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Ager gives redistricting update; gets CIBO grilling
Monday, 02 December 2019 21:59
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North Carolina legislature and county commissioner redistricting report was presented by N.C. Rep. John Ager, D-Fairview, during the Nov. 15 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

The report originally was scheduled to be given by both Ager and state Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Hendersonville.

However, Edwards — as noted by CIBO President Buzzy Cannady, who also acts as the group’s emcee — had to cancel his address to CIBO because of “pressing business in Raleigh caused him not to be available.” About 60 people attended CIBO’s meeting.

Ager who said he would only speak for about 15 minutes and then field questions, began by noting, “Thank y’all for having me. I was actually looking forward to hearing from him (Edwards) since he’s on that (redrawing districts) committee.”

Ager added, “After we (the General Assembly) vote, it’ll be up to the courts as to whether those maps will be the final maps.

“We’ve had about a decade” of squabbling over “gerrymandering. Not that it’s anything new, but with the use of computers with the information (now), it’s made it much more precise.”

Ager said there are two kinds of gerrymandering — racial and partisan.

“Racial gerrymandering is illegal,” Ager asserted. “As you remember, North Carolina, like most Southern states, was under a federal ruling that their voting (district) plans have to be approved by the Justice Department. But that was removed several years ago.”

As for partisan gerrymandering,” Ager said, “If it’s so partisan — you could call it unconstitutional… They (the court) said they would not make a judgment that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional... Part of it is how hard it is to decide….”

Rhetorically, he asked, “Are the state districts unconstitutionally gerrymandered?”

In answering his own question, Ager stated, “The courts agreed unanimously that our state districts are unconstitutional.That’s what led to the redrawing of many of the state’s districts, including Buncombe County....

“So maps were redrawn. I think the process went pretty well.

“The court ruled if there were incumbents ‘double-bunked ‘with the new maps, you could make adjustments in the precincts to get them ‘un-double-bunked.’ That happened with Brian (Turner) and Susan (Fisher) in the same district. Adjustments were made to get them — easily — into separate districts.

“So the state maps went to the state and the state approved them... So the state maps are what we have to run on in 2020. So right after that, a new lawsuit was filed with the same three-judge panel. That’s what we’re dealing with right now.

“All in the last week, there has been a committee working on new maps.... 

“Even yesterday, it was political people bieng ‘political people,’” Ager said.

Regarding the vote on the new maps, Ager stated, “The vote — finally — was partisan. All the Republicans voted for it and all of the Democrats voted against it.

“If nothing else happens, it will become law.”

At that point, Ager said, “Going back to Buncombe County, one of the interesting questions was what would happen to the county commissioner races. Now, Jasmine (Beach-Ferrara, a Democrat) would run against Mike Fryar (a Republican)” — and both are incumbents.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, CIBO member Mac Swicegood lamented to Ager, “You spent about 10 minutes telling us about this ‘trainwreck’” of a problem with the drawing of district lines fairly. “What’s the answer?”

Smiling, Ager said evenly, “I think the solution is to get this done. One other aspect is…. here we are in November going down to Raleigh. It should have been in July. We still have to approve them in the end.”

To a question from an unidentified man, Ager said, “We did have some discussions. (Buncome commissioners’ chairman) Brownie (Newman), brought it up that, by the way, incumbents would be involved in some districts. I dont know what could have been done.”

An unidentified man said, “On Sept. 11, there was a budget override. You made the statement (at that time) that the Democrats weren’t there because they were downstairs working on the maps. How do you justify that kind of hypocrisy?”

With a smile, Ager replied, “I can’t remember the context....” Then, he disagreed with the man’s assertion. “They (the Democrats) weren’t down there, working on drawing maps.”

The man replied, “The cartographer’s office is downstairs. That’s not a misunderstanding. ….:

Ager did not respond, so Cannady, the emcee, called for the next questioner.

An unidentifed man then asked, “Why didn’t you vote for the maps?”

“For the state maps?” Ager asked. He then asserted, “I voted for them because I felt they were OK. 

“For the United States congressional maps, I voted against them because I felt like the process wasn’t very transparent. And just looking at them, I felt like they were strangely shaped). It looked to me like there was an effort to do some gerrymanders… I wish Chuck was here to talk about it. He was much more involved in the process.”

In a final presentation at the CIBO meeting, CIBO member Nathan Ramsey provided an update on the activities at the Land of the Sky Council. Ramsey is director of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board

“Just wanted to give you an update about our region’s workforce development effort,” Ramsey said. “In the past year, our region had about 7,000 more jobs. About 10,000 more people are working than a year ago. 

Ramsey added, “Our 2.7 percent unemployment rate in the Asheville metro area — for 55 consecutive months (2.6 percent average) remains lowest in the state.

“Buncombe is the only county in our region” to rank “around the top 10 percent North Carolina metros in wage growth.

“Only healthcare, hospitality and tourism jobs have a higher wage here than elsewhere in North Carolina.”

Further, Ramsey said, “There are about 7,000 people classified as unemployed in our region — counting only those actively seeking work....

“On the wage question, our biggest disparity of wages in not in the lowest-level entry-level jobs. Our biggest disparity of wages is in the highest areas of expertise.”

Changing subjects, Ramsey then stated, “Five people per day die of opioid overdose in North Carolina.

“There are about 500 people just in Buncombe County in our detention center for opioids — and they will be coming out into the community soon.”

Ramsey asserted, “As employers, we’ve got to figure out how to better leverage the talent we’ve got in our community.

“We know most people with substance addiction issues are not going to be successful in their first efforts at work.”

He added, “Another program I’m interested in is My Future North Carolina,” which targets helping North Carolina
“have 2 million people by 2030 with a high-quality education or high-level certification. This way, North Carolina will have the talent that is needed. According to the labor market, that’s what it says North Carolina will need (in population) in 2030.”

During a question-and-answer period that followed, CIBO member John Miall praised Ramsey for his efforts and for “the fabulous mission you just made for people.”

He then asked him, in reference to a story on his own CIBO presentation (see story on Page A1), “Have you ever been approached by any member of Steady Collective?”

Ramsey smiled and said, “I’m not familiar with that organization.”

In answering a question from an unidentifed man, Ramsey said, “The business size in our region seems to be made of small employers. In general, our employers are small.

“Also, overall, our region is more educated than most places in the state. But in those higher-paid occupations, we’re actually less-educated than other places in the state.”

As Ramsey’s Q&A ended, Cannady, CIBO’s president and emcee, said, “We’re really lucky to have Nathan. We (Ramsey and Cannady) cross paths a lot.”

At the beginning of the CIBO meeting, Cannady, as usual, recognized elected and appointed officials who were present — and particularly noted the presence of Robert White, Asheville’s new interim police chief.

White, who is African-American, previously served as police chief in Greensboro, Denver and Louisville, Ky., as well as the second-in-command in Washington’s metro department.

A 40-plus-year police veteran, White started work Oct. 1, filling in for Chris Bailey who abruptly resigned after two months as APD chief, saying he needed to return to Indianapolis to deal with family issues. A new permanent chief is expected to be hired in early 2020.

White said he is not seeking that position.


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