WILSON, NORTH CAROLINA—Politically, North Carolina
matters and matters quite a bit. Once called the most progressive southern state, North Carolina was controlled by Democrats for over one hundred and twenty years. Before McCrory, the last Republican governor was elected almost thirty years ago. In fact, you can count the number of Republican governors on one hand. Those were the good ol’ days.
But, as all good things must come to an end, NC democrats lost big in 2010. So, now the question becomes why.
NC Democrats have always been good at shooting themselves in the foot just before the finish line. And, it’s true that some Dems in quite a few key districts got cocky and thought they’d never lose an election.
But, just because the Democrats got sloppy, didn’t listen to the electorate, forgot they worked for the “people” and suffered from a sluggish regional economy, all while making poor policy decisions, doesn’t add up to why they lost everything, including the kitchen sink.
Enter the Tea Party—well, one in particular. The most organized and one of the most closely looked upon Tea Party groups is located in Wilson: the Wilson County Tea Party.
For example, when Renee Ellmers (NC-2) first ran for Congress and before anyone really knew her name, she made it a point to speak at a Wilson County Tea Party rally. She realized how important their opinions matter but more importantly, what their wrath could do to her election. She’s not the only person who thinks this.
Other would be politicians jockey for the opportunity to get in front of this group. They know that if they can look, sound and feel ultra conservative, say the right buzz words and throw in a few Amens, they have a chance of getting a WCTP “thumbs up”. That thumbs up can often mean all the difference in getting elected in NC.
The Wilson County Tea Party is so good at what they do; so organized; so successful, that other groups—inside and outside of North Carolina—have reached out in an effort to emulate what they’ve done.
But, that’s not the whole story. Why have they become so successful?
By no small measure, it’s because of the efforts of one particular person: the founder of the Wilson County Tea Party—Joel Killion.
At first look, this mild mannered and good hearted guy doesn’t look like a grassroots guru, but he is just that. Joel Killion is probably the best political grassroots organizer I’ve ever met.
I would even go so far as to say I’ve know Killion for a few years now and as much as I hate to admit it, he’s a lot better and a Hell-of-a-lot smarter than me when it comes to local politics in galvanizing and mobilizing likeminded people.
In North Carolina, politics is definitely a contact sport and Joel Killion is a major player in local politics. Anyone who underestimates him or his grassroots efforts will be beaten every time.
So, if it sounds like I like the guy, you’re right—I do. I have a lot of respect for his abilities and any Democrat who doesn’t take him or the Wilson County Tea Party seriously is a damn fool.
Oh, did I mention that Killion and the WCTP are located in the heart of one of the most democratic areas in North Carolina? Even in the 2010 election, when Dems were losing right and left and the rats were jumping ship, eastern North Carolina was the only area to hold tight and keep the faith.
I guess some people would say I’m exaggerating the strength and abilities of Killion and his WCTP. I don’t think I am. Killion is tough to beat and his opinions matter.
What he does also matters because other Tea Parties and other organizers are so apt to copy what he does and the way he does it.
That’s the reason I stuck my nose in his appointment as Secretary of the local Wilson County Board of Elections. It’s not just a local issue and the dynamics go way beyond Wilson County and eastern North Carolina.
Just take a look at what happens when you don’t pay attention and take for granted Killion and his grassroots power.
In less than two years, NC teachers have lost jobs, pay and tenure. Voters now have to show an ID to exercise their right to vote (a political smokescreen but that’s another story). A woman’s right to chose was curtailed, hidden in a motorcycle bill that few knew anything about. The Racial Justice Act, tax law, redistricting, Medicaid expansion, unemployment: need I continue?
Yes, the Tea Party and Tea Party leaders matter because they elect Libertarians who mask as Republicans because they know they can’t get elected any other way.
The scary part is that they’ve only just begun. There’s a Hell-of-a-lot of Tea left in the pot.