WHEN PRO-BUSINESS DEMOCRATS GO BAD
Consider Chatham County.
Situated to the southwest of Wake County, mainly rural Chatham is being engulfed by suburban sprawl from Research Triangle and Chapel Hill (especially Chapel Hill). At the last census, the population of Chatham was approaching 60,000.
It's a majority Democrat County, with a majority Democrat County Commission. Trouble began to bubble when the Chatham commissioners turned a cold (some might say "hostile") shoulder to "slow-growth" advocates who were worried about the trends: more subdivisions, more strip malls, and more soul-less traffic. After the elections of 2004, the slow-growth people -- representatives from several resident groups -- formed the Chatham Coalition, which began to raise money for slow-growth candidates.
The Chatham Coalition targeted especially the Chatham Commission's chair, Bunkey Morgan, a "car-wash entrepreneur," who was principally blamed for the anything-goes, growth-at-any-cost building boom of the last few years.
Bunkey Morgan was challenged in the May primary by a fellow Democrat. In fact, three new slow-growth Democrats challenged the entire old Democratic guard in that primary, and all three insurgents won. Earthquake! Bunkey Morgan was out, even after lending himself $50,000 for the primary campaign and then raising more, including another $14,000 from out-of-county developers.
We should say Bunkey Morgan was DEFEATED, not out, for up until today, when the new board was finally sworn in, Bunkey Morgan had seven long months of lame-duck-hood to do his worst. And his worst was apparently what he did.
Between the May primary and today, the old Chatham County Commission did the following (among other things):
They approved additional hundreds of new homes and sub-divisions without comprehensive planning.
They entered into long-term contracts that may effectively tie the hands of the new commission for years to come (including a $32 million water contract with Harnett County).
They awarded millions of dollars in economic incentives to entice Maryland-based ISP Minerals Inc. to open a rock quarry near Siler City, despite the outcries of citizens concerned about flying rock dust.
Talk about poisoning the well.
But two things the old guard did really stand out as brazen and provocative:
They wrote a contract with their 10-year county manager, who had been their pro-growth instrument all those years without a contract, that will cost the new board thousands of dollars to get out of (and evidently this new board will NOT want that old apparatchik to continue in his job).
They redrew the district lines for county commissioners and placed a proposal on the November ballot to change commissioners' elections from countywide to districtwide. Transparently, the scheme would have allowed Bunkey Morgan to run again in two years, rather than waiting four. To their credit, the voters rejected the scheme to redraw district lines on November 7th, just as they rejected Bunkey Morgan and his whole crew in the May primary.
As the new progressive Democratic board of Chatham County commissioners takes office today, they survey the wreckage left by fellow Democrats who long ago stopped doing the will of the people in favor of ... doing favors for big-money.
You can read about part of this history in today's N&O here.