Democrats: Get over it and get moving

by | Apr 8, 2013 | Democrats, Editor's Blog, Education, NC Politics | 9 comments

Two myths seem to be dominating Democrats’ analysis of their problems. The first is that Art Pope “bought” the elections for Republicans. The second is that focusing on education is the winning message for Democrats. Like many myths, they each have a grain of truth but both are greatly exaggerated.

Yes, Art Pope put a whole lot of money in political campaigns and infrastructure, but he started 20 years before they won control of the legislature. The GOP victory in 2010 had far more to do with the national wave that swept Republicans into office all over the country than with Art Pope’s money. The Republicans maintained control with the most successful redistricting plan in the nation. Pope’s money during the 2012 election just helped ensure they didn’t screw it up.

Democrats should spend less time worrying about Pope (he’s not going away) and spend more time rebuilding their financial infrastructure. They don’t necessarily need the most money, but they do need enough money. Campaigns need a viable candidate and the resources to build an organization, develop a message and strategy and effectively communicate with voters. As a minority party, Democrats are going to have to be smarter and more strategic to win campaigns in North Carolina.

Which leads to the second myth, that focusing on education is the key to salvation for Democrats. While Democrats certainly have more credibility on education than Republicans, that doesn’t mean it will lead them out of the wilderness. For 20 years, Democrats used education as their signature issue and to drive a wedge between them and Republicans, but that won’t work anymore.

When Jim Hunt made education the centerpiece of his 1992 campaign for governor, North Carolina was in the midst of an economic transformation that was causing our population to explode. While our new industries were high tech, our public schools were not. Our teachers were underpaid, our classrooms were overcrowded, our buildings outdated and too many of our students were entering first grade ill-prepared to succeed. Hunt’s ideas were grand and innovative and caught the attention of the whole nation.

The political landscape has changed since then and, once again, North Carolina faces big challenges. Instead of education, we face structural unemployment and a rapidly growing, diverse population. While education might be part of the solution, it’s not all of it. Jim Hunt’s genius wasn’t just transforming education; it was understanding the needs of the state at a particular time in history and addressing those needs with new and bold ideas.

If Democrats in North Carolina want to get back in power, they need to stop blaming external factors like Art Pope and quit trying to get back to the past. They need to accept their own responsibility for their electoral failures. They ran the same campaign for 20 years and developed few bold or innovative ideas over the past decade. They tolerated cronyism and failed to develop new leaders. If they want to win again, they need to look ahead and offer voters a vision for the future, not a retooled plan for the past.


  1. Thomas Mills

    Jimmy, John, thanks for your comments. John, as for structural uemployment, I meant that we have areas with workforces trained for jobs that are no longer available and an infrastructure designed to support industries that are no longer there and not coming back. I believe we need a major investment in infrastructure and we will need to retrain the workforce support the industries that move to or start up in these areas.

  2. John Jones

    “we face structural unemployment “…

    Structural unemployment implies there are jobs going unfilled because workers lack the proper training, are in the wrong locale, etc. There is always some of that, but the jobs just are not there — in absolute terms — to employ the large number of unemployed in NC. We need economic growth, new entry level jobs, an increase in consumer demand leading to companies adding jobs. And the Republican legislature & governor are not likely to back policies which really work against the near depression economic conditions we find ourselves in.

  3. jimmy rouse

    “Democrats should spend less time worrying about Pope (he’s not going away) and spend more time rebuilding their financial infrastructure.”

    And not electing a state party chairman owing over $200,000 in back income taxes. I have a feeling that will be a huge distraction.

  4. Thomas Mills

    Thanks, Ginger. I hope you keep coming back. Please take a look around and check out some of my other posts. I always appreciate feedback.

  5. Ginger Nelles

    I believe the premise of the article was the two myths Thomas mentioned in the opening sentence. I’m sure there’s no dearth of good ideas for future columns and look forward to them.

  6. Chris Telesca

    Remarkable for what was missing from this.

    rThere was no discussion of the hijacking of the Democratic Party by President Obama’s campaign organization OFA starting in June 2008. How OFA went from being a private business dedicated to electing Obama in 2008 to becoming a special project of the DNC in 2009, then back to being a campaign organization in 2011, then becomes a non-profit, corporately-funded, special-interest advocacy group after the 2012 election.

    There was no discussion of how Obama won by a slim margin of 14K votes in 2008, but got his ass kicked by nearly 100K votes in 2012 even with OFA on the ground from late 2011 on. Basically – if OFA methods were so good from June through November 2008, why didn’t they work even better (win by even more votes) with OFA being on the ground for nearly a year for the 2012 election?

    There was no discussion of the failure of the OFA methods that were carried over to races in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Nor why some of the same loser staffers, campaign workers and consultants who “screwed the pooch” in 2010 were still in positions to call the shots in 2011 and 2012?

    There was no discussion of how candidates and electeds were doing “every man/woman for themselves” – starting with Bev Perdue! She waited till the last minute to declare she wasn’t running, then selfishly kept her campaign fund to herself. Maybe it wasn’t enough to win for Dalton, but it was assumed she was running up until she said she was not running. So after a lengthy campaign and primary – Dalton went on to lose by 500K votes. Linda Coleman lost by only 6K votes – but she had the unions behind her.

    There was no discussion of party-building: organizing precincts; trying to get more people active in the Democratic Party where they will (or should) have a real voice in deciding the party platform; then electing Democrats who will (if they win back the majority) work to turn our party platform into public policy. If you want to know why many people are tired – it’s not that they minded losing – I just mind it when candidates and electeds tell me how important my labor is, but they only seem to want to deliver to the folks who give them LOADS of money. Shouldn’t labor and capital be rewarded equally by our elected public leaders?

    Of course there was also the 800 pound gorilla (the DNC Convention) sucking all the oxygen out of the room from January 2011 on. It’s all anyone seemed to care about. I’d have told people if you don’t have your precinct organized you can’t even begin to think about going to Charlotte. And people who can’t be bothered to even try and organize their own precinct have no business running for higher offices in the Party or auxiliaries.

    I’ll just say this – after the historic ass kicking we got in 2010 and 2012, along with the local races in 2009 and 2011, now is the time to rebuild the Democratic Party from the grassroots on up. Spend lots of time organizing precincts and building up networks of volunteers in each precinct that will go out and canvass for each and every Democratic candidate on the ballot. Canvass every Democratic and UNA voter in your precinct – get to know them personally. Use the “Constructing Victory” model – each volunteer commits to canvassing 20 voters 3 times before the elections. It will work better than phone banking through Votebuilder – I mean we can use VB data as a starting point for a census canvass where we go around to every door and validate the data and get to know our neighbors. Otherwise when we call a number that isn’t working – how will we ever get a working number for that voter if we don’t visit them?

  7. Thomas Mills

    Thanks, Butch and Patsy. I hope you will keep stopping by. Patsy, I agree that public education is an important issue. I just think that Democrats have made the mistake of confusing an issue with a message.

  8. Patsy Keever

    This article lays it on the line. We Democrats need to have a vision and give people a reason to believe in us. I still believe, however, that public education is critical to the success of our state and our nation.

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