An article by Colin Campbell in the News & Observer suggests that Democrats are embracing litmus tests that will reduce moderates in the Democratic Party. He uses the recent example of the ousting of Kim Strach as head of the State Board of Elections and threats to hold state Senator Don Davis accountable for voting to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of an anti-abortion bill. I think Campbell has a point about the Democrats becoming more homogenous but I think he misses the point with both of these examples.

On the Strach controversy, I wish the board of elections had left her in place for a lot of reasons but I also understand, and I’m sure she did, too, that Strach was a political appointment who only survived as long as she did because of a court fight over jurisdiction. Had the GOP-controlled legislature not tried to strip Cooper’s power of appointment over the state board, Strach would have been gone two years ago. In another era, Strach may have been able to survive, but the heated environment over voting rights and access to polls, Democrats were not going to let a Republican appointee oversee the 2020 elections. Republicans have said out loud that they want to make voting more difficult while Democrats want to increase access. 

As for the veto dispute, Campbell is right that the so-called Born Alive bill is more of a political stunt than a significant piece of legislation. The bill won’t protect any babies but it will discourage doctors from performing late-term abortions on severely deformed fetuses, forcing mothers to carry non-viable babies to term. Abortion rights groups pledged to primary Don Davis for voting to override Cooper’s veto. The problem is as much about holding the caucus together as it about the bill itself. Democrats ended the GOP’s veto-proof majority but if they can’t sustain a veto, then their victory is hollow.  This bill is the first real test of their power. 

All of that said, Campbell has a point. Democrats need to build a bigger tent if they want to take the majority in either house of the legislature. As a New York Times article yesterday noted, the urban-rural divide is the problem facing Democrats. The party can blame gerrymandering for exacerbating their losses in district elections where they win the most votes statewide or nationally, but even if gerrymandering were eliminated, Democrats would only “neutralize their underlying disadvantage.”

As the article notes, Democrats are concentrated in cities while “Republicans are more efficiently distributed in a system that rewards spreading voters across space.” Democrats want to change the system to better represent a majority of the population, but first they must have power. To do that, they have to win in districts where voters are at odds with the agenda pushed by the most progressive and ascendant wing of the party 

Democrats in states like North Carolina need to get back to their roots. In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, they built a broad-based coalition of business friendly, socially progressive leaders who moved the state forward. They might not have been in the vanguard of pushing for LGBT rights or protecting access to abortion, but they prevented the most harmful legislation like the Born Alive bill, HB2 or Amendment One. The current GOP has pushed divisive legislation because they believe polarization is in their best political interest, regardless of the damage it does to the state. 

Democrats should be willing to accept a few socially conservative legislators in exchange for control of a legislative chamber. When Democrats had majorities in both the House and Senate, they always had a few pro-life members. Those folks might have kept North Carolina from enacting more progressive legislation, they also allowed the caucus to stop the divisive, draconian bills passed by the GOP. Moderation is the key to Democrats gaining control again. 

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