Jim Hunt looks younger than his 76 years now, and when he gets going about the governorship and Democrats, his voice deepens and his tone grows serious. The Hunt treatment people call it, and its often accompanied by a strong squeeze of the elbow. When the voice is going, its easy to go back in ones mind to Terms I and II, and then III and IV, and to think about what the national pundits wrote in 1988, when Michael Dukakis was riding the Democratic Party Kamikaze into the Earth against then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Their line? It went something like, If former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt had defeated Sen. Jesse Helms in 1984, he would likely be the Democratic nominee.
No wonder then that Hunt remains the force to whom North Carolina Democrats turn in times of trouble. And right now constitutes big trouble. The party is out of the governors office, the House speakers office and the leadership of the state Senate for the first time in 100 years. State Party Chairman Randy Voller has had federal tax problems and lacks the confidence of some party faithful, which translates into money-raising trouble.
And so, when they met in Greensboro on Saturday, the Democrats called Brother Hunt to the political pulpit, and he strongly advised reaching out to independents, raising more money and finding good candidates. He said that the recent New York Times editorial The Decline of North Carolina came about because they know how good we were.
The former governor was right on many points, to be sure. But Democrats, through laziness or disinterest or overconfidence, have no one but themselves to blame for the sorry state of their party. Its in the interest of all North Carolinians, Republicans and Democrats, to have a strong two-party state. Debate is more lively and more constructive.
Hunt didnt make excuses. He made plans. Thats what is needed not only for the Democratic Party, but also for the Republicans. Democrats currently are lamenting the unmaking of their past accomplishments in the areas of social justice, the environment and access to voting. Republicans are touting how they have liberated the state and especially its businesses from the weight of taxes and regulations Democrats favored.
But neither side is offering a vision of what North Carolina can accomplish. The future belongs to the party that can express, rally around and win others to an idea of what this great and rapidly changing state should become in the decade and the century ahead.