A couple of weeks ago in Chapel Hill, it was standing room only for a Friday afternoon book discussion featuring North Carolina State Rep. Graig Meyer and my colleague Mike Lux, author of How to Democrat in the Age of Trump.. They talked about giving up false choices, advocating for a boldly progressive policy agenda, and engaging voters by returning the Democratic Party to the people. Activists there were clearly pumped up for the prospect of a Democratic wave election this November, not only to counter President Trump and Republican control of Congress, but also to break the GOP supermajority in the state legislature, an outcome with increasingly good odds.
In 2016, in a rebuke to Republican overreach under Pat McCrory (remember the notorious bathroom bill?), voters elected Democrat Roy Cooper governor. Republicans quickly moved to castrate his executive power, and are now looking to further entrench their political advantage by enacting strict voter laws. They tried voter suppression before in 2013, and that legislation was only just repealed in 2017, when the courts found that it brazenly targeted African-Americans. The ongoing assault on voting rights through suppression and unconstitutional racial gerrymandering helped to spur the progressive Moral Mondays movement, now in its fifth year. The leader of that movement, Reverend William Barber, became a national progressive star.
North Carolina Democrats have fielded credible candidates in every legislative district "for the first time ever;" built a basic package of campaign tools for every one of those candidates; and have raised record amounts of cash.
So this percolating progressivism didn't start with Trump, but under his presidency, it's coming to a boil. North Carolina Democrats have fielded credible candidates in every legislative district "for the first time ever;" built a basic package of campaign tools for every one of those candidates; and have raised record amounts of cash --- seven times what they had on hand four years ago, and 18 times what they had eight years ago!
Meyer and Lux held another book discussion at the state party headquarters in Raleigh that evening, with several new candidates in attendance. Rep. Meyer praised the party's executive director, Kimberly Reynolds, who has led the remarkable financial turnaround. She told me:
Just a few years ago, the party was in a shaky position and needed to win back the trust of a lot of North Carolina Democrats. But with the right leaders and vision, we charted a path to rebuild the party, win back the Governor’s mansion, break the supermajority, and take back our legislature. We’re halfway there and we’re not stopping now. Through our nearly $6 million Break the Majority initiative, the party is the strongest we’ve ever been heading into a midterm election, united behind a clear goal of breaking the supermajority, giving Governor Cooper his veto, and bringing common sense back to Raleigh.
Reynolds, Rep. Meyer, and all the enthusiastic new candidates and grassroots activists I met that day sold me. I left Raleigh impressed, hopeful that they will turn the tide from red to blue in their state.
Last week Reynolds and Meyer made the rounds at Netroots Nation, the biggest annual gathering of the progressive movement in the country. Rep. Meyer spoke on a panel about navigating partnerships between the Democratic Party and the grassroots, where he delivered a tough love message on working hard through Election Day: "There's no days off. It's too important, and the people we are doing this for get no days off."