Taking the short view, Winston-Salem City Council made what they thought was the right move last week regarding the city’s status as a “welcoming city.”
But it sure does look weak.
Councilmember Dan Besse worked the vanguard of the movement: a play designed to wriggle around a federal backlash against municipalities that declare themselves “sanctuary cities,” an appellation that comes with legislation partially protecting those cities’ immigrant communities from some instances of deportation. He didn’t have to propose any resolution — Greensboro and High Point certainly didn’t. It was designed to address the concerns of residents who want to defend undocumented immigrants from deportation while avoiding any language that would run afoul of federal and state law.
And when the Forsyth delegation came back from Raleigh, they brought with them a threat from on high. Even Democrat Rep. Ed Hanes urged Besse to quash his resolution. They said that about $13 million in state funds could be withheld from the city as punishment. Most of the rest of council agreed. Besse withdrew.
That feeling of hopelessness he experienced is exactly how our legislature intended it: Don’t even try it, or we will crush you.
These days the legislature seems to be going after every city in North Carolina: The water supply in Asheville has been stripped of local control. The state made a play for the airport in Charlotte, but lost in court. Greensboro was able to defend itself from a redistricting and restructuring gambit orchestrated by its own state senator, Trudy Wade. And we won’t get started on the bathrooms.
It’s time for North Carolina cities to stand up together.
But let’s get real for a minute: There are 10 million people living in North Carolina; more than half of them — 5.3 million — live in the top six metropolitan statistical areas of Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, Winston-Salem and Asheville.
State legislative overreach should not be a partisan issue — at least not in the traditional red/blue paradigm. These actions pit our cities, and those dependent on them for their livelihood, against our rural areas. The people in Sen. Majority Leader Phil Berger’s county of Rockingham are almost entirely dependent on the cities around it for their livelihood. And yet he’s the one in charge.
With the issue framed in this way, the numbers start to become uncomfortable for the folks trying to keep the cities down.
Our cities have leverage, through sheer numbers and economic impact. Winston-Salem, a place that’s pegged its entire brand to free and forward thinking, missed a great opportunity to remind the Forsyth County delegation of that fact.
It’s time for North Carolina cities to stand up. Because if we don’t fight back against the forces that would seek to impinge upon us, then we have already lost.