Holding Back The Tide

North Carolina Republicans are trying to do what the Democrats did in our state for 50 years:

Hold back the tide!

Until about 1960, North Carolina was part of a “Democratic Solid South.” But a Republican “Southern Strategy” and changing loyalties brought about a rising GOP tide that attracted conservative Democrats who followed Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms into the Republican Party. That rising tide led to Republican control of most Southern state governments by the turn of the millennium.

But not in North Carolina.

Fighting back the rising tide, the Democrats did not lose control of both houses of the legislature until 2010.

How did Democrats do it? How did they stay in power for so long when the tide of voter preference was against them?

Democrats will tell you that it was the moderate progressive leadership of strong office holders whose programs appealed to North Carolina voters.

Republicans will say that Democrats gerrymandered legislative districts to give themselves unfair advantage, that they used their power to freeze Republicans from leadership positions and to extort political contributions that gave them an unfair advantage.

In short, they point out that Democrats built up a series of walls, bulwarks and other barriers to hold off the Republican tide.

Ironically, at the moment the Republican tide finally crashed through the Democratic bulwarks in North Carolina, the tide has turned against them.

According to figures that Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program of the Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, shared with journalists last month, the demographic trends in North Carolina do not favor Republicans.

For instance, since 1996, the percentage of voters who are white has declined from 80 percent to about 70 percent, while black, Latino, Asian and other voters increased from about 18 percent to about 30 percent. The Republican advantage among white voters is a declining benefit. More worrisome for them is a recent declining trend in Republican voter identification, which declined from 40 percent in 2004 to 33 percent in 2012, while the Democratic identification held steady at 39 percent.

The growth of North Carolina’s population from other parts of the country might have favored Republicans in earlier times. Not now. In the 2012 presidential election Romney got the votes of 55 percent of those who were born in North Carolina and 52 percent of those who moved here more than 10 years ago. But of those who moved here in the last five to ten years, he got only 38 percent.

So, can Democrats rejoice and ride these trends to victory and a return to control in the next election?

No. A rising tide is not a tidal wave. It will not lift all boats in every election contest.

To return to power, Democrats will have to overcome the same kind of bulwarks they built to hold off the Republican tide, which is not an easy task.

Meanwhile Republicans will use their hard-earned power to keep it, raising money, recruiting candidates, clearing out government offices, giving their loyalists positions and giving their supporters the government contracts and benefits that keep them happy and generous.

The favorable tide can contribute to Democratic success, but to win again Democrats will have to learn from Republicans how they finally seized power. Build a platform for North Carolina that resonates with the new electorate. Provide support for the thinkers who can articulate and sell that platform. Recruit and support candidates with an appeal broad enough to win crossover support.

In short, stop demonizing Republican leader Art Pope and his colleagues and learn from them how to take power away from an entrenched minority.

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.

This week’s (February 16, 20) guest is Ping Fu, author of “Bend, Not Bread.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4).

This week’s (February 20) guest is Pamela Duncan author of “Plant Life.”

One of North Carolina’s most successful and admired business leaders grew up in unbelievably oppressive circumstances in China during the Cultural Revolution. Starved, beaten, denied basic education, she survived and has prevailed. She tells this story of her challenging pathway to success in this country in her new book, “Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds.”

The book’s title comes from advice from Ping Fu’s “Shanghai Papa,” who told her, “Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back even from the most difficult times. . . . Your ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances. Take everything in stride with grace, putting forth energy when it is needed, yet always staying calm inwardly.”

Ping Fu is the founder and CEO of Morrisville-based Geomagic. It develops 3D software that makes possible the exact duplication of 3D objects using small machines called 3D printers. In 2005, Inc. Magazine named her Entrepreneur of the Year. A few weeks ago, Geomagic was acquired by one of its customers.

As “Bend, Not Break” moves on to the national bestseller lists, it will inspire readers and draw scrutiny from some skeptics who may find Ping Fu’s journey too amazing to be real.


Celebrating George Washington's failures

George Washington was a failure.

But that is not the reason we do not celebrate his birthday (February 22) anymore, unless you count Monday’s President’s Day.
Washington’s failures are not the reason there are no more cherry pies or axes to help us remember the legends of his honesty and character.

We just don’t pay that much attention to him anymore in normal times, do we?

That is a shame.  

His leadership skills, military successes, common sense, wisdom, and willingness to sacrifice still merit our admiration.

And so do his failures.

This country’s government works, thanks to his management of the Constitutional Convention.  His even-handed administration bound this country together in its first days.

He was a genuine hero.

George Washington’s many successes are important to remember.  We should be grateful for them.  They should inspire us to higher standards of service to our country.

