“If the effort [North Carolina First political party] does manage to get on the ballot, expect candidates in U.S. House races in Districts 7 [Democrat Mike McIntyre], District 8 [Democrat Larry Kissell] and District 11 [Democrat Heath Shuler]. They’re the homes of the three Democratic members of Congress who voted against their party’s healthcare bill.”
“If the effort [North Carolina First political party] does manage to get on the ballot, expect candidates in U.S. House races in Districts 7 [Democrat Mike McIntyre], District 8 [Democrat Larry Kissell] and District 11 [Democrat Heath Shuler]. They're the homes of the three Democratic members of Congress who voted against their party's healthcare bill.” [i]
The image of Democratic candidates running for political office in North Carolina this year reminds me of Lord Tennyson’s dramatic Crimean War poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. Written in 1854, the poem tells the true story of British Cavalry charging into a valley with the Russian enemy on three sides. Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them, cannon in front of them … into the jaws of Death, into the mouth of Hell rode the six hundred.
As if Democrats didn’t already have their hands full charging into battle with Republicans to the right of them and 1.4 million Unaffiliated voters in front of them, along comes a new union-backed group to the left of them called North Carolina First.
North Carolina First is funded by SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. SEIU invested $1.8 million in North Carolina candidates in 2008. SEANC, the State Employees Association of North Carolina, is SEIU’s Local #2008. Although 97% of their money went to Democrats in 2008, SEIU is back in 2010 to teach three conservative Democrats who voted against Obama’s healthcare bill a lesson. And they are not stopping with Members of Congress.
North Carolina First likely to Field Union Candidates this Fall
Although the impetus for the creation of the North Carolina First political party was to defeat those who voted against Obama’s healthcare bill, organizers told me this week that their concerns are broader than healthcare and include any and all “issues related to jobs for working families” (political speak for “the union agenda”). I was also told that the new party does not plan to limit its combat to the federal arena. For emphasis: reread that last sentence.
Lori Lodes, spokeswoman for North Carolina First, told Politico that the initiative grew out of the frustration that voters had only two choices, “Republicans who went to Washington and looked out for the insurance industry or Democrats who went to Washington and looked out for the insurance industry.” [i]
In order to qualify as a political party, North Carolina First organizers must get 85,379 signatures on petitions by June 1. Once the petitions are reviewed and approved by the State Board of Elections, the North Carolina First political party would then have until July 1 to hold a convention and nominate candidates for the November ballot.
Greg Rideout, spokesman for North Carolina First, said that over 100 canvassers are circulating petitions to get the party’s candidates on the ballot, and that they are at about 25% of their goal. With the financial support and organizing skill of SEIU, along with the able assistance of SEANC, North Carolina First will likely have candidates on the ballot this fall.
Not tho’ the soldier knew Someone had blunder’d …
The Charge of the Light Brigade, although immortalized by Tennyson as a tale of military heroics, is a historic event studied to this day as an example of mistakes made by commanders in the heat of battle. At first glance, North Carolina First is a political blunder made by the leaders of SEIU and SEANC. It is a blunder because it will undoubtedly divide loyal Democratic constituents, namely state employee union households, against Democratic candidates facing GOP opposition in the fall … virtually assuring Republican wins in many close races.
Have the North Carolina First organizers forgotten the fact that Green Party rogue liberal Ralph Nader won 97,488 votes in Florida in 2000, giving the state and the keys to the Oval Office to George W. Bush who carried the state by only 543 votes out of 6 million cast? The only justification I can think of for dividing the Democratic Party with a rogue third party is that SEIU and SEANC are primarily interested in the long term growth of public employee unions and have given up on the North Carolina Democratic Party as a means to that end.
SEANC’s Dana Cope went Rogue before Sarah Palin made it Vogue
North Carolina First has all of the appearances of a liberal Democratic Tea Party movement: angry voters fed up with both parties and capitalizing on the antiestablishment angst of the era by going rogue. Certainly no one would be surprised. After all, SEANC is headed by Dana Cope, its long-time combative Executive Director who went rogue long before Sarah Palin made going rogue vogue.
On Monday, The Washington Post carried a story in which Cope was reported as saying, "No more are we going to blindly support you because you're a Democrat."[ii] Clearly the state Democratic Party is concerned about the mutineers. Andrew Whalen, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, told The Washington Post, "It's an unfortunate turn of events that they’ve decided this is how they want to use their energy and resources."
SEIU is Savvy, Well Financed and Welcomed in the White House
SEIU, SEANC’S parent union, is the leader of the nation's fastest-growing union sector, public employee unions. While private sector unionization is declining, 37.4% of public employees are now represented by unions. There are more public employees in unions in American today (7.9 million) than in private sector unions (7.4 million).[iii]
SEIU's potential clout is greatly enhanced by the close personal relationship between its president, Andy Stern, and President Obama. After Obama's first full year in office, the White House released a list of visitors who had met with the president and top White House officials. "One thing is clear,” observed the Wall Street Journal, “SEIU’s President Andrew Stern holds sway at the White House, where he’s listed for 22 visits—the top number on the logs.”[iv]
Although Stern announced early this month that he is leaving SEIU after 38 years, he is leaving a finely tuned organization with 2.2 million members who are still beaming with pride from their key role in the election of President Obama and the passage of healthcare reform. He is also leaving an organization that was the top independent expenditure group in the U.S. in 2009 … a group that spent in excess of $80 million to influence the 2008 elections alone.
Data from 2008 crunched by CataList and the Analyst Institute shows that a commitment to personal contact and the resources to pay its members to do full time political field work is what distinguishes SEIU from other politically active progressive groups. [v] That’s the level of commitment and funding that SEIU is bringing to North Carolina with the North Carolina First political party initiative.
No one should take North Carolina First for granted ... especially Democrats, now riding valiantly into battle with Republicans to the right of them and 1.4 million Unaffiliated voters in front of them and the union-backed North Carolina First firing at them from the left.
But where are North Carolina business leaders in this story of mighty valor in the face of great danger on the political battlefield of the Old North State? They are watching safely in the distance, with their lobbyists planning a reception for the winners.
[v] The Atlantic, SEIU’s Data Footprint in 2008, Marc Ambinder, October 6, 2009