July 17, 2013
“I want to do something, something besides Moral Mondays.”
A friend was asking me what he could do to stop what the New York Times called last week a “demolition derby” in the state legislature.
But my friend was not ready to join the regular gatherings for protest at the state legislative building or be arrested. He wanted other options, and he knew that I had some experience from my work lobbying the legislature on behalf of the UNC system, even though that was many years ago.
“Whom should I talk with? Legislators? Their aides? How can I persuade them to change directions?”
“Well,” I responded, “You probably can’t, at this stage, stop that demolition derby. It is far too late in the legislative session.”
Even if the ghost of Ronald Reagan appeared and attempted to turn this legislature around, he would be met with deaf ears.
The Republican legislators ran for election on a platform of smaller government, reduced spending, and lowering taxes for businesses and the wealthy. They have spent months preparing a legislative program based on their platform, and nothing is going to get in their way.
“But,” I told my friend, “If you do want to talk to a legislator or two, consider visiting them on their home turfs. Massive groups visiting the legislative offices in Raleigh does have a place and can sometimes be very effective. But time for a good conversation is more likely to be available on the legislator’s home ground.”
Although legislators cannot be expected to make a major turnaround on most issues, there are important matters that are still up for grabs because the House and Senate have different positions on a few matters. For instance, they disagree on the level of support for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, teachers’ classroom aides, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, and a number of other important state programs.
On these issues, some legislators may be open to persuasion.
“But I want to stand up against the ‘demolition derby.’ I want to be heard,” my friend emphasized.
In fact, it is the duty of a concerned citizen to speak up. One option is the old standard of writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper. Today, we can email copies to everyone on our list of friends and use social media to spread the word even if the newspaper never prints it.
More importantly, it is not too early to begin preparing for the election next year. However, replacing a current legislator will be a formidable task. The current district alignments give an overwhelming advantage to incumbents. Many believe that the current legislative scheme assures Republicans of control of the legislature for many years.
But, even when the odds are stacked against a legislative candidate, a campaign can be useful to mobilize and develop political organizations for the future and to discuss issues.
Unexpected opportunities arise. This year’s legislature and its actions have angered a widespread group of people that go far beyond the Democratic base. Some districts that were considered “safe” for incumbents may be up for grabs next year.
Whatever the prospects for election victories in the near future, those concerned with the future of North Carolina should do everything they can to influence good people to take an active role in public life. This year’s local elections provide opportunities for training grounds for candidates, political organizations, and registration and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Finally, there is an important nonpartisan issue that should not be neglected. The state needs a nonpartisan redistricting process. Almost nobody opposes this idea. But unless people who feel strongly about this issue organize and apply pressure to next year’s session of the General Assembly, nothing is likely to happen.
“And, if all these ideas leave you cold,” I told my friend, “Maybe you should think again about showing up on a Moral Monday.”
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.