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Paul O'Connor: If NC is to change, GOP voters must make it happen

By Paul O'Connor

Syndicated columnist

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RALEIGH — Just a few days into this year’s short session, Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, shared his disappointment over current affairs.

“They’ve repealed all the progress we made over the last 30 years,” he said sadly of the Republican legislative leadership.

Blue’s dismay is typical among those who call themselves “progressives” in North Carolina. The legislatures of the 2011-14 have undone much of what they accomplished after wresting legislative control from conservative Democrats in the 1980s and 1990s.

Among those progressives, there is optimism that the political tide will turn. They imagine the following timeline for North Carolina politics.

They hope Democrats win enough seats in either chamber this year to be able to sustain any veto by Gov. Pat McCrory, thus pressuring him to resist Tea Party legislation. Their anti-GOP campaign this fall will tie individual legislators to unfavorable images of McCrory.

In 2016, they hope, a politically damaged McCrory will lose his re-election bid to Attorney General Roy Cooper, and Democrats will capture a majority in at least one chamber. In 2018 and 2020, Democrats hope to expand those gains and get back and re-set North Carolina on a progressive path.

This optimism is largely based on the state’s changing demographics — rural to urban, the growth of Hispanic voting, and the belief that the core of the Tea Party is dying of old age.

To me, it looks like wishful thinking.

Two factors weigh against progressives.

First, the gerrymandered legislative map is so firmly rigged in the GOP’s favor that Democrats need a strong majority of votes just to break even, but they trail in the generic ballot surveys done recently by their sympathetic polling firm, Public Policy Polling.

Second, the progressive effort is uncoordinated because the N.C. Democratic Party is a mess. Independent groups hope to organize, but there’s no replacing a unified party. And, add to that, the public doesn’t buy the Democratic brand any more.

Here’s my take: North Carolina can turn around, and it can head in a more progressive direction, but Republican voters and Republican-leaning independents must engineer that movement. Practical Democrats can help by becoming independents and voting in GOP primaries, boosting more centrist Republican candidates, as is happening in Mississippi.

This General Assembly has angered and frightened many constituencies, not just liberals. The medical community, local government leaders, teachers, sheriffs, university supporters and public school parents are all upset.

At some point, these different constituencies may decide choose a different path, one for strong public schools, well-paid teachers, an end to big UNC tuition increases, state policy that is more respectful of local governments and law enforcement, and a more generous safety net for those who lose their jobs or who cannot afford health care.

But only when Republican voters in those groups decide to change direction will North Carolina change. That may come within GOP primaries or in general elections. Or, it may not come at all.

North Carolina Republicans will decide what kind of state this becomes.

Capital Press Association