Rule #1: If You Want to Lead a Purple, Business-Friendly State, Recruit a Purple, Business-Friendly Slate June 6, 2013 Vol. VI, No. 11 3:13 pm North Carolina was the last Southern state east of the Mississippi River to give Republicans exclusive power over state government and may be the first to give power back
Rule #1: If You Want to Lead a Purple, Business-Friendly State, Recruit a Purple, Business-Friendly Slate
June 6, 2013 Vol. VI, No. 11 3:13 pm
North Carolina was the last Southern state east of the Mississippi River to give Republicans exclusive power over state government and may be the first to give power back to the Democrats … both for the same reason: we are a swing state dominated by urban voters and greatly influenced by education-oriented business leaders who run global corporations.
In North Carolina, neither party has an inherent partisan advantage. Ideologically, we are precariously balanced. Not a predictably Republican “red” state. Not a predictably Democratic “blue” state. We are a purple state; a purple state with an urban hue.
Demographic trends driven by population growth argue that Democrats have a bright future in North Carolina, and sooner than later at that if Republicans distance themselves too far to the ideological right on social and economic policy. Too far to the right for most urban voters, too far for most globally oriented business leaders, most women, and most of our emerging generation of young voters.
North Carolina, the 10th largest state in the nation, has grown at twice the national average for 20 years. Voter registrations have soared from 3.4 million in 1993 to 6.4 million voters today. In 2012, only about half of all voters were native North Carolinians.
Migration studies have consistently shown that most of North Carolina’s newcomers are not from the South. They are from states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and New Jersey. Polls show that newcomers are far less likely than natives to be conservative.
Urban newcomers in North Carolina favor Democrats over Republicans. They are more moderate than conservative, more tolerant than intolerant, more independent than partisan and more pro-government than anti-government. They are more likely to see a direct and positive relationship between public investment and private sector competitiveness, between public investment and quality of life.
Twenty-one of the 28 members of the North Carolina Metro Mayors Association are Democrats. Half of the state’s voters are in only 13 of 100 counties. In the 2012 General Elections, when Republicans won majorities in the state House, the state Senate and won the Governor’s Mansion, those 13 urban counties gave President Obama 1,266,602 votes to Romney’s 976,703 votes.
Urban voters are the Democrats best hope for political recovery.
The 10-Part Series on Democratic Political Recovery
This report is the first in a 10-part series on the keys to political recovery for North Carolina Democrats. As with the previous series on Republican political longevity, no state legislator or legislative staff member was interviewed. All interviews were conducted with the promise of anonymity.
During the months of June, July and August, these questions will be explored:
- How can Democrats raise a competitive war chest without power?
- What is the profile of the next generation of Democratic leaders?
- How can Democrats rebuild the trust of the state’s business community?
- Where are the targeted opportunities for 2014?
- Will private sector women provide Democrats their best hope for recovery?
- Will research park business leaders be repelled by GOP hardliners?
- What are the political recovery issues for Democrats?
- Can you harvest a crop with your hands cuffed?
- What are the most important opposition research opportunities for Democrats?
- How do you begin a new generation of Democratic leaders with the under-40 voters?
- What technological advantages are Democrats better capable of exploiting?
- When are Democrats likely to achieve political recovery in North Carolina?
Today I am beginning the 10-part series with Rule #1: If you want to lead a purple, business-friendly state, you have to recruit a purple, business-friendly slate.
Business didn’t leave the Democrats, the Democrats left Business
If archconservative Republican caucus members in the state legislature continue to pull the GOP to the bright red side of the social and economic political spectrum, they will get Republicans into trouble with urban voters, with women, with young voters, and with the all-important moderate independent voter.
They will also get Republicans into hot water with the state’s globally oriented research park corporate community and many other progressive private sector business leaders around the state.
That’s what happened to Democrats. They were so powerful that they no longer saw the value in maintaining ideologically-balanced state Senate and House caucuses. Business-friendly caucuses.
