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North Carolina Travel Guide
North Carolina Politics

It's a shame really. The state that was once known for Senator Sam Irvin seems condemned to be known forever for Jesse Helms, without a doubt the worst US senator in modern history. But there is hope on the horizon. Or there was anyway.

Jesse Helms photo by Mike BensonHow many times have I heard "I may not agree with ole Jesse on everything but at least I know where he stands."  No. You don't. You may hear what he says and think you know where he stands but Helms invariably voted with big business and against the interest of the common people he represented. With his homespun persona and ability to remember people's names it is understandable that those who delve no deeper than the sound-bites and election slogans would think of Jesse Helms as “one of them,” just like people think of George Bush as a simple Texas guy with a ranch. But in both cases this is a carefully crafted character, meant to get the support of the uneducated. No, not conservatives. The fact that they are Republicans is enough to get those votes. They want to get the votes of those who think about politics as little as possible, who in ancient Athens might have been considered too uninformed to be allowed to vote. Those who supported ole Jesse because he was “jes lak them,” needed only to look at the voting records to see where he stood on the issues that affected them. But if North Carolinians looked at voting records then Cary would not have reelected John Carrington year after year since not only did he rarely show up for a vote, but he did not give interviews, did not do debates, and did not campaign in person. He just used his wealth to put out campaign commercials that seemed to do the trick. But I suppose it is difficult to find time for politics when you are trying to run a company that sells riot gear to the police and security organizations in 3rd World countries, to keep the masses at bay. In this Carrington and Helms have much in common. Helms was a great supporter of the Salvadorian Death Squads that terrorized that country and it seems he never met a dictator he didn't like. So much for being a man of the people. Thankfully they are both out of the political picture. Yes things are worse now with the Republicans in power but these guys are not smart enough to stay in power and with the Tea-Party pushing them to the realm of bizarre, I predict the blowback will make Republicans in North Carolina and endangered species.

But anyway these are the worst aspects of North Carolina politics. We Democrats had Senator John Edwards, though we barely got to know him before he started running for president and then flamed out in a way that made me embarrassed to have supported him, so I can only imagine how he felt. Well, we all make mistakes and if you asked me if I had to choose between becoming President of the United States or having sex with a beautiful film-maker who was doing a documentary on me, I would have to give it some thought. I mean in America anyone can grow up to be president but not everyone can have a really hot girlfriend.

Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson and Dennis KucinichEllie KinnairdDavid PriceHoward Lee

I can't complain too much about North Carolina politics  since I live in Chapel Hill/Carrboro and my representatives are David Price and Ellie Kinnaird who are both terrific. We also celebrated Dennis Kucinich Day when he became the first presidential candidate in history to visit the town of Carrboro in April of 2004, though I think it was a one-time event. I don't think we celebrate it every year like Martin Luther King or Christmas. But being progressive is a part of our history. On May 6, 1969, Howard Lee became the first African American mayor elected in a predominantly white southern town since Reconstruction when he won in Chapel Hill. Lee served three terms as mayor and received 64 percent of the vote in the 1971 election, and 89 percent in 1973. in 1995 Mike Nelson became Carrboro, N.C.'s youngest mayor and the south's first openly gay mayor. No wonder ole Jesse hates us so much. But just as many people in rural North Carolina are told who to vote for by their preachers and their habits, in the Triangle area many people go to the polls with a scrap of paper cut out of the weekly Independent magazine that tells them who to vote for and accompanying articles that tell them why.

North Carolina is a Democratic state. What? It’s true. Most people would rather give up their firstborn than join the party of Lincoln, who is seen differently down south. Still, in national elections they vote Republican, and Bush won easily in 2000 and 2004 over Gore and Kerry. However in Chapel Hill/Carrboro it was Gore and Kerry by landslides and in 2008 Obama actually won North Carolina. (He lost NC in 2012)

Hopefully, what is happening in much of the country is happening in North Carolina. As it gets harder to get by, people are paying more attention to government out of necessity. If you find yourself working harder and making less, then something is wrong somewhere and a good place to look is at the people who are supposedly representing your interests in Raleigh and Washington. If you are against war, believe big business has taken over and runs the government because they own politicians, and believe that rich people paying less taxes than poor people is basically unfair, then you will support candidates who are on your side. For the most part, that is the Democrats and independently thinking Republicans. So there is hope that North Carolina, a Democratic state, will once again return to that party, unless all the rich Republicans moving down here for the golf courses take over. (I don't think there are enough of them though).

So that's it in a nutshell. But as I said, in Carrboro we celebrated Dennis Kucinich Day while much of the state still grumbles about Martin Luther King Day. But one day I predict we will be the progressive state we claim to be and we will send senators to Washington that we can be proud of. And the more our Republican Governor and legislature pass laws that favor the wealthy and pander to the ignorant, and the more the Tea-party nuts wave their flags and turn the fearful Republicans of North Carolina so far to the right that even Ronald Reagan would not recognize his party, the sooner this progressive wave will come. So if you are tempted to write off North Carolina and move somewhere else, don't be to quick. You may miss the fun.

Oh yeah. We now have a Democratic Governor, one of the few bright spots in the 2016 elections. Unfortunately the Republicans have become so giddy with power that the Electoral Integrity Project gave the state a score of 58/100. When it came to legal framework and voter registration, North Carolina earned a 7/10 – similar to Iran and Venezuela.

If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world," wrote Andrew Reynolds, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina and co-founder of the EIC, which has measured 213 elections in 153 countries since 2012.

Oh well.

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