For sixteen long years, the citizens of North Carolina's mountainous 11th District were represented in Congress by Charles H. Taylor. No matter the clouds of corruption allegations swirling around him, conservative voters returned Taylor to the House cycle after cycle. He had his Russian bank ties, his Jack Abramoff ties, his Savings and Loan scandal, and a remarkable antipathy towards the press and his progressive constituents. It was like an ill-considered, abusive relationship, and NC-11 voters couldn't tear themselves away.
Then along came Heath Shuler. Big, handsome, and aw-shucks honest, he had pretty words about labor unions, education, and the environment. He looked like our dragon-slayer. We knew about his social conservatism and Tennessee Republican registration, but we looked past those differences, ready for him to free us from the muck pond of Charles Taylor's reign.
Progressive and conservative Democrats across the district worked together to elect Shuler. I campaigned for him repeatedly and interviewed him for the YouTube crowd.
Despite being outspent 3-1, Heath Shuler defeated the embattled, embittered Charles Taylor 54 - 46 in this district that had gone 57 - 43 for President Bush only two years before. And there was much rejoicing. Before long, however, those things we'd chosen to ignore during the campaign began cropping up. He voted against stem cell research. He argued against "amnesty" for immigrants. He voted against hate crimes legislation. He was praised by the Family Research Council, spoke at NC's version of CPAC with Rudy Giuliani and Liddy Dole, and voted against SCHIP. He voted twice against the stimulus package.
Like the abused constituency we'd become under Charles Taylor's tenure, we tried to focus on his votes to expand parks, the V.A., and energy efficiency. Though the knight in shining armor had lost his luster, we weren't ready to imagine anyone better might come along. We nodded our heads when people would say, "it's not like you'll get anyone further to the left of Heath Shuler elected in this district."
And then came the Obama campaign. North Carolina was suddenly a swing state, and Congressman Shuler was doing the superdelegate cha-cha-cha. Obama campaigners and local Democrats embarked on a massive voter registration drive, and when the dust settled in November, 2008, Barack Obama won two counties in Shuler country. Obama's margin in Buncombe County alone accounted for his margin of victory in newly-blue North Carolina.
It's been a real eye-opener for 11th district progressives. We don't have to settle for a representative who won't recognize equality or value stem cell science. We don't have to hang on the arm of a representative who votes so often against Democratic initiatives. Heath Shuler was our perfect rebound relationship after the pain of living with Charles Taylor, but now we're ready to move on, ready to look for a Congressional candidate who will respect women's rights and human rights while keeping our economic fortunes on the right track. With the rumor mill whirling over the possibility Shuler will run for Richard Burr's Senate seat, there may be an open seat for 11th District progressives to go after. That's a possibility that many had almost given up on and that Barack Obama's ascension has turned from a dream into a realistic goal.
Progressives don't have to settle for Heath Shuler. We can recruit and support a Democrat who will reflect the change that's come to America.
BlueNC is dedicated to freedom and fairness for the people of North Carolina. If you share that vision, welcome. If your intention is to disrupt our efforts, please find somewhere else to express your opinions.