How to Change North Carolina

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.


What rewards are there?

Besides being a banner of liberty I mean? Does the pay come close to taking the necessary hours from your real job?

I still want to know why political jobs cost so much to run for when they don't pay a salary that's not to be jealous of.

The ability to make change

The simple answer is the ability to make a change. And while the state legislature doesn't pay all that well there are a lot of positions that pay more than well enough to provide for a family.

The reason they cost so much to run for is that you are trying to bring a message to thousands and thousands of people and your competition is real world events, other candidates, jobs, kids, thousands of advertisements, etc.

"Keep the Faith"

I talked with State Senator Jones

the other night. This man I respect. He is a Democrat but before that, he is a representative.

He gives me the impression that he is here to hear what we are looking for. He looks at our issues and makes them his. He takes the time to go out to group gatherings not because it will get him elected, but because he represents those folks. He has to be able to go to Raleigh and speak on our behalf.

Last time I looked at the salaries for state reps, they get $14k about / year. No real money for gas. When legislation in session, he gets perdeim for food and lodging. He is not going to get rich by being a State Senator. His reward is knowing his actions are helping the roughly 108,000 people represented.

To him, people come first and foremost.

He drives in his PU truck to various invited functions on HIS dime and does not complain about it. Why does he do this? The people asked him to come to a shindig that supports an idea or believe in that community. That idea or belief needs his support. He comes and learns both sides of the story by being at the shindig.

To me, politicians are bad. Politicians are party affiliated and own to much to the party bosses to make decisions for the people represented. The money spent to get elected came from the party. The party bosses released the money. Politicians represent the party first, then their reelection bids, then lobbists, and somewhere down the line, the people.

Party's do not represent all the people. They represent somewhere around 48% of the people. They do not represent the majority of people. For a party to feel they represent all the people is arrogance that will doom a party.

A representative has their people first.

Phone Call

Just the other night I called a relative who was on business in Oregon but lives nearby. He has went from registered Republican to Independent voting a straight Dem ticket in 2008.

He is a very well-respected family man who can relate to small business, the average joe, and the religious zealots that occupy my district.

This man, in my humble opinion, would be an excellent representative. But he makes upward of 75K per year and has a family.

If I sell him on running, I put his famliy at risk. Even if he wins, and I'm a pretty shrewd campaigner despite my track record, I'm asking him to make a huge sacrifice.

I'm not sure what my question is here, except to say that recruiting a candidate is harder than it seems.

Incredibly tough for it to work

And you have given a lot of the reason why so many people wait until they retire, or can make significant cut backs in their work hours.

In this case I would start by figuring out what district he is in, and what the chances are there for a Democrat. In a lot of districts where we have never had a Democrat running, a credible candidate capable of making the "Democratic Case" to as many voters as possible is incredibly productive, even if it doesn't lead to a win.

"Keep the Faith"

What is wrong with retirees?

We don’t need another retiree in the state house. We don’t need more of the same.

To be a representative of your area you have to move about. You have to get where you the people are. Someone who has a job pulling down $50k+ has to be doing 40+hours just for that job. Throw in commute times and that representative is not going to be able to move about as freely in the district as a retiree could.

The amount of time needed to research the various concerns brought up for a representative to deal with are staggering. Just look at the many headlines on this site for examples. Many of these are brought up here because we are hoping our representatives or politicians will see it, read it, and take on our ideas for their research. Sort of crib notes for the state legislators.

To truly know what your voting on takes time to research. Someone with a full time job does not have that time. If they have a family, then things like sporting events, band, dances, etc must be incorporated into this as well.

Most retirees have the time, limited impacts on their schedule, a steady income that would be augmented by the state for being a representative. They have the life experiences to look beyond the emotional aspect of the law about to be voted on, but the other ramifications that this law might cause.

I would not discredit retirees as quickly as you stated. We are not improper choices for representing the people of our state.

I see your point with young, etc. Yes, other opinions and fresh ideas are needed. They have to have the backbone and experience to stand up to a strong politician or they may relegate themselves to being a puppet. If a retiree runs for the right reason, to be a representative, they bring new ideas and they bring the experience. They are better equipped to stand up and take on a politician that is on their own agenda vice being there to represent North Carolina.

Getting Trained up

Good post, and I'd only add that participating in a strong candidate and/or campaign manager training is very important. For folks who are new to political campaigns, like the fresh faces you're suggesting, there are untold nuts and bolts that go into mounting a winning effort. You're recruit is going to be a much better candidate and have a better chance of knocking off an incumbent if she or he gets "trained up."

There are progressive organizations that offer great training programs, and I highly recommend them. For Democratic women candidates Lillian's List offers candidate training and support; for LGBT candidates the Victory Fund offers an outstanding training program 4 times a year. I've participating in the VF training, and it can't be beat. I'm sure there are other training opportunities, but these are the two I'm familiar with.

This sounds a little familiar

This sounds a little familiar ... ;-)

I would also add that you should look at districts where state-level candidates like Dalton and Cooper did well - don't be scared away by Barack or Perdue's numbers in a given district.

And we do need more young people in the GA. Over 1/3 of the voting age population is 18-40, while ten or fewer members (out of 170) of the General Assembly are under 40. I'm not saying that 55 members of the GA need to be under 40, but we need more representatives who understand the issues facing the dot com generation.

I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. - Bill Hicks