There’s an oft-quoted adage, most often used by career politicians, that “elections have consequences,” by which they usually mean that since they’ve won, they plan to charge forward with their agenda.
But to have real, substantive elections, you need competition. Yet, sometimes – especially at the local level – no challengers step forward.
When that happens and no candidates materialize, there are also consequences, and they were on full display this week in Mebane.
At its monthly meeting, on July 10, Mebane’s city council was divided about whether to follow the recommendations of its Racial Equity Advisory Committee (REAC), which had wanted the city council to spend $1,000 to join a national racial equity group (the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, known by the acronym GARE) – often characterized as an advocacy group.
Councilmen had plenty of questions, most of which weren’t answered by the speaker that the REAC committee had invited to address the council in support of the concept.
Ultimately, the city council voted 4-1 to postpone further consideration of the matter, hoping to get more answers about what the city would gain by spending the money to join GARE. Only council member Montrena Hadley voted against the postponement, ready to proceed with spending the money right away and aligning the city with the GARE group’s philosophy.
The REAC committee, currently comprised of four black members, was particularly taken aback by the reluctance of two of the city council members they considered their natural allies: Sean Ewing and Katie Burkholder. Both are Democrats on what is ostensibly a non-partisan board. (Hadley is also a Democrat, as is Tim Bradley. The other two members, Jonathan White, and mayor Ed Hooks, who only votes in case of ties, are registered as unaffiliated.)
At their next meeting on August 15, REAC members took the opportunity to lambaste Ewing, in particular, perhaps targeting him since he was the only council member who attended that meeting at which they ranted their disapproval of the delay.
By this week’s meeting of Mebane’s city council, Ewing was a full-fledged convert, as was Burkholder, both of whom provided the majority (with Hadley) to ram through the expenditure on a 3-2 vote.
So what’s changed since July 10?
Well, in our humble opinion, the most crucial difference is that when filing season for municipal elections opened on July 7, both Ewing and Burkholder faced at least the theoretical possibility of having to defend their seats in this November’s election.
But two weeks later, when the filing season closed on July 21, no candidate of any persuasion had filed to challenge them.
We were surprised, and disappointed, that not a single non-incumbent in Mebane was willing to step forward to file for city council – not that we hold any special opinion on these two incumbents in particular. Rather, we always favor contested elections. Mebane is seemingly a hotbed of activism on a host of issues. There are typically a lot of disagreements, for instance on the pace of growth in the city and therefore broad differences of opinion on rezonings and other development issues.
We believe the people, in Mebane and elsewhere, get better government when there are competitive elections.
But this week with no competition in sight, neither Ewing nor Burkholder had to exercise even a modicum of restraint – on GARE membership or any other hot-button issue.
No matter what they did this week, nor what they may do on any other issues before the November 7 municipal elections, they’re seemingly home free – assured of re-election, since they’ll be the only two names on the Mebane city council ballot.
Those who held out the thought that either Burkholder or Ewing was being, uncharacteristically, more restrained or reasonable than usual on the night of the first GARE vote (July 10) were at best merely wishful; more likely they were simply delusional.
They can now witness the city council members’ real feelings from this week’s votes.
Would the council members still have been such enthusiastic converts for spending the taxpayers’ money in that manner this week if they were facing one or more alternative candidates – especially if those candidates were vigorously opposed to the same expenditure?
We very much doubt it. But that’s admittedly a speculative supposition now.
The fact is that neither Mebane council candidate faces any opposition, and so they can do what they merrily want to do.
And this week, they did.