- Associated Press - Friday, July 1, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The House shot down in a final-hour debate a powerful Senate leader’s bill that would have required the city of Asheville to abandon its current system of at-large city council elections and instead divide the city into six districts.

The House on Friday voted 47-59 against the measure by Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, that was fiercely opposed by the county delegation.

Representatives from both parties called the bill an unethical and meddlesome overreach into local governance.

Sen. John Blust, R-Guilford, urged Republicans to reject party influence, saying when he leaves the House he wants to walk out knowing he “never crawled.”

“I want to hold my head high knowing I did the best I could and I never compromised principle and if you hit that green button you’re compromising principle,” Blust said.

Others said the bill puts Asheville as first in line for dangerous precedent of “legislative gerrymandering.”

“It’s bad business now and it’ll be bad business when it happens in your district,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.

Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, criticized Apodaca for failing to gain the support of Buncombe County representatives on a local issue before filing.

Apodaca responded by saying he had fixed the issue by filing paperwork indicating that it is an elections bill and not subject to the same rules as local governing bills.

“While Rep. Fisher and her House colleagues may feel proud of delivering a cheap parting shot, all they have really accomplished is ensuring thousands of Asheville residents continue to have no voice on their city council,” Apodaca said in a statement following the vote.

Apodaca, who represents a small portion of South Asheville in Henderson County, said district elections would align Asheville election practices in other cities of similar size.

Supporters said the current system allows all council members to come from a disproportionately small area in the city of about 90,000.

“Geographic diversity does bring a city together and it’s really very healthy,” said Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth.

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