I had the privilege to chat with Carolyn Hunt for a little while during the Sanford-Hunt-Frye breakfast yesterday, and one of the main topics we discussed was recruiting candidates for the upcoming 2018 Legislative races. I also mentioned our previous efforts to keep track of the filing process, with an eye towards challenging as many R incumbents as we could. Understand folks: Filing season is coming up quickly, and finding the right person to run needs to start right now. By "right person" I don't necessarily mean somebody whose conservative leanings fit better in an R-leaning district, I mean somebody who has the smarts, the dedication, the motivation, and the pure energy it takes to swim against the current. Follow me below the fold and I'll tell you why I think this is so important:
For years I have heard (and seen it written) that organizing at the precinct level is a critical part of party-building. But until I actually took part in the process earlier this year, I really didn't comprehend how difficult that was. I live in a fairly populous county, and I just assumed that most (if not all) of our voting precincts were being at least monitored by Democrats, if not dominated by. The truth is, getting just five Democrats from almost any given precinct to show up is a monumental challenge, and way too many precincts end up with no officially recognized Democratic Party representation.
Now, we can argue all day about why that is happening, and point fingers at each other for past indiscretions or a culture of disregard for certain classes of voters, or what have you. But at the end of the day, we have to give these people a reason to show up. A local reason. Without a Democratic candidate to support for their NC Senate or House District, they can paste on their Hillary bumper stickers and look down their noses at Trump supporters in their neighborhood, but they're not going to knock on somebody's door and have that argument. Some might, but most won't. And I don't blame them. The cost/benefit analysis on that kind of activity is not encouraging. But if they can talk about a candidate who lives a couple miles away, maybe went to the same high school they did, now that's a different story. Then you can talk about things that happen right there in the district, or more importantly: Things that aren't happening. Teachers that aren't being paid properly, roads that aren't being maintained, and why all-of-a-sudden they have to pay sales taxes when they get their car fixed.
The bottom line is: We have a representative government. If we want more Democrats in areas currently dominated by Republicans, we have to give them representatives to vote for. I'm sure many of you will agree with me on this, but there is nothing more disheartening than looking at a ballot with only a Republican listed as running. You might say, "But Steve, that should encourage people to get involved, maybe run for office!" To which I would reply, "What world are you living in?" That may be evidence of a need for change, but it's also evidence of a lack of interest, a Party that has written off an entire District. Sure, we can get into the demographics, the reality of trying to use limited resources wisely and such. But to that person looking at the ballot, those are merely rationalizations, which quickly turns to ash in their mouths. A few election cycles of that, and they will either a) change their party affiliation to Republican or Unaffiliated so they can vote in the Republican Primary and at least "feel" like they're involved in choosing their Legislative reps, or b) Only vote in Presidential races where they actually have a choice, or c) just stop showing up on election day, period.
Something else I mentioned to Carolyn Hunt: We often hear talk about riding coattails, energetic Congressional or Presidential candidates helping "down-ballot" races. But it works both ways, doesn't it? During Governor Hunt's remarks yesterday, he mentioned the loss of Council of State seats, and this is an issue that has me more concerned (or just as) than our gerrymandered districts. These are state-wide races, totally outside the influence of redistricting, that rely exclusively on voter turnout. And we got our asses kicked. We went from a majority (5 out of 8) to a minority (3 out of 8) in the last election. And as we all know, incumbents on the Council of State are damned hard to tip out of their seats.
As a body, the Council of State doesn't exert a whole lot of influence, as compared to the main three branches of the government. But as a bellwether, a signal of trending phenomena, it is incredibly important. And not having Democratic candidates in over a third of the General Assembly races may have been a key factor in this upheaval. Yes, we retook the Governor's mansion. But after the feckless and downright embarrassing McCrory administration, and considering the many positive strengths of Roy Cooper, that election should have been a landslide, and not a 10,000 vote nail-biter.
Every General Assembly district contains Democrats, and they deserve a candidate to vote for. They deserve a candidate who will ask the tough questions of those Republican incumbents, who will take them to task. And once those questions are out there, that district's voting population might begin to have some questions of their own, and who knows where that will lead? There's only one way to find out.