diverse membership from across the county then more than one of the dozens of community leaders who I queried would have heard about it. My point continues to be that, until Faison demonstrates otherwise by revealing the list of his "council," his claims about it will be met with skepticism.

By the way, Patrick, you are surely just the sort of "new guard" person that BF would want on his council. So, are you on it? If so, do tell us who else is and when and how you all have met and worked together.

Mr. Coleman, you appear to be the one most concerned with Faison's council. I don't see it as an issue that is very important. How we elect our commissioners has been an issue for dozen years. It moves from the back burner to the front every so offen. I was aware of the petition that was going around in the county. Maybe you should look there for the Faison council.

As for me being a member, I supported Barry in that race and I couldn't vote for either one because I am still a Republican with no regrets.

Well, Dan's suggestion would have been good: Hold a public forum on the matter to try to establish some mandate for the issue. Alternatively, he might have brought the matter up in a more diplomatic way. Certainly there must be a greater variety of courses of action than merely either doing nothing or filing a unilaterally written bill.

The time is now to discuss this. I'm happy to see many different views on this subject, outside the incumbent spin. Monday, April, 18, there is a "listening" session at the Pleasant Green Community center. I hope to see all my friends and neighbors there.

An interesting letter....
Dear Editors:

OrangePower KoolAid is flowing like wine at a wedding. Orange Progressives (OPies) are worried that some Orange residents will toss their “VOTE OPIE, IT'S EASIER THAN THINKING” bumper stickers. Heavens, can we withstand no more reflexive voting for pre-certified OPie candidates?

Dan Coleman, self-avowed OPie pundit, couldn't be more miffed with Representative Faison (CHH 04/09/05). The “constructive” name-calling started by Commissioner Carey continues. Representative Faison is officially a “Lone Ranger”.

You can understand how OPies are upset with Representative Faison. First, he won a district hand carved for an OPie approved candidate. Then he created a voters' rights bill that allows people being regulated by public officials to have a say in their election. (Apparently, OPies are selective on voters' rights issues.) To offend further, he proposed a plan for greater diversity in representation at the county commissioner level. He did so without genuflecting once to the Mecca of OPiedom.

Aren't you shocked to hear that a state legislator listens to constituents in his district, responding with legislation on their behalf? Mr. Coleman labels it “legislative theatrics” and “pandering”. You see, diversity among county residents is tolerable so long as a legislator ignores thoughts not in the OPie catechism. By responding to such OPie heresy, Representative Faison simply “sows division”, as opposed to addressing diversity.

Thank goodness, the beverage with the “pause that reflexes” is so powerful. Let's see what reality it enables OPies to ignore.

Residents against Carrboro's coercive seizure of distant urban areas contacted Representatives Insko and Hackney, and Senator Kinnaird around the Fall 2004 election. The responses were a uniform “not my problem”, despite Representative Insko being their representative until January 2005, and despite Senator Kinnaird's alleged stance against involuntary annexation. Representative Faison didn't step in until later, after he gained office.

For months the Carrboro factotums (the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Nelson) wouldn't acknowledge, much less talk, to the Chapel Hill Town Council about two unanimous citizen petitions for voluntary annexation into Chapel Hill, despite Town Council kowtowing - “we'll talk to you, if you want, but it's okay to ignore us”. Mr. Coleman fells that Representative Faison should've submitted to a similar treatment, albeit his bill is about a voting rights issue that extends way beyond Carrboro. Did you know the Lone Ranger was a masochist?

The issue of district representation has been buried alive for over a decade. Rather than offer praise for moving the issue into the limelight and seeking real progress, Mr. Coleman chants the OPie mantra “stop meddling in local affairs”. He dare not offer a constructive amendment to the districting bill. It might expose that OPie “progressivism” is liberal mainly about holding on to power. Gadzooks, if a Republican became a county commissioner, you'd have to sell and move to Canada.

Mr. Coleman goes as far as to imply the use of secret handshakes and decoder rings by Representative Faison in order to discredit his work. Mr. Coleman's failure to quote fully Ms. Ryan, a self-acknowledged liberal Democrat living in District 50, and an admirer of Representative Faison, is telling. Ms. Ryan also has said “I'm pretty happy with the bills Faison has introduced and sponsored. They include pay raises for teachers, tax credits for employing felons, subsidies for high-risk health insurance, and help for women and minorities to start small businesses. Those are all things that can make real differences in peoples lives, and I think that's government at its best.” (Quoted with her permission.) Perhaps life in the “OPieum den” isn't about really helping ordinary people's lives, but about drinking more OrangePower KoolAid and offering self-congratulations for one's brilliance in thinking about helping others.

Finally, Mr. Coleman seems to forget in his name-calling that the Lone Ranger was a mythical Western character with highly admirable traits, a character created during the depths of the Great Depression. He worked to fight lawlessness and injustice alongside his clever Native American sidekick, Tonto. The young-at-heart remember him for his silver bullets, white horse, and black facemask. He wore the mask because local politicians and authorities were corrupt or lazy or indifferent to the human suffering of the underdogs trying to make a living and raise a family. The Lone Ranger's creed included “[t]hat all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world” and a belief “[i]n being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right”. Maybe that's dribble to OPies, but that's not too bad a reputation for Representative Faison to have over in Raleigh.

Although I shun Pavlovian political labels, for disclosure purposes, most people consider me a liberal. But I am decidedly not an OPie. I don't like OrangePower KoolAid. I prefer to think and learn in my own fallible way.

So to Representative Faison I say, “Hi-yo Silver, away!”

Brian D. Voyce

Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Last weekend's Democratic convention was a real eye-opener for me. A committee, composed of those active in last years election activities, had nominated a slate of replacements, including a president and 3 vice presidents. Of those 4 officials, only one was from northern Orange (the same individual was also the only minority). While the party requires that offices be equally split between males and females, the same rule doesn't extend to race or geography.

Despite efforts from the floor to nominate others, not all of whom were from outside Chapel Hill Township, the committee's choices all won. I'm sure all of the individuals who won are outstanding individuals, dedicated to making Orange County a better place to live. I am not trying to criticize them or the nominating committee with this post. But if the Democrats themselves can't see that broader representation is needed in our local politics, I don't think that bodes well for voluntary actions such as redistricting.

Dan and Mark have proposed that Faison should have taken more time to try and involve elected officials in making the redistricting decision. I was almost convinced until last weekend. Slow change within existing power structures has been tried; moving outside of those existing structures needs a more surgical approach and Faison has provided that option. I don't expect his proposal will succeed--the same forces he is trying to change will work against him. But if nothing else, he has provided a kick in the pants that may move us toward a solution everyone can get behind.


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