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Bunkey-mandering

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If you need any more proof than Bob Geary's story this week about the vanishing role voters are playing in North Carolina, look no further than Chatham County. In May, voters rebelled against the county's downward spiral into sprawl by bouncing Commissioner Bunkey Morgan and his allies off the county board. It was a resounding victory for democracy and citizen activism.

But Morgan, who is backed by the region's major real estate interests, isn't riding off into the sunset. Instead, he's approving subdivisions left and right, pushing through water plans to open up more rural acres to development and--in an attempt to make sure those pesky voters stop interfering--is revamping Chatham's electoral systems to facilitate his return to office and dilute the political base of his opponents.

So, with a nod to Harper's, we offer "The Bunkey Index":

  • Number of months Morgan held office before he lost, during which he could have initiated redistricting if it were a priority: 42
  • Months after his defeat that he made the proposal: 2
  • Months he gave the redistricting committee to draft a plan completely redrawing voting maps and switching from at-large voting to voting by district: less than one
  • Number of committee members representing northeastern Chatham, where nearly half the county's population is concentrated and where Morgan is least popular: zero
  • Commissioner elections won by African-Americans under the at-large voting in place for three decades: 8
  • Black candidates elected prior to at-large voting: 0
  • Amount given to Morgan's campaign four days before the 2006 primary by County Attorney Bob Gunn, who presided over the nullification of legal challenges to Morgan's candidacy in 2002: $200
  • Percentage increase in Gunn's retainer Morgan supported one month later: 21
  • Year in which Morgan could seek office again under the current electoral system: 2010
  • Year in which he can under the proposal: 2008

That's just a small snapshot of the power struggles happening in Chatham right now. If you feel the urge to contribute to one of many citizen groups fighting the good fight--and hear some great music in the process--see Best Bets on page 5. For another example of corporate interests prevailing over civic ones near Siler City, see Triangles on page 12. And to see live action and maybe weigh in yourself, head down the courthouse in Pittsboro on Aug. 21 at 6 p.m., for the public hearing on the redistricting scheme. Don't let them make you invisible.

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