Why We’re Fighting For Fairness In The Tarheel State
When extremist conservative lawmakers in North Carolina attempted a series of legislative shenanigans aimed at overturning the will of the people, Working America North Carolina Director Carolyn Smith and her team stepped into action to protect our votes. Carolyn writes:
In 2016, Working America helped push through a number of important wins in North Carolina. We campaigned for good candidates who support fairness and justice in a state where too many of our elected leaders have promoted an anti-democratic agenda that helps Wall Street, but is unfair to working families.
While we did not prevail in the races for president and U.S. Senator, there were several bright spots in our statewide elections. The most important of these were the elections of Roy Cooper as governor and Mike Morgan as Supreme Court justice.
In the run up to November’s elections, we fanned out across the state and held more than 110,000 conversations with middle-class and working people. Time and again, we heard from people who wanted to see their elected leaders deliver good jobs and a better living for North Carolina families.
After four controversial years of conservative rule in Raleigh, people were determined to elect a governor who would fight on their side. They also wanted to see a change in the composition of the state Supreme Court, a move away from partisan judges to a court that will value the principles of fairness. Voters got that in the form of Cooper and Morgan.
However, with a special legislative session scheduled to provide relief from the damage done by Hurricane Matthew, we were hearing that the extremists who lead the state GOP would use the opportunity to undermine those elections by packing the court. It was rumored that they wanted to use an obscure provision in the Constitution to outnumber the elected majority with their own political appointees.
We knew it was serious when those same conservative leaders refused to rule out the scheme publicly. That’s when we rolled up our sleeves and got campaigning.
Working with a coalition that included Progress NC and the North Carolina AFL-CIO, we reached out and mobilized North Carolinians to send messages and put in calls to their state senators and representatives. We joined rallies, and when Phil Berger, the most powerful Republican in the state Senate, still wouldn’t reply, we went ahead and asked him out loud in his local newspaper. The same day, he came out and said he wouldn’t pack the court.
We won on court packing, but those same leaders came up with new shady tricks to cement the power of one of the most gerrymandered majorities in any state legislature in the country. In two terrible days, they undermined the governor’s ability to make sure elections are fair, they made it harder to send many cases to the Supreme Court and they passed a law to keep hundreds political appointees of defeated Gov. Pat McCrory in office after the end of his term.
We believe that many of these actions are unlawful, and indeed, some are already being challenged in court. For us, a few important things have come out of the last three months of political turmoil.
People in North Carolina are fed up with these hyper-partisan games from the Republican leadership. They don’t want politicians who just help their corporate friends instead of the people who elected them. In the face of this affront to our democratic principles, record numbers of people have mobilized—and we aren’t stopping. We know just how hard-won our rights are in North Carolina, and we are prepared for that fight.
This year, we may have another opportunity to make our voices heard at the ballot box. The courts are currently deciding whether to hold special elections with newly drawn voting district boundaries that are in line with the Constitution. This is happening because conservative legislators drew some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. A recent op-ed in the Charlotte Observer noted, “North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project,” an independent research project that studies how and why elections fail.
The most important thing a citizen can do in a democracy is get rid of people who aren’t representing us properly. As we look ahead in 2017, our New Year’s resolution in our Greensboro community office is to hold accountable the people who have so brazenly attempted to undermine our vote and our democracy in the state. We hope you will join us.