It shouldn’t have come as a surprise in 2013 that North Carolina Democrats and self-styled progressives reacted with fury when Republicans took over the General Assembly and the governor’s office. That’s because Democrats and Progressives reacted the same way when their hold on power was threatened more than a century ago.
A little over a year ago, on February 22, 2013, the Charlotte Observer broke the story of a leaked strategy memo from leftist group Blueprint NC that described the game plan “progressive” groups should use to “eviscerate” the Republican leadership. While the memo itself was scandalous, it exposed the liberal Left’s determination to regain the power that had been lost to conservatives in the 2010 and 2012 elections. No student of North Carolina history would underestimate what the Left will do in such circumstances.
To understand this, we must look back to the late 1800s, when Democrats in the legislature controlled almost every level of government, including the state’s county commissions. The County Government Act of 1877 provided that the legislature would appoint justices of the peace, who would then select county commissioners, giving the Democrats in the legislature control of the commissions, and thus of much of the rest of local government.
By the 1890s North Carolina had two other political factions, the Republicans, including most black voters, and Populists, who attracted many poor whites. These two groups devised a plan to defeat Democrats by creating a “Fusion” movement. In 1894 the two parties agreed to challenge every Democratic candidate and in their separate conventions voted on a slate of candidates that included candidates from both the Populist and Republican parties. In 1894, Fusion candidates won a majority in the legislature and won both U.S. Senate seats. During the Fusion era, African Americans voted and held elective and appointed office throughout North Carolina in this era. The Fusion plan worked again in 1896, when the alliance retained control of the legislature and elected a Republican governor, Daniel Russell. Russell, however, would be the last Republican governor in North Carolina until James Holshouser was elected in 1973.
Democrats – led by their Progressive wing – struck back in 1898 with the “White Supremacy Campaign.” The name was accurate: White supremacy was its main tactic and ultimate result.
Then as now, Progressives thought of themselves as having lofty goals for the betterment of the people. But in 1898, Tar Heel Progressives decided they could only attain their aims by playing the race card to divide and defeat the Fusion coalition. Furnifold Simmons, chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, and Josephus Daniels, publisher of the News & Observer, were leaders of the White Supremacy Campaign. (See p. xx) The campaign stoked racial hatred, used intimidation as a weapon, and ultimately incited violence. These shameful tactics worked. The drive effectively rolled back the gains the Fusion alliance had achieved in the previous two election cycles.
The Democratic Party disenfranchised black voters and returned to its dominant role on all levels of government. The defeat weakened the Republican Party to the point that it took the GOP 112 years to gain control of both houses of the General Assembly. Yet Democrats and progressives still deny that it was their political forebears – their heroes – who acted in such a despicable way.
That’s the rub: North Carolina’s liberals/leftists must always work to distance themselves from their movement’s ugly roots: racism and bare-knuckle politics. Today’s liberals attempt to brand the White Supremacy Campaign as a conservative movement, but its leaders and members were mostly known Progressives. That’s also why today’s liberals gloss over the fact that during the era of segregation Democrats totally dominated the state.
Today’s liberals even go so far as to suggest that racists in the Democratic Party, after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed in 1964 and 1965 respectively, defected to the Republican Party. But there is no evidence to prove this assertion, in either voter registration changes or instances of prominent Democratic politicians who voted against these bills leaving the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party. For example, Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin was a segregationist who voted against both of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Yet he continues to be hailed as a hero of the liberal Left, mostly for his role in the Watergate hearings. Indeed, both of North Carolina’s U.S. Senators and all of its congressional delegation (of which there were two Republicans) voted against these two pieces of legislation. It doesn’t matter to the progressive Left that the truth is Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in much larger percentages than did Democrats, and without strong Republican support the laws would not have passed. It doesn’t matter, because they know that if you repeat a lie enough, people won’t search for the truth and the progressive media is always at the ready to repeat lies to defeat conservatives.
Perhaps that is why liberals in North Carolina consistently call their enemies racists – to deflect attention from liberalism’s own sordid history. We heard their hate-filled rhetoric during the 2013 legislative session. The leaked strategy memo gave us a peek into North Carolina’s liberal/left organizational structure and revealed their desperation to get back the power they had held for generations.
It’s hard to deny that the left enthusiastically and relentlessly executed the Blueprint NC memo’s strategic plan: “Cripple their leaders ([Gov.] McCrory, [House Speaker] Tillis, [Senate President Pro Tem] Berger etc.)” and “Eviscerate the leadership and weaken their ability to govern.” A swarm of liberal, progressive and socialist groups rallied at the legislative building every Monday (and some other days) during the legislative session to protest the new legislative majority’s work and at the same time accuse them of racism and bigotry. We are even hearing William Barber, president of the NC NAACP describe these groups as the “fusion movement”.
Today, the tide has turned in North Carolina partisan politics. In the 2010 General Election, running in districts drawn up by Democrats, Republicans won majorities in both the state House and Senate but had to battle against Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s 19 vetoes. In 2012 they added to their numbers and gained the majorities they needed to override a Governor’s veto, thought that could be viewed as a luxury because a Republican was elected governor. And, it was the first time four Republicans were elected to the state’s Council of State in one year.
Moreover, the North Carolina Democratic Party is in a shambles. The party’s decline can be attributed to a list of disgraced politicos and a state party embroiled in controversy, including a sexual misconduct scandal, the forced resignation of the state party’s executive director, and the failed attempt to replace the state chairman ahead of the 2012 election. More recently, the party has fired the executive director hired in May 2013 to replace the one accused of sexual harassment, and the turmoil has continued this year. Some even suggest that William Barber, president of the NC NAACP and the leader of the coalition of groups that have protested against the legislature on Mondays during the last session, is the face of and de facto head of the Democratic Party. William Barber definitely has the progressive/liberal credentials and rhetoric to be such a leader.
What may be even more ominous for the liberal Left, but probably not as widely known, is who the voters of North Carolina voted for in the 2012 General Election. Using the Civitas Partisan Index model and comparing the votes for Democratic Party and Republican Party in Council of State races, we see a dramatic shift from 2008 to 2012 – more than five percentage points. In 2008, statewide, Tar Heels gave Democratic candidates 53.4 percent of the vote and 46.6 percent for Republican candidates; in the 2012 model, the average vote statewide was nearly even: 50.6 percent Democratic to 49.4 percent Republican. While it is true that historically, in Council of State races, North Carolinians tend to vote for Democratic candidates, in the 2012 CPI we see a possible shift in that voting pattern.
The liberal Left (and that always includes the mainstream media) is adept in defining the Right, whether it’s labeling the tea party as racists or charging that conservatives are waging war on women. History and the facts belie the liberal/left’s rhetoric concerning the workings and the history of the progressive movement in North Carolina. We only have to glance at history to get a clear picture of how progressives reacted when they lost power for a short time in the 19th century. It should be no surprise that they would react with such vitriol in the 21st.