Sunday, January 8, 2012

The familiar call of the arrogant

Because we can.

Do you recognize that? It’s the call of the arrogant, the powerful – or at least those who believe themselves to be. It’s the explanation we get from people who don’t think they need to explain themselves, and last week we heard it in words and in deeds from those who’ve forgotten whom they serve.

In Raleigh, House Republicans held an after-midnight veto override vote early Thursday without giving the public notice – unless, possibly, you happened to be on the General Assembly website at 12:15 a.m. It was a vote Republicans could have held on any morning or afternoon and achieved the same result, yet they inexplicably decided to invite criticism by doing it with the stars shining down.

When asked about that vote, House speaker Thom Tillis, normally a savvy guy, said this: “The fact of the matter is we got it done.”

Because we can.

It’s why Democrats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted to fill a vacant District 6 seat last week with someone who doesn’t represent the district’s conservative demographic. Led by board chair Ericka Ellis-Stewart, a Democrat, the board selected Rev. Amelia Stinson-Wesley, another Democrat, who would likely never win a District 6 election and who, like most everyone else in the room, suspected she wasn’t the most qualified.

Before her at-large election in November, Ellis-Stewart had proclaimed that she could represent the whole district instead of the low-income children for whom she’d previously advocated. But on Thursday, she and the other four Democrats chose one of two Democrats among the 12 District 6 candidates – and only after it was clear the other Democrat would come with too much political baggage.

Because they could, of course, just as Republicans did with a vacant school board seat three years ago. Now, Democrats hold a majority on the board, and Ellis-Stewart got the most votes of any at-large candidate in November. What kind of threat could a small geographic slice of grumbling conservatives pose?

Here’s one: Last month, county commissioner Bill James floated the idea of a Town of Ballantyne, one that would de-annex several South Charlotte communities from the city. While the rest of Charlotte snickered at the notion, officials and others have been making plans about meetings, boundaries and signatures that would make the concept real.

James, who says he is not one of those officials, says that “stage 2” of the plan would be for Ballantyne, along with Mint Hill, Matthews and Pineville, to ask the legislature to form their own South Mecklenburg School System. Is it all a long shot? Yes. But those who roll eyes should remember they are dealing with a population of do-ers who are accustomed to accomplishing what they want.

These suburbanites wouldn’t mind the lower taxes that would come with deannexation. And while they are far from the first citizens to feel this way, they are tired of the disconnect from the leadership of Charlotte. They are tired of those leaders calling them selfish for wanting the good things most parents want for their children. They are tired of the arrogance, which they saw again in a school board that chose politics over public good.

And the thing is – none of us were surprised, no? Not at the school board, nor at Republicans in Raleigh, nor at the latest dysfunction we saw last week in Washington. We’ve come to expect the contempt our elected officials show us, and we too often fulfill their expectation that we’ll shake our docile heads and do little else. But history is also filled with voters who rise together in protest, and with politicians who learn they had less of a mandate than they thought – as Thom Tillis might understand if he someday runs for statewide office.

And if the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board follows last week’s slap with policy that disregards its now-underrepresented district, more citizens might finally feel compelled to do what has only been talked about before. Not because they necessarily want to, and not because it would be good for Charlotte. But because they can.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of when magnet schools first came into effect. A townhall meeting was held to listen to the citizens "before a decision was made" and the information on the magnet school changes went out in the mail the next day. Sounded like the decision was already made and the meeting was, well I can't print that.