State Democratic Party Must Remake Itself
The morning of Nov. 7 was bittersweet for North Carolina Democrats.
Even though the president narrowly lost this state, Democrats could look forward to a second term knowing that their relentless efforts on his behalf kept the Romney campaign from diverting resources elsewhere until the very end. Democrats managed to retain most of the Council of State in the face of a red tide election fueled by millions of dollars of outside money.
But the hard reality is that for the first time in more than a century Democrats are facing a Republican governor with super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. The NCDP faces daunting challenges for the foreseeable future.
Much of this was unavoidable.
The recession hit North Carolina particularly hard. Few governors faced more difficult circumstances than Beverly Perdue in 2008. Our unemployment spiked well above the national average after the financial crisis. The weakened economy led to weaker revenues for the state, which necessitated public sector layoffs that exacerbated the high unemployment rate.
The GOP rode the state's frustration with the slow recovery to win both houses in the state legislature in 2010, a census year. That meant that not only did they have the power to foil a Democratic governor, but they also could redraw congressional districts to their advantage for the next 10 years - and they did so with a vengeance.
Add to that mix $14.3 million in outside money spent on state-level races, with a 2-1 ratio in favor of Republicans, and the outcome of the elections was inevitable.
Still, if Democrats are to regain their relevance in North Carolina, they must acknowledge their complicity in the circumstances that overwhelmed them. A series of scandals over the past several years have diminished the stature of the party.
The "pay for play conviction" of former N.C. House Speaker Jim Black; the sordid affair of former presidential candidate and favorite son John Edwards; the malfeasance of former Gov. Mike Easley; and current state Democratic Party Chairman David Parker's unfathomable mishandling of sexual harassment claims against a former state party executive director - all combined to make a mockery of the once-proud party of Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt.
Worse, the party was weakened when the constituencies that those men fought so hard for - teachers, state universities, minorities, working class and marginalized North Carolinians - were already vulnerable to an unsympathetic General Assembly.
Last Saturday night, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, spoke passionately at the gala for Equality NC about the need to create a fusion between African-Americans, educators, labor, LGBT North Carolinians, Latinos and progressive whites to stand as one for the interests of minority, marginalized, middle class and working class North Carolinians.
In order to do that, the state party needs a fresh start. It needs to clean house and acknowledge and learn from its mistakes. It must communicate better, especially to middle- and working-class whites, the fact that wealth accumulates vastly more readily than it trickles down. It must do a better job of seeking and developing new leadership and supporting its candidates on every level. Finally, it must be better connected and more responsive to the needs of county parties.
The good news is that there is significant talent available. The "ground game" of the Obama campaign - the heavy reliance on volunteers knocking on doors, making calls and entering data - revealed a wealth of individuals with the drive and the inclination to be involved in renewing our state's fortunes. And there are young stars like Anthony Foxx, Tricia Cotham and Cal Cunningham with bright futures to build upon.
This should be a time for introspection for the NCDP - a time to reflect upon what it did wrong, what it did well, and what it can do better. It should be a time of preparing for the hard work of rebuilding a party worthy of the challenges facing North Carolinians.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at email@example.com.
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