Piedmont politics: Where to?

by Brian Clarey

On the morning after Election Day, Minister Willie Muhammad of the Nation of Islam was showing off the front page of The Final Call newspaper, whose lead story asked, “Black voters to the rescue, again?” In Guilford County, the answer is decisively yes if the survival of Democratic candidates was your objective. Two years of organizing by tea party groups, a hard-working and talented slate of Republican candidates and a concerted voter education campaign by Conservatives for Guilford County coalesced to present a stiff challenge to a number of lawmakers in Democratic safe seats.

The closest fight turned out to be NC House District 59, where veteran Democratic lawmaker Maggie Jeffus prevailed over Republican challenger Theresa Yon by a 5-percent margin.

Joan Bass, Jeffus’ campaign manager, acknowledged after the election that the campaign had focused get-out-the-vote efforts in Democratic-leaning precincts with large concentrations of African- American voters to cobble together the votes to withstand the expected Republican wave. A storyline about Yvonne Johnson’s upset loss in last year’s Greensboro mayoral race also effectively mobilized black voters. Johnson, who is the city’s first and only black mayor, recorded a robo-call urging Democrats to get to the polls to keep “extremists” from getting elected, the Beloved Community Center distributed fliers noting that Johnson lost her race by about 800 votes because of apathy among her supporters and Jesse Jackson chastised NC A&T University for “losing the mayor” during his visit for the opening of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in February.

Jason Coley, who served as field coordinator for the Guilford County Democratic Party, said he thinks the results of this year’s election demonstrate a ripple effect from 2009, when the nonpartisan Greensboro City Council was taken over by a Republican and conservative majority despite the fact that the city’s electorate leans Democratic.

“I think Greensboro base and swing precincts had their taste of what it was like to lose to a GOP tidal wave, and then wind up with a conservative city council,” Coley said. “2009 put our residents on warning on what could happen… so the Guilford County Democratic base and lean Democratic precincts came to the polls.”

And while Republicans picked up not a single state legislative seat in Guilford or Forsyth county this year, the political environment is radically different with the Republicans taking a majority of the seats in both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since 1898. For Democratic survivors, that means a couple things. Reps. Alma Adams and Maggie Jeffus and Sen. Linda Garrou lose their senior budget-writing positions on their respective chambers’ appropriations committees. And as a lawmaker who is often at odds with her own party’s leadership, progressive Pricey Harrison will find herself even further in the wilderness.

The Republicans also control redistricting next year, and win the dubious prize of getting to figure out how the state cuts its way out of a budget shortfall estimated to be at least $3.2 billion. It’s looking like a wild ride.

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