Elected or selected?

Bill Strom started it, then Penny Rich took advantage, too; then Lydia Lavelle and now Ellie Kinnaird. All left office between elections, leaving a small group of politicians to select their successors. And if Valerie Foushee is appointed to Kinnaird’s seat, a small group of politicians will decide who takes her seat as District 50 representative in the N.C. House, a seat she had barely warmed, getting elected only last year.

I make a big distinction between Sen. Ellie Kinnaird’s motives for leaving office and Bill Strom’s. Kinnaird, at 81 and perhaps feeling the press of time, left office as a way of switching tactics to work toward restoring sanity to the General Assembly, where since November Republicans have been destroying the safety net for the state’s most vulnerable residents. Kinnaird figured she could do what people elected her to do more effectively from the street. Strom, who sold his house in Chapel Hill months before he quit Town Council and bought an apartment in New York – timing it so that his seat would not be put on the ballot – manipulated the system just because he could.

As for Rich, Lavelle and Foushee (she hasn’t been appointed yet, but she made known her interest in seeking Kinnaird’s seat the same day Kinnaird resigned), I guess they had to seize the opportunities that came up. Because county commissioners are elected to their four-year terms in even years and Town Council members are elected to their four-year terms in odd years, Rich would have had to be out of office for a year in order to complete her council term and run for health insurance, I mean, county commissioner. A whole year trying to think up things to do to keep her name in the news.

Lavelle could have finished her term before running for mayor, but maybe someone hard to beat would be running for mayor then. The same for Foushee. If she had waited until her term ended before running for the state Senate, who knows what the competition would be.

What I wish had happened was that Sally Greene had sat down with Kinnaird well before the 2012 election and Kinnaird had announced that she wouldn’t seek re-election but would heartily endorse Greene running for the seat. But as the saying goes: If wishes were horses, bloggers would ride, or something like that.

The state elections in 2012 indicate that letting voters select lawmakers might not be the wisest choice, but I believe it’s the best one. If we believe voters were duped into electing that red-tie crowd, it’s up to us to educate voters to make wise choices. But first things first – we need to join Kinnaird to make sure everyone has a ticket to the polls.
– Nancy Oates

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11 Comments

  1. Fred Black

     /  August 26, 2013

    In 2007 Carrboro asked for the authority to hold elections to replace aldermen. In 2013 they asked for the authority to again appoint? What drove it? Money. Do we want to spend big bucks for low turnout to fill vacancies?

    Give our state law, four people get to decide on our new state senator and none of them represent me. As an unaffiliated voter, the four Democrats will pick a Democrat to replace a Democrat. And if it were an unaffiliated senator being replaced, the governor makes the decision. So, again, do we want to continue this system or do we want to spend big bucks (that we don’t have) for low turnout to fill vacancies?

    I think I can guess the answer!

  2. Bonnie Hauser

     /  August 26, 2013

    Nancy – wasn’t Verla Insko also initially appointed?

    Fred – I must ask – on a local level, since all the seats are “at large”, what’s the big deal to leave a seat vacant until the election.

    And of course there’s no excuse for Strom’s behavior.

  3. Bonnie Hauser

     /  August 26, 2013

    Fred – in the Carrboro special election this year, there was only one candidate. But that’s symptomatic of a bigger problem.

    Maybe elected officials should vacate their seats if they decide to run for higher office -whether or not their term is up. Then the seat can be placed up for election.

    Funny – voting rights advocates are worried about delays at the polls- but no one worries about special elections or other wranglings to make it hard for “undesirables” (think conservative rural voters) to not vote.

    Or the crazy districting for county commissioner – where the primary is by district -but the general election is at large.

    My favorite was 1/4 cent sales tax placed on the off year municipal ballot so rural residents wouldn’t vote. (Durham did the same with their 1/4 cent and 1/2 cent for transit)

  4. Fred Black

     /  August 26, 2013

    If two people ran for the seat there still would have been an election that cost big bucks for low turnout. What’s wrong with the seat being left open? It changes the dynamic of the body if it has an even number, especially when something requires an super-majority vote.

    And Bonnie, saying people put something on the ballot so “rural residents wouldn’t vote” isn’t accurate. If anything, it could be claimed that they “assumed” rural residents wouldn’t vote. Nothing kept them from voting but them! Completely different concept. I could make the same claim about special elections and knowing most won’t participate; real different than not being allowed to participate!

