Those of us who spend our time plugged to our computers and televisions day in and day out to stay abreast of local, state and national news are no doubt weary already from the inundation of announcements. It seems like everyone and their cousin is running for office this year, which is particularly interesting since the offices they seek are up for election next year. Not nearly two months removed from the last huge election, 2020 is already gearing up to be a killer.
Now, given how many people are running, it merits extra scrutiny on the part of the voter to pare down the field and select those who will go on to represent their respective parties in the general election. Of those that proceed, half will end up in office and running things around the Tar Heel State. That alone should give us pause, and encourage an evenhanded view of those seeking the levers of power.
One such person is Dan Forest. Forest is the incumbent Lieutenant Governor, and a Republican. The North Carolina LG is term-limited to two consecutive terms, so Forest is unable to run again. But fear not! For as long as he has been Lieutenant Governor, it’s been clear that Forest was itching to drop the first half of his title and move next door into the Executive Mansion. And now his time may have come.
Yesterday, Forest released his video announcing that he was forming an exploratory committee to get the ball rolling on his election efforts. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll coast through an easy primary, or if his former colleague Pat McCrory will seek another term as governor in a rematch against incumbent Democrat Roy Cooper. Part of McCrory’s schtick as a candidate was that he was a moderate, business conservative, something necessary to have been a popular enough Mayor of Charlotte. In practice, though, McCrory bowed to the fiercely conservative General Assembly on many issues, and his electoral defeat was in no small part due to difficult positions on social issues that they forced him to defend.
But in that department, Dan Forest will have no trouble. He has a clear history of far-right, ultra-conservative viewpoints and positions. Though he has only released the one video so far with regard to the gubernatorial primary, there’s already a tinge of dishonesty. The video opens with random clips of violent protests and interactions between protestors and police. The News & Observer, along with conservative bloggers, have painted his announcement as some sort of unifying message, where Forest will run as the man who can mend the divisions within our state. Yeah, right.
Division is the crucible in which Dan Forest was forged. Forest rose to prominence on the heels of the Tea Party movement, a strain of conservatism uninterested with and unmotivated by consensus or reconciliation. That wing of the Republican Party is interested only in sowing division and winning conservative victories. To think that Dan Forest, now primed for the biggest race of his life, would suddenly shy away from what gave him prominence in the first place is naïve.
The best example of this divisive brand of politics is, of course, the dreaded HB2. No piece of legislation in the past decade has been so unnecessary, nakedly discriminatory and laughable than the so-called bathroom bill. But, for Dan Forest, it was a hill to die on. While businesses declined to move jobs to the state, and large events were postponed or canceled, Forest continued to trumpet the value and necessity of the bathroom bill, and how dangerous our state would be without it.
What struck me as strange about the whole thing was that anybody paying attention should’ve known that it was much ado about nothing. What existed before HB2? Nothing. Did Forest et al believe that there were no transgender people in the state before Charlotte passed its ordinance? That they did not use the bathroom in public? Regardless of your stance on the whole issue, we didn’t have a problem before Raleigh made it a problem. And Dan Forest proudly defended it, not because it provided any value to anybody, but because it was a popular way to bash people for being different and give the implication that transgender people were somehow dangerous to society. As anyone that has thought about it for more than a second could tell you, just because someone is in a bathroom doesn’t mean they have the right to do whatever they want. The law doesn’t just disregard any interactions that take place near porcelain thrones. Anyone engaged in criminal activity within bathrooms is still liable to be arrested and tried, irrespective of their gender.
So, given his history of stoking divisions that divide us rather than bring us together, I’m not really inclined to give Dan Forest the benefit of the doubt to his rebranded image of a unifier. And neither, apparently, is the Republican Governors Association. As Robert Howard, NCDP Communications Director noticed on Twitter:
Not exactly the way you want to launch a campaign….
— Robert Howard (@RobertWHoward) January 29, 2019
If Republicans don’t trust Dan Forest, who else would?
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.