Dan Besse makes his stand

by YES! Staff

Dan Besse is absolutely right.

The Winston-Salem city councilman took a stand last week against a proposed resolution by the city to oppose the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which equated money with free speech and enabled corporations and unions to make unlimited financial contributions to the political process.

His point — that the workings o the federal government and the Supreme Court do not fall under the purview of the city council, and that to address this resolution is a monumental waste of time — is completely valid.

But the time is being spent regardless of Besse’s opposition, largely at the behest of his political allies and constituents. Besse has been a consistent progressive voice on council since he was elected in 2001. His cohort on the general government committee — Molly Leight and James Taylor— supports the resolution. Occupy Winston-Salem, to which Besse has seemed sympathetic in past dealings, stands firmly behind the proposal. And 12 cities in North Carolina have already officially moved to oppose the Citizens United decision.


Surely there would be no harm to Dan Besse’s political future by backing down on his stance and throwing in with the opposition groups. It’s an election year, after all, and though Besse’s Southwest Ward seat seems safe, he will surely face a Republican opponent in the General Election. And while he’s unlikely to win over any of the tea-party set, by staking this ground he could stand to lose a few votes from his core constituency.

So what, exactly, is Besse thinking? “There is no political payoff,” Besse admitted in an interview on Friday. “I get hammered every time I take this position.”

For him, this amounts to a principled stance that us actually in line with his record of service.

“I strongly believe that as a good-government issue, that local governments should focus on the good things we can do — services and infrastructure that we are responsible for — instead of serving as an adjunct public debating society on issues over which we have no jurisdiction,” he said.

“I actively take part in policy debate on these and other issues in other forums,” he continued. “I’m in the middle of a public fight with gun-enthusiast groups over the assaultweapons ban. I was a very active advocate for the passage of the Affordable Care Act. I have been an environmental-quality advocate all my life, and I continue to take part in those battles. There is a place where people who are elected to public office and responsibility need to focus on doing the jobs they’re elected to do. And at the local level that means focusing on the things we can do for our community.”

But wouldn’t it be easier, not to mention more politically expedient, to let this one go? Besse says no.

“If you can’t act on what you believe is the right thing to do, then you shouldn’t be in office,” he said.

In that context, Besse’s actions make sense.

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