North Carolina Politics 2012

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In and beyond, North Carolina will be fertile ground for Democratic presidential campaigns. Republicans, though, will maintain their advantage in most of the state's legislative and congressional seats for a few more election cycles. After that, they will have to moderate their message-and policies. Conservative Republicans know that they're working on borrowed time. That knowledge is spurring them to push public policy further and faster to the right while they still can.

What happens when a state becomes more progressive and more conservative at the same time? North Carolinians are finding out.

North Carolina Politics and Demographics |

North Carolina's hard shift to the right is a jarring change for a state with a long moderate-and at times, progressive-tradition. In , political scientist V.

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Key famously argued that, partly because it had a smaller plantation economy than its Southern neighbors, North Carolina had developed a tolerant and forward-looking political culture-what he called a "progressive plutocracy. Sanford's pragmatic progressivism set the Democratic Party's tone for the next half--century.

While Old South politicians like Senator Jesse Helms grabbed national headlines, moderate Democrats back home cemented an enduring alliance around an agenda of investing in schools, accommodating business, and making slow but steady improvements in race relations. Democratic control of the state created openings for change, which the state's dense network of progressive advocacy groups seized on to win landmark reforms.

Over the past decade, a series of pro-democracy measures expanded voting rights and curbed the influence of big money. In , North Carolina became the first state to implement-with bipartisan support-a "clean elections" program that offers public grants to judicial candidates who raise a certain number of small donations and agree to take no more.

More than 80 percent of eligible judges have used the public-financing plan, which has helped elect record numbers of African Americans and women. The public-finance option was later extended to other state races, including those for auditor and insurance commissioner, elections in which big checks from campaign donors can create clear conflicts of interest.

North Carolina has one of the nation's most generous-and popular-early-voting periods. More than six million citizens, disproportionately African American, have taken advantage of early voting.

Politics of North Carolina

In , more than , registered at the polls while voting early, an option popular with students and those in the military. These measures have propelled North Carolina into the top 15 states in voter participation. The nation got its first glimpse of North Carolina's emerging electorate in John Kerry had lost the state by 14 percentage points in , but Democrats drew on the excitement of the Obama campaign-and took advantage of liberalized voting laws-to turn out hundreds of thousands of new voters and carry the state for the first time since Those new voters were part of the state's emerging majority-a more racially diverse, urban, and Democratic--leaning electorate.

  1. Dont Let It Bug You.
  2. It Wasnt a Bed of Roses.
  3. North Carolina: Romney vs. Obama;
  4. Revelations from the Struggle.
  5. Our Mysteries?
  6. Interactives.

From the s to the s, the state had a historic influx of nonnative white professionals, who were drawn to high-tech and university jobs in the Research Triangle and to the booming banking center of Charlotte. In recent decades, African Americans have been moving back to the state, part of a "remigration" from North to South. Charlotte saw a ,person jump among African Americans, the sixth highest of any U.

While still relatively small at 8. Today, nearly half of North Carolinians 18 or younger are people of color. Voters of all races under 30 lean left on both economic and social issues, and they've voted heavily Democratic in recent elections. The path to a new progressive coalition is clear. Art Pope has been the big-money boss man of North Carolina conservatives since the s.

He represents a sharp departure from the business moderates who used to run the North Carolina GOP, and has, in fact, spent heavily in replacing those moderates with right-wing Republicans more to his liking. Through his advocacy network and political machine-he funds five conservative think tanks, publications, and legal groups-Pope has launched an assault not only on decades of reform but also on the very idea of government as a positive agent for change.

Pope's family foundation supplies well over 80 percent of total funding for the state's leading conservative groups. His right-wing philanthropy has been complemented by generous election contributions. But it wasn't until that Pope's roles as conservative benefactor and Republican donor fully meshed to alter the course of state politics.

After Obama's victory, it was now or never for North Carolina Republicans. Fortunately for Pope and the GOP, the stars aligned in The Tea Party had galvanized white conservatives in North Carolina. At the same time, the state Democratic Party found itself in crisis. Governor Beverly Perdue was dogged by accusations of campaign-finance violations, and a sexual-harassment scandal at party headquarters forced the executive director to resign after bitter infighting.

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Many first-time voters from the ones who'd turned out for Obama more than for the Democrats-were unlikely to return to the polls for the midterm elections. Pope pounced on the opportunity.

Naked Partisanship

Three outside spending groups he helped fund-Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action, and Real Jobs NC-accounted for 75 percent of the outside money that flooded into North Carolina's legislative races. That unprecedented level of spending fueled the historic Republican takeover. Among the right-wing newcomers Pope helped to elect was Bill Cook, who now champions changes to election rules that Pope has long advocated.

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In , Pope's largesse helped Republicans win a supermajority in the general assembly, while taking back the governor's office for the first time in 20 years. For a private citizen, Pope has amassed an extraordinary amount of political power, perhaps unmatched by a nonelected official in any other state. Perched in the executive branch, surrounded by lawmakers who owe him their jobs, and backed by an advocacy network he created, Pope can push North Carolina hard to the right. Recognizing that this conservative moment might not last long, Republican legislators are moving swiftly.

Despite the headlines, the most notorious bills-like the resolution to establish a state religion or the measure to outlaw public nipple displays-have been nonstarters. But the core of Pope's agenda is going ahead.

Every lawmaker in North Carolina knows that agenda: Scale back taxes, especially for businesses and the wealthy; slice away at the social safety net; and reverse the state's focus on public schools as an engine for social and economic progress. North Carolina is one of 15 states that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have covered about , uninsured North Carolinians with the federal government picking up the tab.

Now Governor McCrory is pushing to privatize management of the state Medicaid program, which would funnel North Carolina tax dollars to out-of-state managed-care companies while raising costs and reducing access to care. Taxes became more regressive when lawmakers voted to end the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, which was claimed in by more than , low-income, working North Carolinians. Senate Republicans are now considering a bill to cut the state's corporate income tax from the highest to the lowest in the Southeast, which would be low indeed.

It could have been worse. An earlier Senate plan, promoted by Pope's Civitas Institute, would have abolished corporate and personal income taxes altogether, replacing them with a higher sales tax-the most regressive form of taxation. Even Pope shot down that idea, saying sales-tax increases would "hurt the economy. Republicans have also set their sights on gutting environmental laws, proposing to repeal the state's renewable-energy standard, speed the way for fracking, and allow offshore drilling for oil and gas.

The party is also taking aim at the historic centerpiece of North Carolina progressivism: public education, which has long been a target of Pope's network. Last session, cuts to schools eliminated more than 4, teaching jobs. Another would eliminate teacher tenure. A proposal to shutter at least one UNC campus is on hold, following a public outcry.

There is growing anger over the GOP agenda. He said Republicans' victorywhich happened as a national census ensured newly drawn voting districts, coupled with the windfall of campaign donations that bolster incumbentsstruck a mortal blow to this year's crop of Democrats. Hackney said Democrats enlisted strong candidates and leaned on high-quality consultants, but Republican cash and new voting districts gave the GOP a clear edge. Go back and you can reanalyze that, but I think it has very little to do with the election. It's the minority status that we're in right now. If that is reality for North Carolina Democrats, they weren't saying so as they gathered outside polling places on a chilly Election Day in the Triangle.

Many maintained they could seize a majority in the General Assembly or upset McCrory, a conservative so popular he nearly won the governor's race in , when Democrats dominated the election.

Yet others, such as Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Matt Hugheswho spent much of Tuesday at polling placesacknowledged the challenge they faced. Republicans dominated campaign funding in But the campaigns were not the only groups responsible for the cash blitz.