One election night television commentator proclaimed that North Carolina had long been a “red” or Republican state. True, we voted Republican for every president since Jimmy Carter, with the exception of 2008, but Democrats have dominated state government since the turn of the 20th century.
Democrats got a wake-up call in 1972 and 1984, when Republican gubernatorial candidates won, and another warning in the early nineties, when the GOP took control of the state House for a few years. But for the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans will now control all three branches of state government and Democrats are scratching their heads trying to figure out what happened.
It is not such a mystery. For far too many years Democratic leaders haven’t had any new ideas, no grand vision. They grew too timid in their leadership, unwilling to attempt bold solutions to mounting problems, instead choosing to protect the status quo and their core constituencies, all the while telling themselves that even with periodic economic downturns the state was prospering and things were alright. State government grew larger, more expensive and less responsive, accountable and effective.
Democratic leaders were unwilling or unable to change but our state was changing quickly. Over the past three decades we have gained hundreds of thousands of new residents almost at the same time our economy changed and we lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in tobacco, textiles and furniture manufacturing. The state’s political makeup changed from as high as 70 percent registered Democrats in the 1960’s, to the current 43 percent registered Democrats, 31 percent Republicans and 25 percent (and growing) number who call themselves unaffiliated voters. Our population is graying, people are moving from rural to urban communities and we sense a breakdown in business, religion, education and government sectors.
The perfect storm of the 2000 recession and the Great Recession in 2007, coupled with their lack of leadership solutions culminated in an overwhelming loss of public confidence in Democratic leadership. Democrats kept winning because Republicans were disorganized, underfunded and generally did not field competitive candidates. Democrats held tight to the reins of government, believing theirs a mandate to rule. They just didn’t get it. Tuesday’s results demonstrated voters will cross party lines and split ballots in search of leadership, regardless of party.
Now Pat McCrory and the Republicans have control and it will be interesting to see how they use it. Will they understand this newfound power as an overwhelming endorsement of their philosophies and a mandate to govern as they choose? If so, they will likely repeat the same mistakes Democrats made. Or will they understand this is a time for bigger goals, new coalitions and more effective government?
Governor-elect McCrory, in his acceptance speech election night, signaled he understands the need to chart a new course. McCrory spoke about how his dad and mom encouraged him to always reach his full potential, adding that North Carolina is a state of unlimited opportunity. He promised to dedicate himself to helping us reach our full potential. At the same time Pat challenged us as individuals to reach our own full potential.
This is a new day, a time of new possibilities and we wish Governor-elect McCrory and our new leadership the best as they help us become a better North Carolina.
— Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of “NC SPIN,” a weekly statewide television discussion of North Carolina issues airing Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on WRAL-TV and at 8:30 a.m. on WRAZ-TV FOX50. He can be reached at www.ncspin.com.