I’ve spent the last couple of weeks immersed in city politics. Usually I’m swimming in politics, but lately it’s been hard to keep my head above water.
The City Council election has moved so far left that candidates who would normally be considered liberal are running as the more conservative candidate in the race. The challenge to most incumbent Democrats is coming from the left, not from the right.
It seemed like things should be going the other way. The Democrats suffered a big defeat in 2016. They are supposed to spend a couple of years licking their wounds. And I think the Hillary Clinton supporters may be doing just that. But the supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the left wing of the party, is energized and organized and they are running for office
It took me a while to figure things out, but what has happened on the left is what happened on the right after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.
On the right it was called the Tea Party Movement. It was the more conservative Republicans, joined by some who are so conservative they refuse to join the Republican Party.
But the far right got organized, held meetings and ran a bunch of candidates for office.
Following the 2008 election of Obama, the voters in the City Council elections of 2009 elected a Republican mayor, Bill Knight, and five Republican city councilmembers. In the mayoral election of 2011, two Republicans, Knight and Robbie Perkins, ran against each other.
Compare that to today with District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins as the lone Republican on the council.
But if in 2009 the city reacted to the Obama election by electing an unprecedented six Republicans to the City Council, it would make sense for the city to react to the election of Trump with an extremely liberal City Council. As far as numbers go, the Democrats can only gain one seat on the City Council, but moderate Democrats can be replaced with far more liberal Democrats.
It would be interesting to know if the Republicans were elected in 2009 because more Republicans turned out to vote than normal or if it was the same old voters deciding to give Republicans a try. It was probably some of both, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an analysis of that election based on the political party of the voters.
As always, there were other issues at play. In 2009, the Cardinal area had just been annexed and the majority of new city voters out there were not happy about paying city taxes and went to the polls to vote against anyone who voted for annexation.
But it does make sense if the city took an unprecedented turn to the right after the election of a liberal Democrat president, that electing a conservative Republican president should cause the city elections to tilt left.
The organization now called Democracy Greensboro, which started as the Nov. 9th Ad Hoc Committee, would be the liberal version of Conservatives 4 Guilford County (C4GC), which was the local Tea Party organization, which may still exist on paper, but in the years following Obama’s election it had some political clout.
Democracy Greensboro attracted over 100 people to a candidates’ forum at Smith High School on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve been to countless candidates’ forums, and attracting over 100 people to one is a tremendous turnout, particularly on a Saturday afternoon.
And then Democracy Greensboro did something that is very much like the actions taken by C4GC: They graded the candidates more or less on how liberal they were, and the incumbents didn’t fare very well.
After the forum, both District 4 City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann and District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling wrote statements expressing concern about the Democracy Greensboro platform and method of grading candidates.
C4GC made a lot of noise, but it wasn’t that effective at getting its own people elected. I think they had the same problem that Democracy Greensboro is going to have. The C4GC candidates were, for the most part, too far right and too strident for the establishment Republicans to support.
Looking at the Democracy Greensboro candidates, they are going to run into the same problem. They might want to get in touch with some C4GC people and ask them what they would have done differently.
Of course, if Democracy Greensboro can get its own people to the polls they can get a lot of candidates through the primaries. Then they will have the problem of Republicans and more moderate Democrats working against the Democracy Greensboro candidate and in favor of the more moderate Democratic candidate.
But here is some free advice for Democracy Greensboro. If they concentrate on the at-large election – where coming in third in the general election is a win – they might be able to win that third seat. They would have to get their supporters to only vote for the Democracy Greensboro candidates in the race, because then they can increase the power of their votes, but it might work.
If one Democracy Greensboro candidate was elected to the City Council then they wouldn’t have to come to meetings shouting and screaming and getting arrested because they would have a voice on the dais.
Considering the current state of politics in the country, it seems entirely possible.