This Diary is meant as a how to guide on making North Carolina more progressive within the state legislature. As we have seen, even with large Democratic majorities, it is often not enough to just get more Democrats elected to office in Raleigh. We also need to make sure that we are pushing for different Democrats, real progressives who put people first. But, how do we do that on an individual basis?
The simplest place for change to happen in Raleigh is to shake up our state legislature. This process has begun slowly, with the choosing of Speaker Hackney, and the upward movement by people like Deborah Ross. But there is still a lot of work to do.
The first step to take is do a little research. What districts are in your county? Who represents you? Are they a Democrat who has voted like a Republican? Are they a Republican who has voted like a Neanderthal? Have they been challenged recently? You would be shocked at how many representatives were not challenged in 2006 and 2008. Sure a lot of these folks would be impossible to beat, but a new person with fresh ideas can often change the views and attitudes of incumbents. As an example, in 2008 Donna Edwards beat successfully primaried Al Wynn, an incumbent member of congress. She was successful for a lot of reasons we can discuss later, but the important part is that her win coupled with the new activism inspired by Obama served as a shot across the bow of every conservative Democrat who was part of the Congressional Black Caucus.
If you need help doing the research, try the State Board website (2008 and prior results) for past election results. And the State Legislature to find out who represents what areas, etc. There are also a lot of groups that endorse candidates or publish ratings if you aren't sure where the person stands.
So now that you know who you can challenge and who you don’t need to challenge you need to think about the district and think about who could represent that district. Is the district full of suburban households with young kids? Is it a rural district with lots of farms? Is it full of upper middle class families or a lot of families living at the poverty line? If you know who lives in the district then you can figure out where to look for a candidate. The most successful candidates and representatives are those who fully represent their constituents.
The next step is to find someone to run. The last place to start is the Democratic Party, rather you want to look a little outside the box. What about that owner of the small business who you have known for 5 years that you know is a Democrat? What about the young Obama volunteer who had never done more than vote until a year ago? Start thinking about people that you really respect in your everyday life, even if the person that you would really like isn’t interested, they might know someone who would be just perfect.
The most important factor if we are going to make significant changes in the legislature is that the person be something different. Young people and Women are significantly underrepresented in the state House and Senate. That matters, and you better believe that it has large policy implications. We don’t need another retiree in the state house. We don’t need more of the same. Another important thing to think about when recruiting candidates is to look at some important groups and see if the incumbent is a friend. For instance, if an incumbent is not endorsed by groups like NCAE (teachers) or SEANC (state employees) then your candidate is likely to get a little more help in a challenge.
So now you have your target district, and your favored candidate. What then? You ask them. Everything that I have seen shows that the people we need will not run unless they are asked. This is especially true of women, who rarely begin a career in politics without being asked to do so. So you ask them. You call them to schedule a coffee and you present your case. You have to explain to them what the district looks like, and why you believe they can win. Or if it’s a really tough district, you have to show them how their campaign will make some positive change (yeah, there are no moral victories in politics, but sometimes there actually are).
But most people are going to say no at the first meeting. Even if they have thought about it before they won’t think they are qualified. Or they won’t want to be embarrassed by a loss. Or they will think the very idea is absurd, after all they have only ever voted and raised a family, and who are they to be an elected official? This is where your passion and knowledge is essential. You have to present them with a significant plan, and you have to explain to them that their lack of involvement is why you are asking them to run. But, you also need to use your friends here to ask for help. I am positive that I am not the only one willing to do anything I can to help you recruit a candidate, or walk someone through the process so that they know they will have help.
So get to it. Its time to stop yelling about policy, and start making and changing policy.
BlueNC is dedicated to making North Carolina a more progressive and prosperous state. If your intention is to disrupt this effort, please find somewhere else to express your opinions.