Democratic leaders within the NCDP are fundraising and ‘backdoor endorsing’ candidates during this primary election which is against their own Democratic bylaws.
The first time I met Ken Spaulding was at an African-American conference in eastern North Carolina. Spaulding had his wife and children seated at a table across from me.
During a break in the conference, he came over while I was getting coffee and said, “Hello, I am Ken Spalding. I’m running for governor in 2016.”
We had a pleasant conversation and I was impressed with his political acumen and his desire to help the whole state and not just special interest groups which has seemed to dominate the current political landscape. We talked for a few minutes and I could tell he had researched and had done his homework about what was happening in North Carolina and how he thinks he can make a difference in making our state a better place to work, raise children and live.
That was almost 2 years ago.
Since then, I have followed Spaulding as closely as I can on social media and various media outlets. What surprises me more than anything, regarding Spaulding and other African-American candidates, is how they have been marginalized in this election cycle.
Ken Spaulding made his intentions known almost 2 years ago that he was going to be a candidate for governor and he has been virtually ignored.
Chris Rey, the mayor of Spring Lake, announced his intentions, to various supportive groups, a few months later that he would seek the Democratic nomination for United States Senate to run against Richard Burr in the general election.
Both of these candidates started early; both of these candidates have a high degree of political awareness and acumen; both of these candidates have formed solid campaign strategies, networking capabilities and have competent staff; and both of these candidates have been sidelined by the North Carolina Democratic Party and are hardly mentioned outside of these candidates’ own support networks.
Democratic leaders in North Carolina, some lobbyist and the people who fund these Democratic campaigns, seem to have a vested and selective interest in supporting Debra Ross for United States Senate and Atty. Gen. Rory Cooper for governor. From the way it looks, the Democratic machine has turned a blind eye to other candidates and especially black candidates in this state.
Let’s not make the mistake of believing the advertising bursting out of the mouths of North Carolina’s Democratic leaders – the Democratic Party does NOT have a vested interest in supporting grassroots candidates. These Democrats have a vested interest in keeping pay to play politics alive and well in North Carolina.
For every big donor who gives to the North Carolina Democratic Party there is a big favor that is owed to them in return. That favor can be returned in many ways but primarily it benefits the donor economically in some way.
In all my years of being in and around politics it has always been that way—and I doubt that it will change anytime soon.
But let me spend a few minutes by telling you what I think will change in this election cycle, in 2018 and especially in 2020.
Minorities are making tremendous gains in the Tar Heel State. I talked with Willie Fleming, the former president of the North Carolina African-American caucus, less than a month ago. By his estimation, minorities could very well make up as much as 40% of the voting population in this election cycle alone and by 2018 to 2020; it could be as much as 48%.
Make no mistake about it—these are huge numbers. These are numbers that are big enough to make anyone with common sense take notice. Fortunately for the Republicans, Democratic leaders seem to be lacking enough common sense to figure out a strategy to support the efforts of galvanizing minority voters enough so that they would turn out and vote for our Democratic candidates.
I think history would prove me right in saying that the last time North Carolina elected true grassroots candidates was over 100 years ago during the Fusionist movement.
During that time in North Carolina’s history, both black and white people of low economic means came together and supported candidates who had a common goal and agenda of supporting the welfare and economic stability of the least among us. Poor people were being shafted by big railroad tycoons and the slick politicians they got elected to office.
But also keep in mind, as history points out; it was the Democratic Party at the turn of the 20th century who put a stop to the Fusionist movement and particularly grassroots African-American candidates who sought election.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an article about racism in North Carolina—this is an article pointing to the extent power and money control North Carolina politics and it is that way in both parties and on both sides of the aisle in the North Carolina legislature.
Chris Rey and Ken Spalding are not necessarily being ignored because they are black—they are being ignored because their campaigns are not playing the game so entrenched in North Carolina’s pay to play political system. Secondly, neither of these candidates were chosen by the Democratic elite to carry the mantle in this election cycle. They are by definition outsiders and outsiders have a hard time winning in North Carolina.
So what happens now?
Democratic leaders in North Carolina are going to have to make a decision. If they do not acknowledge and bring minority candidates to the front of the table and give them an ample opportunity to be heard then minority voters will sit home and not vote. The African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities peppered throughout North Carolina are tired of hearing candidates tell them one thing but doing another after they are elected.
