U.S. News: How to Rebuild a Political Party
By Seth Cline
August 17, 2017
It’s bad enough that the Democratic Party is the distinct minority in Washington, holding neither the majorities in Congress or the grand political prize of the White House.
But take a look at the states.
The party has lost over 800 seats in state legislatures since 2008. It holds only 31 of the 98 state legislative chambers, and for the first time in history, not a single one in the South. Only 15 of the nation’s 50 governors are Democrats.
In many ways, North Carolina is a case study of the Democrats’ misfortune. The party ran the state for decades, and now holds barely a third of its legislative seats. Though Roy Cooper, a Democrat, won the governor’s race in 2016, Republicans in the legislature have curtailed his executive powers and overridden his vetoes – including that of the state’s budget in June. Nevertheless, the party is hoping to build off its lone bright spot.
“Roy Cooper defeated the sitting governor and that election has emboldened our ongoing efforts over the last several years to retake the legislature,” says Wayne Goodwin, the chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party and former state commissioner of insurance.
To win back seats, many Democrats nationwide are turning to issues such as single payer health care or economic populism. But Cooper and North Carolina Democrats’ new campaign, called “Break the Majority,” focuses primarily on the issue of partisan redistricting.
“The number one goal and paramount part of our mission as Democrats is to break the Republican supermajority, so of course the effort sort of named itself,” says Goodwin.
Goodwin and other Democratic leaders say they are aggressively recruiting candidates across the state, and have begun to prioritize local offices like school board and county commissioner.
“Not only are they the farm team they also help recruit and help shape the future,” Goodwin says. “Both parties have adopted the permanent campaign.”
That so-called gerrymandering, by which lawmakers contort district lines to maximize their political power, has a greater impact on North Carolinians’ lives than they may realize, he says.
“When you’re talking about whether schools receive adequate funding, whether teachers receive adequate compensation, and there are concerns about roads being paved and water being clean it’s important to give folks choices and that resonates,” Goodwin says.
In the legislative complex in downtown Raleigh, state lawmakers are holding hearings on the court-ordered redrawing of the legislative maps. But Republican lawmakers have taken their time redrawing the map, and many are skeptical the new version will be substantially different.
“When we’ve had a congressional map thrown out and the Supreme Court says, ‘You racially gerrymandered, you gotta redraw,’ the problem is those same people get to draw it again, and that’s what happened,” Phillips says.
Republican leaders announced earlier this summer that the same architect behind the gerrymandered 2011 map, redistricting mastermind Tom Hofeller, would lead the latest effort.
“I’m angered that they didn’t choose a different consultant who will actually listen to the court and follow the law,” says Goodwin, the state party chair. “Anything this consultant produces will be highly questioned.”