Democrats forgot the 100-year-old public/private partnership between education oriented business leaders and business oriented education leaders that set the state apart from the rest of the Old South; that created the best state in America to do business long before Republicans gained the upper hand.
A new breed of Democrats emerged who no longer found value in their relationship with business leaders. That is, other than their role as fundraisers. Great governors like Jim Hunt, who personally sold the CEO community on education reforms for three decades, were followed by weak governors like Beverly Perdue who had to be sued so that the constitutionally authorized Superintendent of Pubic Instruction could run the public school system. Governor Mike Easley, Perdue’s predecessor, neglected the long-respected Governor’s Business Committee on Education. He disdained meeting with CEOs.
While Democrats were electing governors who alienated the state’s CEO community with either their indifference or their incompetence, Democratic leaders in the state Senate and House were equally indifferent to maintaining balanced, business oriented caucuses.
The 2011 business ratings of North Carolina Senators and House members conducted by the business-sponsored North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation showed:
- Only 2 of 19 Senate Democrats had business ratings above 70% (highest business category)
- Only 6 of 52 House Democrats had business ratings above 70%
When it was time to elect caucus leaders, which ideological group do you think prevailed? Now you know why business and agricultural interests lost confidence in Senate and House Democrats.
Abandon the middle at your own peril
Democrats not only abandoned the state’s business and agricultural leaders, they abandoned the majority of voters clustered near the middle of the ideological spectrum. Democrats created a political vacuum that Republicans were more than happy to fill.
That’s what Republicans risk doing today: abandoning the middle. Creating a political vacuum that offers Democrats renewed hope for political recovery.
In order to ready themselves for the opportunity for political recovery, Democrats must do two things.
First, they have to get over their loss of power. Get over the anger and the denial and the blame game.
Two Democrats come to mind who set the example for how to lose: former “Speaker for Life” Liston Ramsey and former governor Jim Hunt.
Liston Ramsey, a Madison County Democrat who served 19 consecutive terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives, was elected speaker in 1981. He became the first legislator in North Carolina history to hold the speaker's office for four terms. He was frequently referred to as "Speaker for Life."
On the opening day of the 1989 session of the General Assembly, a political coup organized in secret by a small group of disgruntled Democrats along with House Republicans led to Ramsey’s defeat.
Liston Ramsey accepted his new role as merely another House member and served with distinction and integrity for another 10 years. He never once played the blame game or showed any anger or exhibited any form of sour grapes. He simply went back to work.
Governor Jim Hunt did the same thing in 1985 after losing the epic battle with Jesse Helms to serve in the U.S. Senate. I asked one of Governor Hunt’s closest friends how long it took Hunt to recover from that devastating defeat. “It took him six to nine months to come to terms personally with the loss,” his friend told me, “but then he went right back to work, beginning with the creation of the Emmerging Issues Forum in 1985.”
Since that time, Hunt has achieved an extraordinary and unprecedented list of accomplishments … serving two more terms as governor, helping grow NC State University into a flagship university, with national and international standing equal to UNC - Chapel Hill. Anyone who doubts that claim has yet to see the Centennial Campus … or visit the Hunt Library.
That's the way to lose. Go back to work. It's not about you, it's about what you believe.
The second thing Democrats must do in order to be prepared for the opportunity to recover their political standing in state government is to rebuild their relationship with the state’s business community.
You accomplish that by recruiting Democrats from the world of business to serve at all levels of government. You build a farm team of new business Democrats from the ground up. Every leadership position. City, county and state. You seek the advice of business people in all that you do.
Demographic trends driven by population growth argue that Democrats have a bright future in North Carolina, and sooner than later if Republicans distance themselves too far to the ideological right on social and economic policy. But Democrats must be ready for the next opportunity to lead.
If you want to lead a purple, business-friendly state, you have to recruit a purple, business friendly slate.
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