NC Democratic party chair says Dems must fight back
BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
The chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party says if state Democrats stand any chance of taking back the NC General Assembly in 2014, they have to start organizing, fundraising and strategizing now, even though the recently drawn redistricting maps, favoring Republicans, makes it difficult.
“To be a Democrat and to believe in our values, you have to be involved every day, and in every election,” Chairman Randy Voller told the Power 750 WAUG-AM program, “Make It Happen” during an interview that airs today.
“We need to actually get involved this fall in local and municipal elections, elect people who believe in our values, believe in community-building, believe in holding people accountable …on the issues that matter to us”
Voller, who said the GOP redrew the voting districts so that the Republicans could pick their voters, not for the voters to pick their politicians, continued,” And we’re going to have to get involved next year, starting in the primaries, all the way through the general [elections], and continue to do that.”
Voller, who also serves as mayor of Pittsboro, says Democrats may not be able to take back both the state House and Senate in one election cycle, so Democrats must devote themselves to slow, incremental change over the next 2 to four years in order to gain back control.
“We’re going to have to win this back over a couple of cycles,” he says.
That means holding the Republicans accountable for all that they’re doing now that Voller and others believe is turning the clock back on the tremendous progress that was made by the Democrats when they were in control.
“You can be a surgeon and use a scalpel, or claim to be a surgeon and use a meat cleaver,” he maintained.
Chairman Voller says he’s leading a state party that is working for more jobs, expanded business opportunities and prosperity for all through thoughtful investments and good policies, while the Republicans are the party of austerity, cutting government to the bone so that the wealthy can benefit more.
“These are tricky times with what’s going on at the General Assembly,” Voller said. “I think they refer to it as, “The nightmare on Jones Street.”
Since the Republican-led NC General Assembly went into session two months ago, North Carolinians have seen the expansion of Medicaid denied to 500,000 poor citizens, the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families repealed, the estate tax on the wealthiest North Carolinians repealed, and unemployment benefits severely slashed.
Policies now being discussed include lowering the corporate and personal income taxes on the wealthy while extending state sales taxes to 130 more services, including legal services. Experts say that shifts the tax burden from the wealthy to the working class.
Repealing what’s left of the NC Racial Justice Act, the 2009 law signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue to stop racially-biased death penalty prosecutions, and also re-instituting capital punishment (which is currently under legal challenge), is also on the GOP legislative menu.
Republicans are also seriously discussing closing “one or two” campuses in the 16-campus UNC System as a cost-saving measure. Most likely on the chopping block is either one of the smaller historically-black universities in the system, or UNC-Pembroke.
Chairman Voller says it is a contradiction for the Republicans to be giving tax breaks to the wealthy in the state, but continue to cut education for the neediest students.
The prospect of closing a UNC HBCU has been broached before, but now that the Republicans have majorities in both legislative houses, there’s little doubt they can do it if they want.
Plus GOP state lawmakers are suddenly attempting to micro-manage certain cities and counties that have apparent Democratic leadership.
Republicans are taking the Charlotte – Douglas Airport from the city of Charlotte, and putting it under a regional authority, even though no one requested the change.
GOP legislators are also changing ownership of Asheville’s water system, again, without request.
“It’s a perpetuation of a rural-urban divide…,” Voller says, noting that many GOP rural lawmakers are the ones targeting these Democrat-controlled urban areas, believing that there won’t be a lot of political damage to them to do so.
“They’re bigfooting our cities,” Voller says. “This is about power and control. I don’t think it has anything to do with what’s best for our citizens.”
And a bill that would remove ownership of school properties from the school board, and transfer it to the county commission board, is speeding through the Legislature for passage. The measure will affect every county in the state, even though it began as a retaliatory effort by Republicans against the Democrat-led Wake School Board after Supt. Tony Tata was fired.
The tension between the Wake Board of Education and the Wake Board of Commissioners has also spawned another Senate bill that would change Wake’s nine-district school board elections and shorten the terms of all five Democratic members in order to allow Republicans to retake the board. That measure is on a slower track in the state Senate.
“It’s purely political,” Chairman Voller says.
“I don’t know why a legislator feels that the minute they are elected, that they have to go up there and release a smorgasbord of ideologically-run legislation,” said Voller. He adds that while Republicans claim Democrats did the same things when they held power, it’s not true that they managed power in the same, heavy-handed way.
State Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake), when he served as House Speaker in the 1990s, always made sure he gave the Republican minority a meaningful place at the table to give their ideas a fair hearing.
That runs counter to the legislative process today, where the Republican majority rushes key pieces of legislation through committees without allowing for much input from opposing views.
GOP lawmakers’ recent appointments to the UNC Board of Governors, for example, were virtually all Republicans, sparking cries from Democrats for “more balance.”
“It was incredibly partisan, and if there was a Democrat in the group, I’m not aware of it,” Chairman Voller said.
The practice is so bad that when the Republicans do allow a deliberative process, as with the recent voter photo ID hearings, Democratic critics charge that’s it’s only for show and to cover their bases in case they’re taken to court.
There are reports that several moderate Republicans in the Legislature are concerned with the rapid pace and scatter-shot nature of lawmaking by their party.
On Tuesday, for example, when the state Senate passed a bill that would essentially renege on the $68 million lease deal the NC Council of State made with the city of Raleigh last December to turn the Dorothea Dix campus into a park, Wake County’s two Republican senators, Neal Hunt and Chad Barefoot, voted against it, saying that though they disagreed with the deal because they felt the state was being cheated, they still supported the park concept and believed a contract is a contract.
A large turnout of Dix Park supporters during a public hearing Monday helped both Hunt and Barefoot, made up their minds to side with the supporters, and Chairman Voller says citizens and Democrats need to do more of the same heading into 2014.
“I think the [Republicans] are essentially playing with people’s lives, and lot of people are going to be hurt. This is mean-spirited and ill-advised,” Chairman Voller says. “People are getting tired of this, and you’re going to see a shift back.”