Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: As a graduate of the workforce, sometimes referred to as a retiree, I hike and kayak in the mountains. I often take off quite early in the morning. Regardless of the direction I go, the traffic coming into Asheville is at extremely high levels. Is there any data available on raw numbers, and percentages of individuals who drive into Asheville and Buncombe County for their work? Is there additional breakdown by which counties and communities they travel from? Has anyone looked at the total miles driven per year as an aggregate by these commuting workers? If there’s additional data on things like gender, age, or type of work I would be interested in that as well.
My answer: Personally, I think we’re all just driving these roads, particularly I-26, for the sheer enjoyment. I mean, where else do you get that sort of near-death experience on a daily basis, all for free?
Real answer: I went to Tom Tveidt, an economist and founder of Syneva Economics in Waynesville, for answers on this one.
“The Census Bureau tracks workforce commuting by comparing where you live to where you get your paycheck from,” Tveidt said via email. “This works well most of the time but also includes a few ‘commuters’ from places like Charlotte and Raleigh that probably aren’t actually driving here each day.”
That would include state government workers who get their checks from a state office somewhere else, for example.
With that in mind, here are the latest numbers for commuters, for Buncombe County, as of 2020:
- 122,651 people worked in the county.
- 53,096 commuted in for work (43.3 percent of the county’s workforce).
- 69,555 live and work in the county (56.7 percent of the county’s workforce).
- 34,807 live in the county but commute to another county for work.
- The top locations for in-commuters are Henderson (12,305), Haywood (5,903) and Madison (3,393).
- The number of in-commuters fluctuates year-to-year but generally has been increasing by an average of about 650 more each year.
These are the 2020 numbers for the city of Asheville:
- 83,987 people worked in the city.
- 64,544 commuted in for work (76.8 percent of the city workforce).
- 19,443 live and work in the city (23.2 percent of the city workforce).
- 17,082 live in the city but commute to another place for work.
- The top locations for in-commuters are Buncombe (48,017) Henderson (8,272), Haywood (4,057) and Madison (2,002).
- The number of in-commuters to the city is a bit volatile year-to-year but has been increasing by an average of about 575 more each year.
When asked about a breakdown of who these commuters are, by age and other characteristics, Tveidt had a pretty great response.
“As far as who these in-commuters are, yes there is a lot of tedious work that can be done with several other data sources to tease out their demographics, but with our agreed upon total budget of $0.00 and my real work’s value of slightly more $0.00 I thought I best stop here,” he said.
As the reader’s budget is also zero dollars, I concur.
Question: Recently Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County won her election as a Democrat by a significant margin in a heavily Democratic district, then promptly switched parties to become a Republican, giving the Republican majority a veto-proof majority in the North Carolina Legislature. My question is, can any of her constituents file a class action lawsuit against her for misrepresentation of her intentions during or after the election, or not representing the majority of her constituents views due to her party switch?
My answer: I’d like to file a lawsuit against the lottery for not allowing me to win. Ever. But I think that would have about as much of a chance at success as a suit against Cotham.
Real answer: Theoretically, you can sue just about anyone on anything, but the question is if it would actually get anywhere. In this case, the answer is decidedly “nope.”
“When you run for office, you’re not pledging allegiance to a party or ideology,” Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University, told me. “So, hundreds of state legislators have switched parties. It tends to be in the South, and it tends to be Democrat to Republican. There’s not an enforcement mechanism other than the ballot box.”
“Delegate representation is the idea that you just do what your constituents tell you to do all the time,” Cooper said. “Trustee representation is, they trust you to make the right decisions — that they’re the better angels of our nature. They make the better decisions.”
Cooper doubts Cotham would ever use the terms above.
“But in a way, Tricia Cotham is saying she believes in trustee representation — she was elected to make the best decision she could, and this was it,” Cooper said.
It’s not like Cotham signed a binding contact with the voters to stay in the Democratic Party.
I also asked Robert P. Joyce, a professor of public law and government at the UNC School of Government, for his opinion, noting Cooper’s assessment.
“I agree completely with Professor Cooper,” Joyce said via email. “I believe that the First Amendment right to freedom of association means that no one, even an elected official, is bound to become, or stay, a member of a particular political party.”
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