  5. Bonnie Hauser

     /  August 26, 2013

    come on Fred- when voters opposed the 1/4 cent sales tax, the commissioner decided (McKee, and Foushee dissenting – maybe Gordon too – I don’t remember) to spend roughy $100,000 to open all the polls during a municipal election and place one single item – a 1/4 cent sales tax on the ballot. How many people will come out for one item? (or even know there’s an election underway)

    You can mince words – but at the end of the day- the commissioners worked the ballot to “suppress rural voices” and it worked.

  6. Fred Black

     /  August 26, 2013

    Bonnie, we’ve had this conversation before. You can’t suppress rural voices; only they can let that happen to them. If they played on the expected behavior assumption, then it sounds like the expected behavior continued as expected. Politics is not usually nice, is it.

  7. Many

     /  August 26, 2013

    IMO the act of resigning should be more strongly discouraged. Candidates should be required by law to be bonded for unfinished or improperly executed work (corruption) in the same way a contractor is.

  8. Bruce Springsteen

     /  August 27, 2013

    Things like Ellie Kinnaird quitting midterm are why so many people that aren’t ideologues are so cynical about politics. Politicians tout principles and then when it comes down to it they do whatever they want instead of following principles.

    There is something about holding power that makes the power holder disdainful, even if just subconsciously, of the people they hold power over. Power corrupts, and all that stuff. She can say all she wants about how she’s resigning so that she can better help people, yadda, yadda, but the act of resigning because SHE feels her time is better spent doing something other than what she recently ASKED everyone else to ALLOW her to do tells you everything about what is being served in this dynamic.

    The ironic thing in all this is that getting photo IDs for people will actually do more good than she was doing in the state legislature. Getting a photo ID for someone that doesn’t already have one up until now does a lot of good regardless of whether it allows them to vote. The question is, considering how much good (regardless of voting laws) getting a photo ID does for people that don’t already have one, why does it take facing a loss of being able to vote to get movement on getting photo IDs for those that don’t already have them?

  9. Diogenes

     /  August 27, 2013

    Welcome aboard Bruce! Seems like some of our cherished legislators don’t like it when they’re not in charge (as they were for over a decade as the state’s economy slid down the tubes). Could it be a version of the shoe being on the other foot. Thank goodness Mark Chilton is selflessly willing to go down there and get things back on the right track though. He’ll straighten Berger and his cronies out in a Carrboro minute!

  10. Bruce Springsteen

     /  August 28, 2013

    That reminds me of a comment I read on the N&O site about this story. It resembled something someone said here but maybe the wording was different here and that made me take it differently.

    Basically, someone here said EK turned tail and ran, and I took that to mean “out of fear.” I disagree with that. I don’t think she was afraid at all. But when I read the commenter on the N&O it came off more as “You like it when you’re dishing it out but not so much when you’re taking it.” And it struck me as a very good point.

    I admit I’m not totally up on who has controlled what in the past but I do think I read that this is the first time in 100 years that the Republicans have controlled all three (House, Senate, Gov). I’m assuming they were far on the down side at times. Did the GOP representatives just resign at those times? I don’t know, but somebody has to hold each seat, generally speaking at least.

    If EK resigns because the Democrats are outnumbered then some other Democrat is appointed to fight the unpleasant battle in her place. How has anything changed other than EK has avoided doing the unpleasant job and some other Democrat has to do it instead?

    And I know the answer to that last question, unfortunately. Nothing has changed in the short term. The Republicans will keep kicking the Democrats butts in the short term because they have the numbers. But in the long term when things shift in the other direction and the Democrats have the numbers, which Democrat is in office and getting to kick the Republicans butts? It’s likely the one that will be APPOINTED now (because once they’re in office the advantage of incumbency will likely keep them in office) rather than the one the voters would have elected.

    It reminds me of that line from the Billy Bragg song: “While we expect democracy, they’re laughing in our face.”

  11. Many

     /  August 28, 2013

    Another case of the politicians choosing their voters.

    Reminds me of Plato’s “just city” in the Republic, eh?

    Sadly our system has devolved into having a “political class” where there is lots of rhetoric between two “sides” but no meaningful difference.

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