ASHEVILLE, N.C. | In western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, peak leaf season is 10 days away, and that normally means the daily arrival of 1,000 thirsty, camera-toting tourists to the Pisgah Inn.
For the Inn’s 90 employees, October leaf season is their Black Friday, the busiest month of the year and their last opportunity for the housekeepers, servers and dishwashers to squirrel away some cash before the winter season begins further south. But for five days, the Pisgah Inn – leased by the O’Connell family but technically owned by the National Park Service -- was shut down -- its gift shop locked, its rocking chairs empty. Armed park rangers were stationed at the parking lot entrance to block any would-be guests from checking in.
Thanks to an injunction a federal judge granted to operator Bruce O’Connell, the Inn is up and running, with the restaurant serving customers Wednesday night. But the showdown in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the government shutdown’s latest "Rorschach test" -- who you blame depends on your politics.
And in the 11th District of western North Carolina, a "ruby-red" district whose lines were drawn by state GOP lawmakers in 2011, O’Connell blames President Obama.
"You see some people might say Congress is at fault for shutting down the government," he told America Tonight. "With one stroke of the pen, the president could put my 90 employees back to work, and then he could argue about Obamacare tomorrow."
Meanwhile, O’Connell has nothing but praise for his own congressman, a tea party-backed freshman Republican named Mark Meadows, who authored a letter in August suggesting to House Speaker John Boehner that he defund Obamacare in any "relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor." When Meadows’ letter came to light, CNN quickly called him the "architect of the shutdown." But to O’Connell, Meadows is a hero.
“My representative has been on the phone with me constantly, trying to fight to get this place open,” O’Connell said.
Steve LaTourette, a Republican former congressman from Ohio, had some choice words for the tactic Meadows – and the two-dozen or so other House Republicans who want to defund Obamacare – is using.
“I think it is disgusting,” LaTourette told America Tonight. "And it’s disgusting in the way that it is not the way the system is supposed to work."
LaTourette added: "These guys just want to take a hammer to the fuse box and wonder why the lights aren’t on. That’s not being a legislator. And, these guys, in my observation have no interest in governing, have no interest in being legislators. They just want to blow the place up."
LaTourette blames the growing internal GOP division over redistricting. It’s the process of redrawing a state’s congressional districts every 10 years based on the latest Census, and it’s a political tool used by whichever party is in power to gain or hold congressional seats.
"If you look at some of the districts of these folks that are causing so much difficulty, you find 70 or 75 percent of Republicans packed into those districts,” LaTourette said. “And what that does is, nobody is really afraid of November anymore. This Congress will go down in history as the Congress with the fewest number of competitive seats.”
Before redistricting, Meadows’ 11th District was considered one of the most competitive congressional districts in North Carolina. That’s because the district included the city of Asheville -- sometimes called the San Francisco of the South because of its artsy, freewheeling vibe and reliably Democratic politics. But in 2011, the district became as red as the leaves around here.
When Republicans took control of the State General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction, they seized the opportunity to split Asheville between two congressional districts, making the 11th the most Republican district in the state.
“I’ve seen some pretty crazy maps, but I never would have calculated the map that they drew for this one,” said Charles Carter, a former Democratic state senator from 1998 to 2002.
Carter added: “There is no doubt that redistricting and gerrymandering is at the core of what’s happening in Washington.”