Phil Berger proved, once again, that he is the savviest Republican leader in Raleigh. While Thom Tillis and Pat McCrory continue to avoid the Moral Monday protesters, the senate leader met with them. Not only is it smart politics, it’s what the leader of an open government is supposed to do.
In meeting with the protesters and treating them respectfully, Berger is changing the perception of the GOP leadership. For a year, the Republican response to the protesters has either been ridicule or avoidance. Both responses drew criticism in the press and fueled the expansion of the protests. Because of gerrymandering Republicans seem to have forgotten that they only won 51% of the legislative vote in 2012 and are unfazed by their low approval ratings. Berger understands that he needs broader support if he wants to continue to push his agenda.
Berger acknowledged that the protesters had legitimate concerns and showed a willingness to listen, even though he told them he might not act on their proposals. That response may frustrate the protesters themselves, but, to the general public, it makes Berger look far more reasonable than his counterparts in the house and Governor’s Mansion. He’s giving the senate a kinder, gentler face even if his policies are unchanged. In short, it’s smart politics.
In contrast, when was to send the protesters cookies. Tillis, on the other hand, is all about Tillis. His whole career is about his personal rise in GOP political circles. He’s not interested in a dialogue or any other reconciliation. He just wants to go to Washington. His biggest accomplishment to date is getting elected speaker.
Berger, though, has a bigger vision and better sense of the public. He seems to understand that parts of his agenda are unpopular and the perception that the GOP is not listening could be politically damaging. His goal is not to further his own political career, but to change the way state government works. In meeting with the protesters, he’s at least giving the perception that he’s open to dialogue.
So far, I’ve disagreed with almost everything Phil Berger’s done and I probably will in the future. However, I believe that as a state and nation we need to have both sides listening to each other instead of demonizing each other. I hope that Senator Berger is sincere. After steering the state hard to the right, it’s time for somebody to bring it back to the middle.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >