Not that long ago, North Carolina Democrats had the “big tent” party – an eclectic group that shared common values but disagreed on many individual issues.
Moderate – sometimes even conservative – rural Democrats in the legislature worked alongside big city liberals. The moderates occasionally voted with Republicans, particularly on social or religious issues, and most of their colleagues didn’t hold it against them.
Not anymore. Only a few of the moderate rural Democrats are left in state politics, and they’re finding targets on their backs – not from Republicans looking to take their seats, but from their own party.
The latest victim is Sen. Don Davis, who represents Greene and Pitt counties. He’s under fire for voting to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a largely inconsequential abortion bill designed to stir up an emotional issue.
Davis’ views on abortion are likely shared by many in his district, but many Democrats want him out of office. Lillian’s List and Planned Parenthood immediately announced plans to recruit a primary opponent to challenge him in 2020.
It sounds like the purity tests and personal allegiances that President Trump requires of Republicans in Washington. You’d think the N.C. Democratic Party would be above such tactics, but partisan operatives in Raleigh have vindictive tendencies that sometimes cloud their judgment Replacing Davis might seem appealing to people who have never visited Greene County. His opponents don’t realize ousting him in the primary would likely mean a Republican wins his seat.
Democrats made a tactical mistake last week when they fired the director of the State Board of Elections, Kim Strach. She’d just finished an investigation of absentee ballot fraud that ultimately brought down a Republican candidate for Congress, but that wasn’t good enough. While the elections board chairman sounded almost apologetic and praised Strach at length, N.C. Democratic Party chairman Wayne Goodwin attacked her for the sin of being married to an attorney who represents Republicans.
Democrats argued her marriage is a conflict of interest, but none could point to any examples where it tainted her work. That’s inherently sexist and just another example where the partisan “purity test” leads to questionable decisions.
Keeping Strach, who was appointed by Republicans, would have given the board’s actions more nonpartisan legitimacy. Firing her gives the GOP ammunition to attack any elections board decision that goes against Republicans.
That erodes trust in our democracy. The next time North Carolina has a close election like the 9th Congressional district, the losing party won’t admit defeat after the elections board investigation – likely resulting in years of lawsuits.
It’s Gov. Cooper’s responsibility to restore Democrats’ “big tent” approach. He needs to make it clear that independent-minded, successful leaders like Don Davis and Kim Strach are welcome in state government.