Progressive Democrats of North Carolina
Annual Meeting on 10/7/06 in Asheville, NC
This was the third annual meeting of the Progressive Democrats of North Carolina, with between 40 to 60 people present (some were there for part of the day). This meeting opened with a panel on state politics with NC House Representative Susan Fisher and Chris Fitzsimon, Director of NC Policy Watch. Fisher said she looks at candidates from the perspective of issues, and decides which candidate to support from their position on issues. What matters most to her is human rights and transparency of government. Susan felt that the most progressive accomplishment of the NC legislature this session was raising the minimum wage by one dollar – and she immediately added that it needs to go up more. She also worked on childcare subsidies.
Fitzsimon asked why do people who hate government want to get involved in government? He said that the last legislative sessions in the NC legislatures was one of the better ones, and felt several important and useful steps were taken. He said they passed some “reform of the system” – but not enough on legislators and election reform and campaign finance issues. He said 36,000 to 39,000 children are on waiting list for childcare subsidies in North Carolina. We expect people to get off welfare with no provisions for childcare. He also spoke about HIV/AIDS drugs and that NC has stringent criteria for health insuranc3e for 9,000 critically ill people in this state. He said that there was no house vote on a moratorium on the death penalty. He pointed out that there is a requirement to provide housing for migrant workers – but they are required to provide housing but not mattresses. Fitzsimon said that the system is the problem, not just unethical legislators. For example, someone can give a million to NC Democratic Party, who then hand out $100,000+ to NC Senate candidates. This is money laundering. He spoke about schools and testing, and how we are failing there. He said the State Ethics Commission is now established by law, but they hold closed-door sessions. The recent ‘gift ban’ for legislators will cover the amount of the contributions but not the amount that can be raised. It didn’t go far enough. [I felt this panel discussion was very enlightening, and it was also filmed. I hope it will be available on-line one day.]
We then had an opening address by Asheville’s Mayor, Ms. Terry Bellemy. She said, among other things, that we need to elect people who “work well with others” because they will not get anything accomplished if they don’t work well with others. They may have great ideas, but they will be unable to move them forward. Ms. Bellemy recognized Minnie Jones, a local activist in Asheville who started a health clinic and after school program.
We then proceeded to the election of new officers. Members who were unable to attend were able to vote by email, and this was careful regulated. We then had lunch and a short speech from Jim Long, who is running for NC House in District 110, in Cleveland and Gaston counties. I gave a short speech on Progressive Democrats of America and then introduced Doug Jones, who is running for NC House in District 116, in Buncombe County. While we were eating our lunch, they counted the votes. I think we elected a great slate of officers for the Progressive Democrats of NC! The results are listed below.
President: Pete MacDowell
1st Vice President: Isaac Coleman
2nd Vice President: Matilda Phillips
3rd Vice President: Susan Reed
4th Vice President: Chris Lizak
Treasurer: David Mills
Secretary: Helen Clark
The keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. William Barber, who is the president of the North Carolina NAACP, followed lunch. First off, Rev. Barber said we all need to be members of the NAACP, since it is a multi-racial and multi-cultural civil rights organization, not an African American organization. Rev. Barber spoke of “you shall know them by their fruits”. This reflects the reality that you cannot count on what our politicians say, but rather on the outcomes of their actions and decisions. Rev. Barber stressed that you cannot achieve moral objectives via immoral means. He gave several examples from the so-called ‘war on terror’. Our politicians and citizens use distortion, distraction, and lies about our own use of terror by our country and it’s agents. We don’t speak when our policies fuel terrorism, and we don’t speak the truth about our own terrorist history. He questioned if 9/11 was partly an inside job or just neglect. He said that the politicians used the broken heart of America to follow their own policies instead of talking about that pain and bringing us together – instead, it split us apart. Rev. Barber said we have blinded, one-eyed justice – and that is the problem now, along with the very high level of hypocrisy. He said we are unlearning lessons that we never learned. He said people don’t vote because they see everything politicians do as ‘gaming’ the system. Rev. Barber said a democracy should look like a democracy, sound like a democracy, and feel like a democracy. We should do things that are right, just because they are right. It was a very powerful and progressive speech that challenged us to advance a politics of principle, not a politics of calculated advantage.
This was followed by a panel discussion on progressive politics in Asheville and Chatham County. Robin Cape talked about the importance of ‘inside’ power and having a majority in city council. She stressed that we need to keep going for the highest good, even if it falls short of what we would like. Ms. Cape also said that people had her back, and she is counting on the support of the people who voted her into office. Holly Jones spoke of diversified campaigning and how making phone calls worked better for her. She also talked about fiscal responsibility and how progressives need to get it together around money. She said that Asheville City Council did not raise taxes. Brownie Newman talked about his various campaigns and how he kept trying in order to get on city council. Bryan Freeborn talked about his campaign where they were at first disorganized, but became like a machine and really did some momentum going. Bryan was appointed to City Council based on the fact that the Mayor vacated her council seat and Freeborn was the fourth highest vote getter. Jeffery Starkweather talked about the Chatham Coalition, and how they ran a slate of candidates based on issues. They felt this was the easiest way to win the election, and also felt they can hold the slate accountable since they are the majority. They emphasized collaboration, compromise and communication. He also emphasized that you need to make sure that people hear the message that you want to get across, and that the emphasis is on “we” not on “I”. He also felt that part of every campaign against incumbents is to hold them accountable.
The Progressive Democrats of North Carolina are focusing on the 2008 Lt. Governor’s race and are attempting to find and support a progressive candidate for this office. In light of this, we had three people invited to speak to our group. Lt. Governor candidates had a panel, and this was called a “Vision of the Race”. They pointed out how 2008 election will be a big election in North Carolina, with a US Senate seat, President, and Governor seats will be open. David Mills spoke about how state positions are important but overlooked. Dan Besse from Winston-Salem city council spoke about his decision to run for Lt. Governor. He talked about how Duke Energy got exemptions to pollute more, and how we need to win not by selling our principles, but by explaining our principles. Mayor Pat Smathers (Canton, NC) talked about how vision without action is a daydream, and action without vision is a nightmare. He felt that we should not wait for Raleigh or Washington to fix our problems. Leni Sitnick (former Mayor of Asheville) spoke for Hampton Dellinger. Mr. Dellinger was chief legal council to the Governor and worked in the Attorney General’s office. This Governor’s term (reportedly) executed more people than any prior government. This was brought out by Steven Dear of “People of Faith Against the Death Penalty” who questioned the two potential candidates and the one representative for the third candidate about the death penalty and the death penalty moratorium. All three candidates supported the death penalty but wanted to have a moratorium for some spell to look at the problems inherent in the system. It was pointed out to all of them that if they execute people, they will one day kill an innocent person, since the system is subject to human error. With this, the meeting was adjourned.