Local & State Voices

A former GOP city councilman asks: Can a Republican win again in Charlotte?

No one can question my love for the Republican party or my hometown, Charlotte. So when filing for Charlotte City Council closed last month, you can imagine my dismay that only six Republicans are running for office. To put this in context, if one Republican filed for each available city council seat and mayor, there would be a minimum of twelve on the ballot. In contrast, there are 31 Democrats signed up for primaries. The lack of balance leads to one-sided policy which in the long-term will prove disastrous.

Since I became involved in local politics in 2013, the number of Republican candidates has dwindled each year. It is frustrating and begs the question: why? The simple answer is candidates don’t believe they will be successful. As the Republican mayoral nominee in 2017, I raised $585,000 (the most of any candidate in the field), received almost 50,000 votes, and increased the Republican candidate vote total by 31 percent from the previous election. I easily won the south Charlotte “wedge.” By historical standards the metrics of my Mayoral run could have produced victory, but I lost. When combined with the fact the GOP was swept out of all local and state offices within the county last year but for state Sen. Dan Bishop, futility begins to set in. These factors likely caused candidates who might have run in 2011 and 2013 to sit on the sidelines in 2019.

I am often asked if a Republican will win again in Charlotte. I always reply yes. While recent history isn’t on my side, this does not mean we can’t win, nor should Republicans wave the white flag of surrender. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners is 9-0 in favor of the Democrats, while City Council is 9-2. Without a Republican counter-balance, Charlotte is on track to become a city of haves and have nots. Wealthy voters in the urban core are better able to sustain increased taxes and changes to public schools. The middle class is left to deal with the policy repercussions. Many are now voting with their feet, fleeing to Union County and Fort Mill. This should serve as a warning. Middle-class flight is the first sign of a city’s decline. The list of cities ruined by flight is long.

Who is to blame for the current predicament? Some blame President Trump. Others blame individual campaigns. Candidates bemoan the lack of support from the business community. I blame the voters. Primarily voters who leave blue states for our lower cost of living and better job opportunities but bring their voting habits to Charlotte. Last year the Governor of Texas tweeted “If you’re abandoning California for Texas, just remember the reason you are escaping high taxes & burdensome regulations...” Charlotte should follow suit. With one party rule taxes are rising, we have become less business friendly and elected Republicans have vanished. People are voting for the candidates who support the higher property taxes that led them to flee other areas of the country in droves. What attracted them to Charlotte is slowly eroding away. Furthermore, voters don’t even bother to show up. Turnout in 2017 was 22 percent, up from 15 percent in 2015. Both numbers are dismal and contribute to the diminished quality of candidates.

I love Charlotte, the growth (including newcomers) and wonderful quality of life. The Queen City became a shining star because it had balance. Let’s bring it back.

Contributing columnist Kenny Smith can be reached at kennysmithclt@gmail.com