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Jenkins: Wherefore art thou, Democrats?

jjenkins@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2013 

News item: North Carolina Democrats met Saturday at the Durham Convention Center to vote for a new party chairman. Yes, there actually were people interested in the job, despite the fact that in the last couple of elections in North Carolina Democrats have managed to lose control of the legislature, the governor’s office and to face a 10-5 deficit to Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation. Some are wondering if the party is headed the way of the Whigs, or will one day be known by future generations because remains like those of Richard III will be found in a parking lot somewhere in 3012.

And the state party found itself in a “situation” not long ago where there was internal bickering and a call for the chairman to resign, with then-Gov. Beverly Perdue making one of those calls. The chairman didn’t quit, which made Perdue look bad, and the fussing seemed endless. Oh, and then there was an election in which Republicans did everything but mount a Democrat and stick him in a wing of the Museum of Natural Sciences.

But back to Saturday, and happier times. OK, maybe not happier times. Necessary times. The election of a new party chairman.

Somebody has to do it.

So there were two candidates, Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller and former state Sen. Eric Mansfield. Then Mansfield, citing personal obligations, dropped out. So that left Voller. And then, on Saturday morning in Durham, noneother than former N.C. 2nd District Rep. Bob Etheridge, a personable and popular congressman brought down by the tea party in 2010, entered the race.

Actually, he didn’t, really. He said he would serve if he were elected, and left the meeting before his name was put in nomination. But he was nominated.

However, the final vote was 309-298, Voller. That means there were 607 voting Democrats present. Which leads us to suggest, frankly, that something was amiss. There are not 607 Democrats left in North Carolina, unless some of those old mountain Democrats are voting the headstones again.

And the game plan, which seems to be to wait until the Republicans mess up and then argue, “We’re better than they are,” doesn’t seem to be going places. What’s next? One veteran Democratic activist said confidentially, “There’s only going to be one slogan that will help us. That’s, ‘Hunt in 2016.’”

That would do it, of course, but former Gov. Jim Hunt, at 75 still a man who can squeeze your blood up in your neck with a handshake, is unlikely to take it on. He’ll probably be Hillary Clinton’s running mate at that point, anyway.

The truth, the serious truth, is that in being the party of disarray and division (and that’s just the Democrats among themselves), the Democratic Party is denying the people of North Carolina the fair political fight and the choice they deserve to have. The Democrats have not developed enough future leaders (whereas the Republicans have several) and they’ve spent entirely too much time licking their wounds and complaining about getting picked on.

They lost.

And thanks in large part to former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer and his effective tenure as state GOP chairman, Republicans won. With substantial majorities in the state House and Senate and a 10-5 edge in the congressional delegation, Republicans are sitting pretty for the next 10 years, unless...unless the social conservatism of elements in the party leads to extremes on the right at a time when North Carolina and many other states seem to be headed to the center, at least on issues such as gay rights and immigration.

Democrats and Republicans owe the voters of North Carolina a good, strong choice of contrasting philosophies and goals. Right now, like their views or not, the Republicans are holding up their end of that bargain.

Democrats need to shut down the pity party and get their act together. The party would do the state a favor by defining some social and economic issues near and dear to the moderate/liberal base and then stand up for them. If they lose, they lose, but at least they wouldn’t surrender before the battle even really began.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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