The storylines of the 2012 election results could be not more different when you compare the rest of the country to North Carolina.
President Obama was reelected overwhelmingly and Democrats gained seats in the U.S. Senate in a year when Republicans though they had a chance to reclaim the majority. Voters in Maryland and Maine approved marriage equality. It looks like it will also pass in the state of Washington. Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Florida voters rejected the dangerous and ridiculously named Taxpayers Bill of Rights and people in Michigan rejected a silly call for a supermajority in the General Assembly to raise taxes. Voters in Maryland also approved a version of the Dream Act that will allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition and be eligible for financial aid at public universities.
It was progressive night indeed in much of America.
But not in North Carolina where Republicans not only captured the governor’s mansion, but increased their margins in the General Assembly to 32-18 in the Senate and a stunning 77-43 in the House.
Republican Dan Forest was elected Lieutenant Governor. He is likely the most ideologically extreme statewide elected official in the modern era of North Carolina.
Republicans maintained their majority on the N.C. Supreme Court as conservative justice Paul Newby fended off a challenge from Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV with the help of more than $2 million of money from big Republican donors and special interests with issues likely to come before the court.
Gerrymandered districts also made possible the election of nine members of Congress in a 13-member delegation, with one race subject to a recount.
The narrow victory for Mitt Romney in the state shows again that North Carolina is roughly evenly divided along party lines, but that’s no match for the rigged districts and the massive infusion of outside money that Democrats couldn’t match.
An Institute of Southern Studies report a few days before the election found that almost $14 million of outside money was spent on state races, much of it funneled through the state Republican Party and groups like Real Jobs NC funded by people like conservative businessman Art Pope, North Carolina’s version of a Koch brother.
It wasn’t all money. The Republicans were aided by the fact the N.C. Democratic Party is in shambles, marred by internal scandals and open feuds between party leaders and top elected officials that made fundraising almost impossible.
The late decision by Governor Bev Perdue not to seek reelection made Lt. Gov Walter Dalton almost an accidental candidate for governor and though he made a valiant effort to jumpstart his campaign, he was hopelessly outmatched by the war chest of former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory who has been running and raising money since he lost to Perdue four years ago.
The only bright spot for North Carolina Democrats Tuesday was that they didn’t lose any of the other seats they currently hold on the Council of State beyond governor and lieutenant governor.
That’s little consolation and you get the feeling those candidates only survived because the Real Jobs/Pope/Republican money machine didn’t spend much against them, preferring instead to flood the Newby/Ervin race and legislative battles with disgusting ads.
Add it all up and it’s a recipe for electoral disaster of historic proportions for Democrats and that’s what happened, the worst general election in memory, even as much of the nation was headed in a progressive direction.
Republicans and the think tanks on the right in North Carolina say the results mean that voters endorse the slash and burn far right agenda of the 2011-2012 General Assembly.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam is already promising reactionary tax reform and the privatization of public schools with vouchers next year. But the public doesn’t support that or most of the rest of the Tea Party platform.
But that’s what in store after the election debacle for progressives unless McCrory himself steps in and leaves his campaign rhetoric behind and governs the state like he governed Charlotte, as a moderately conservative mayor who supported public investments in things like mass transit and economic development.
North Carolina turned again to the right Tuesday. How far to the right that turn will take us is up to the next governor and who he decides to listen to, the evenly divided voters or the wealthy donors on their ideological crusade.