Rarely do we hear a politician talk so candidly and publicly about the shortcomings of his political party.
State Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat from Rockingham, did that recently at a luncheon with political and business leaders from across the state.
Democrats, Goodman said, lost about 25 General Assembly seats in the 2010 election. The pummeling gave Republicans their first two-chamber majority in more than a century.
Democratic leadership at the time thought voters just weren’t hearing them, but the opposite was true, Goodman said.
“We just weren’t hearing the voters,” he told more than 300 people at the luncheon, sponsored by the pro-business group the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation.
In 2012, Goodman said, Democrats lost about 10 more legislative seats. You'd think that would have driven home the point that people were fed up with the status quo, he said. (He didn’t say it, but I think he meant the “tax-and-spend” liberal Democrats, as Republicans like to call them).
Voters “wanted government to work and make a difference in their everyday lives,” Goodman said.
With that in mind at the start of the 2015 legislative session, Goodman, along with state Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte, formed the Main Street Democrats, a caucus centered around job growth and economic development, support for public education, and investments in infrastructure, technology and health care.
The Main Street Democrats, Goodman said, decided to “totally avoid divisive social issues” and instead work with the Republican majority to “advance good public policy.”
The caucus also agreed not to participate in “political posturing or destructive tactics,” Goodman said. In other words, they aim to be pro-business, moderate Democrats who change voters' attitudes about what the Democratic Party had become. They hope ultimately to win back seats for Democrats.
Goodman touted the group’s accomplishments to date. The big piece of economic incentives legislation during the 2015 session — House Bill 117 — wouldn’t have passed without the caucus’ support
because of opposition from the far right and far left. And about 30 House Democrats voted for the Republican-penned House version of the state budget because of the Main Street Democrats, Goodman said.
“Newspapers all over the state were writing about the emergence of a moderate voice within the Democratic caucus,” he said.
Goodman, who is running for re-election in 2016, said he understands that Republicans and Democrats have significant disagreements about policy and the role of government.
“That is healthy,” he said. “But when I talk to voters, they have no interest in hyper-partisanship and the ranting of the extreme right and the extreme left. They just want government to work.”
Just before this year’s legislative session concluded, Goodman said a senior Republican House member told him that Democrats lost touch with the people and got voted out of state government a few years ago.
“And I can see that beginning to happen on our side of the aisle,” the Republican said, according to Goodman.
And every time the Republicans in charge in Raleigh consider a far-right social issue, like waiting periods for abortions or allowing magistrates to opt out of performing gay marriages, the Main Street Democrats will be sitting there near the middle, waiting for many of their former voters to come back to them.
Sooner or later, they will.