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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Lynn Wheeler's death marks the passing of a certain type of Charlotte Republican

The death of former Charlotte City Council member Lynn Wheeler marks the end of an era in the city. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, explains.

Lynn Wheeler liked to flirt and she liked to gossip. I always thought it was a little bit of an act, the kind of thing some Southern women do to keep you from noticing how smart they are.

Either way, she was memorable.

Wheeler died two Saturdays ago at age 80 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was elected to the Charlotte City Council in 1989 and served for 14 years. And she was one of the last of a nearly extinct species in our city: a moderate Republican who matters.

Wheeler’s signature accomplishment was helping get the Spectrum Center built uptown even after voters had rejected the idea in a referendum. Getting the arena built brought the NBA back to Charlotte, got us the 2012 Democratic Convention, and helped give the center city the heartbeat it deserved. It also helped cost Wheeler her seat. She lost her next bid for reelection.

Pat McCrory, then Charlotte’s mayor, worked alongside Wheeler to get the arena built. He was a moderate Republican, too, at least when he was mayor. He yanked the wheel hard to the right to win the governor’s race, and, I think, lost his way.

He was one of a trio of moderate Republicans who held the mayor’s job — first Sue Myrick, then Richard Vinroot, then McCrory. It’s hard to believe now, but not that long ago — from 1987 through 2009 — Charlotte had Republican mayors for 22 years in a row. Vinroot, in particular, is one of the kindest and most decent people I’ve ever met in politics, and he still has friends in every corner of Charlotte.

But I doubt we’ll have many more here like him, or Lynn Wheeler, for two reasons.

One is that Charlotte, like most American cities, has become bluer as areas outside the cities get redder. Democrats have a majority for the foreseeable future on the city council and county commission, and the same kind of hold on the mayor’s seat. It would take a truly exceptional Republican to get elected mayor in Charlotte now.

And that brings us to the other reason: I’m not sure many truly exceptional Republicans exist anymore.

Who’s the most prominent Republican in Charlotte now? Dan Bishop is the first one who comes to mind — he lives in Waxhaw now, but he’s a former Mecklenburg commissioner so we’ll count him. Having been elected to the United States House, one of the most important positions of government in our system, he has decided that his most important job is finding somebody in the Biden administration, or the Biden family, to impeach. He has now decided to run for North Carolina attorney general, which is probably a net plus for America but not so great for North Carolina.

The next most prominent Republican is state House member Tricia Cotham. I guess you could say she has experience working both sides of the aisle, since she switched to Republican only after being elected as a Democrat in 2022. She then cast the deciding vote to further restrict abortions in North Carolina.

Demographics have pushed Charlotte to the left. Donald Trump’s black hole of morality has pulled the entire Republican Party to the right. The bridges that used to connect the parties are down to a thread of dental floss.

There won’t be another Lynn Wheeler coming through the door anytime soon. And that’s a loss for everyone.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.