If North and Carolina’s minority candidates are not given the same breaks and the same opportunities that other candidates are given and if they are not given the respect they deserve, we will have at least another two years of a Republican dominated General Assembly.
So, the issues go way beyond a senatorial or gubernatorial race—the heart of the matter is the collective Democratic and progressive candidates who are running on the down ballot: State House and Senate races, County Commissioner races, city council races and mayoral races.
For minority voters to vote—you have to give them a reason to get up and go to the polls. So far, this is something the North Carolina Democratic Party has failed to do.
Instead of the Party embracing these two African-American candidates running for statewide office, the party has ignored them up to this point in the election cycle. By doing so, it sends a clear message that minority issues, minority candidates and minority voters are not taken seriously.
The Democratic Party will however preach their love and support to the minority voters in North Carolina by telling them all the things they want to hear, in an effort to get them to the polls to vote for Democrats. The Democratic Party is also fond of saying that they don’t take a position in primary races. But, if you look at the evidence of how the party has positioned itself around Deborah Ross and Rory Cooper, it tells a different story.
Keep in mind that when HJonK started in North Carolina it was during a Democratic administration. This was during the time that the Democrats had held the North Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction.
It may be a good political strategy, depending on the consultant you talk to, for Roy Cooper to ignore Ken Spalding, but it isn’t doing the party any good and it isn’t helping Democratic candidates struggling to get elected in their local communities.
It may be good political strategy for the DSCC to talk Debra Ross into running for Senate but by ignoring the other candidate she isn’t helping the North Carolina Democrats who are trying to get elected in their local communities.
The message that is being sent is that minorities are good enough to vote when they vote for our chosen and favored Democrats, but otherwise, they need to stay out of the political process and let the real politicians do their job.
The North Carolina Democratic Party does not have that many more chances. The longer the Republicans hold the legislature the more armchair voters will get accustomed to having Republicans run this state. As a Democrat and as someone who believes that we should treat the least among us with dignity, respect and a helping hand when it’s needed—it is more than a slap in the face to see the North Carolina Democratic Party play these games.
There is a bright side.
On January 29, 2016—the minority coalition will hold a forum at Goodwin House—the headquarters of the North Carolina Democratic Party. The minority coalition is an ad hoc group made up of the North Carolina Democratic Party African-American Caucus and the North Carolina Democratic Party Hispanic Caucus.
Gubernatorial and senatorial candidates have been invited to participate in this forum. To my knowledge, invitations to individual candidates have already been sent out.
If Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper or Debra Ross decide not to participate in this forum, I think it would send a clear message to minority voters in North Carolina as to who they need to support, give money, and vote. (Hint: it won’t be them)
But what saddens me at a deeper level is the lack of support and ultimately roadblocks that have been put in the way of this forum coming together and taking place.
It is almost as if some within the elite group of North Carolina Democratic insiders had rather not see a minority coalition come together and ask questions of Democratic primary candidates, when common sense tells them that some of the questions will be about minority issues and clearly where those candidates stand on those issues.
Finally, it is inappropriate and irresponsible for the elected Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party to sponsor fundraisers for primary candidates when she specifically claims to the media and to Democrats that the Party does not support or endorse any Democratic primary candidate. By having her name as a fundraising sponsor she is doing just the opposite of what she says the Party should do.
You can’t have it both ways Patsy.
EDIT: After I posted this article, a Democrat called me and reported that the Chair of the LGBT Caucus, Ryan Butler – announced during the treasures report at their annual convention that he had donated $1500 of LGBT Caucus funds to the campaign of Roy Cooper. This was before Cooper announced officially that he would run for governor.
Another Democrat called me immediately after and said she wished these candidates would file a petition with the internal NCDP Council of Review.
Well, here’s the problem: Chair of the NCDP, Patsy Keever, made Ryan Butler the Chair of the Council of Review when she ousted John Brooks. Now, the Council of Review is fractured. If any of the two candidates mentioned above were to file a grievance with the North Carolina Democratic Party it would be like the foxes are guarding the hen house.
EDIT #2: After many phone calls, I feel the need to address an issue that wasn’t part of my original post.
I’m not anti-Roy Cooper or anti-Debra Ross. I’ve met both of them and have talked with each one about various issues. All I’m saying is that the playing field should be equal in the primary season – no more and no less. Neither is this article an electability issue – the voters will make that decision.
However, I do think that if the NC Democratic Party continues to support the notion of staying neutral in primary elections, they should do just that and not play backdoor politics.