But I am not thinking so much of those successes today.  More important to me now are his failures and disappointments.  There were many.  In romance.  In his military service.  In politics.

Miss Betsy Fauntleroy rejected him twice.  She was not the only one who broke Washington’s heart.  He also fell in love with Sally Fairfax, the wife of his friend, and he suffered because she could only be a good friend to him.

He began his military career in embarrassment.  In the frontier country claimed by both the French and the British before the French and Indian War, Washington was put in charge of a force of British Colonials.  He had a fort built to defend his troops — in a creek bottom surrounded on three sides by higher ground.  It was a stupid mistake.  Soon the French had him surrounded.  He surrendered after a short siege, and was tricked into signing a confession that his forces had “assassinated” a French officer who had been killed in an earlier skirmish.  When this became known, he was demoted and lost his command.

In politics, he started out as a bad public speaker and did not improve very much.  He could not persuade or influence people that way.  Some reports say that his first election to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 came only after he treated voters to rum, wine, brandy, beer, and “cider royal.”

Why think about these failures and disappointments?  Why not focus on Washington’s accomplishments?

Why?  Because Washington’s successes were built on the foundations of these disappointments and failures.  The lesson of his life should not be that he was a perfect person who never failed at anything.

All of us, Washington included, have had terrible disappointments in romance, in our work, and in our attempts to lead others and persuade them to do the right thing. Many other disappointments, hard times, and failures come our way.

What made Washington special was his strength in getting past those tough times.

His broken heart in romance did not stop him from finding a happy marriage to Martha Custis.  His early military reverses did not prevent him from becoming a great general.  He worked around his political deficiencies and became the most successful political leader our country has ever had.

What we should remember about George Washington is that he overcame his disappointments.

So, the next time somebody breaks your heart, or the next time you make a bad mistake in your career, or when you have problems persuading people to do the right thing, or when there is some other roadblock in your path — just remember, it happened to George Washington, too.

Think about him and take courage.  Make those disappointments into strong building blocks of your success.

Just like George Washington.


Replacing elections with lotteries

There has to be a better way.

Some of us reached that conclusion after discussing the mess our congressional and legislative governing systems have come to.

Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government “except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I wonder if he would agree today, after taking a look at the U.S. Congress deadlocked by political divisiveness and mean-spirited partisan competition that stifle almost every effort to deal with challenges crying out for practical responses.

Instead of being free to work fulltime with their colleagues on the nitty-gritty work of crafting legislation, our representatives are slaves to a system that requires them to spend most of their time on electoral politics and fundraising.

Taxpayers pay them to be legislators. But keeping those jobs requires them to do something else altogether.

The time spent raising money and the obligations that come with begging money from people and organizations that “want something” takes more than just time away from the job. It drains away the independent judgment of the legislator.

So does the extreme loyalty to political parties, to the caucus, and to the legislative leadership. The demands to “stick together” handicap the prospects for working on solutions that do not fit into the agenda of one of the political groups.

Efforts to maintain control lead to ugly games of gerrymandering and pandering to voting groups.

How could we find a system that frees our elective representatives from the servitude of full-time fundraising, from the draining of energy and spirit that go with permanent campaigns, and from the tribal commitments to political caucuses and parties? How could we free them from these things so they could spend full time working on legislation to make our state and nation better?

Somebody asked, what about a lottery? Why not just select our representatives by lottery?

That suggestion sounded like a joke.

At first.

What could be more antithetical to democracy than putting aside citizen participation and simply choosing representatives by lot?

But, after I thought about it a minute, some advantages were apparent. No need to raise money. No permanent campaigns. No automatic partisan divides on every question. And, with modern computer techniques, a legislature that could be composed of people that would closely reflect the population, geographically, ethnically, gender, age, and otherwise.

Of course, somebody said, you would have a whole bunch of people who would have no idea what they were doing. Then, somebody else said, Neither do most newly elected legislators!

Still, making important selections by chance is just not the way we do things in America, is it?

One person quietly mentioned that we get our jury pools by random selection. The jury system is not perfect. But Americans have a pretty strong commitment to it. It works without the problems of partisan bickering and gamesmanship, fundraising, or time-consuming political campaigns.

All this may be true, but selecting representatives by lottery would be an unprecedented violation of the democratic tradition that began in ancient Greece.

Or would it?

Actually, the selection of many major officers in Athens was by allotment or a random process. According to the “New World Encyclopedia,” “Election was seen as less democratic and open to corruption because it would favor the rich (who could buy votes) and the eloquent, whereas a lottery gave everyone an equal chance to participate and experience, in Aristotle’s words, ‘ruling and being ruled in turn.’”

So, am I ready to lead an effort to replace elections with a lottery selection process?

Not today.

But check with me after November 6.