‘Your 80 percent friend is not your 20 percent enemy’

Maybe it’s because state Rep. Jon Hardister represents both well-to-do northwest Greensboro, and some of the most rural parts of Guilford County, that the 32-year-old Republican has learned a thing or two about balance and independent thought.

I hadn’t thought too much about Hardister since his election in 2012 to the state house, having myself become as apolitical as possible in the face of constant gridlock in Washington and a rash of backward looking legislative activity coming from the new GOP paradigm in Raleigh. Because of his youth and natural good looks, I had judged him as just another conservative activist riding the Tea Party express with an Ayn Rand reader tucked neatly beneath his well-tailored clothes.

Then Hardister started showing up on my Facebook feed hanging out with a hard-core Democrat named John Graham down at the Blandwood Mansion. Graham, and others, have been on a tear during the last year about the importance of historic preservation tax credits, the same credits that the Republican majority in Raleigh let expire last year despite a strong track record of the credits having jump-started revitalization projects all across the state.

Hardister, Graham said, was open to the idea of restoring the tax credits and toured Blandwood, which is also home to Preservation Greensboro, to get a broader view.

That seemed, to me, like a forwardthinking type thing for a North Carolina Republican to do in this day and age. I was impressed.

Arch-conservative state Sen. Trudy Wade filed her Greensboro redistricting bill just after the legislature convened, and the city’s been ablaze with rhetoric on both sides about how this bill is either going to end decency as we know it in the civilized world, or it will align the Sun, Moon and stars to create a more perfect union right here in the Gate City. Perhaps that’s my apolitical filter talking. But there was Hardister again, or his name at least, being mentioned as having the intention to file a requirement that Wade’s bill to redistrict the city council be approved by Greensboro voters in a referendum. Wade’s bill, in its current form, would shove the changes down the city’s throat.

That Hardister is my kind of guy, I thought to myself, because local control is the foundation of a constitutional republic, the type of government we’re supposed to have here even in this new Republican North Carolina.

Along came the local  The Rhino Times, two weeks ago with three articles that included negative commentary about Hardister and his independent views. I hadn’t read that paper that week because I was out of work with a mild case of fever and bronchitis. So when I began getting calls and emails about how off the rails the paper’s criticism of Hardister was, I began to check it out.

There was Hardister described as “out of step” with state Sen. Phil Berger, referred to in some local Republican circles as “Big Daddy”, because he felt Berger’s religious recusal bill went too far, and quite possibly set a dangerous precedent that mixed religion and government function. There he was criticized for not passionately backing Wade in her quest to remake the Greensboro city council to suit her whim. Lastly, he was described as being silly for daring to support an independent redistricting commission. The editor made light of Hardister having written a college paper on independent redistricting.

In what is surely the second most hurtful comparison one Republican can make of another, Hardister was compared to Al Gore. I guess they held the Obama card back for a later play.

On the whole, I agreed it was overkill. One Hardister supporter described the move as an attempt to get the young man back in line by giving him a choke collar.

I met with Hardister on Friday morning at a coffee shop off New Garden Road. Exceedingly polite, and a great conversationalist, we made small talk while I ate a sandwich before really getting to the heart of the matter.

Hardister was adamant that he didn’t want to be seen as complaining, or causing division within Republican circles, but that he felt it was “very unfair” to be singled out in that issue.

“I think disagreement is good … but why do you let the one or two issues where you disagree become vitriolic and beat up on a Republican?” Hardister said. He repeated Ronald Reagan’s 80/20 rule several times, which holds that “your 80 percent friend is not your 20 percent enemy.”

The reaction to the articles was supportive of his stances, Hardister said, noting that he didn’t receive any negative calls or messages.

“Not to say that no one is thinking that, I just haven’t heard from anybody,” Hardister said. “The feedback I’m getting is generally in favor of my positions — being independent.”

I asked Hardister if there was really room in the Republican Party for diversity of thought.

“There has to be room for that in the Republican Party,” he said. “A majority of Republicans under 40 are more fiscally conservative than (previous generations), but they are more socially libertarian.”

Graham, of Preservation Greensboro, said he was impressed with the way Hardister looks at problems and tries to find the solutions others may have missed. Greensboro businessman Marty Kotis, himself a member of the UNC Board of Governors, has been a Hardister supporter from the beginning. I asked Kotis what made Hardister a good leader.

“I believe that Jon is an honest politician and an independent thinker, and he shouldn’t be criticized for having differing views,” Kotis said. “Differing views should be respected within the (Republican Party) in general. You don’t beat up on people for having independent views.” !