Repub­li­cans sur­vived the blue wave; now comes the blue tide

The News & Observer - - Opinion - BY NED BAR­NETT Bar­nett: 919-829-4512

Many Repub­li­cans na­tion­ally and in North Carolina likely are sur­vey­ing the results of the midterm elec­tion with some re­lief.

Democrats took the U.S. House, but Repub­li­cans gained ground in the U.S. Se­nate and held onto the gov­er­nor­ships in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and, ap­par­ently, Ge­or­gia. In North Carolina, Repub­li­cans held onto their ma­jori­ties in the state House and Se­nate, the con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion didn’t budge from its 10-3 Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity and four of six state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments spon­sored by Repub­li­can law­mak­ers won ap­proval.

But Repub­li­cans who think they dodged a blue wave are look­ing at the wrong metaphor. They should be watch­ing the blue tide. From that per­spec­tive, the 2018 midterms sug­gest that the GOP is in dan­ger of be­ing en­gulfed. The Demo­cratic can­di­dates — backed by high en­thu­si­asm and im­pres­sive fund-rais­ing — rep­re­sent a younger and far more di­verse coali­tion, while the Repub­li­cans closed ranks around white and mostly male can­di­dates. The Democrats ran strong in ur­ban and sub­ur­ban ar­eas that are grow­ing. Repub­li­cans re­lied on ru­ral ar­eas that aren’t.

Af­ter Donald Trump’s 2016 vic­tory, it be­came pop­u­lar to dis­miss the Democrats’ be­lief that de­mo­graphic trends will in­evitably in­crease their base. But the re­al­ity of that dynamic was on full dis­play Tues­day. That lib­eral, African-Amer­i­can Demo­cratic can­di­dates came close to win­ning statewide elec­tions in Florida and Ge­or­gia proved that even though Democrats didn’t win this time, they are on the verge of win­ning the fu­ture. Else­where, women, LGBT, Mus­lim and Na­tive Amer­i­can Demo­cratic can­di­dates did win.

North Carolina of­fers a mi­cro­cosm. Democrats did not pick up con­gres­sional seats, but they were run­ning in districts ruled to be il­le­gally ger­ry­man­dered too close to the elec­tion to re­draw them. In the bal­lot’s only statewide races — one seat on the state Supreme Court and three seats on the Court of Ap­peals — all were won by Democrats. The win­ners in­cluded two women and the first openly gay per­son to be elected statewide, Judge John S. Ar­rowood.

And while Democrats couldn’t dis­lodge Repub­li­cans from their ger­ry­man­der-pro­tected ma­jori­ties in the leg­is­la­ture, they did flip enough seats to break the Repub­li­cans’ su­per­ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate. That change brings Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper to the cen­ter of N.C. leg­isla­tive pol­i­tics af­ter two years of Repub­li­can ef­forts to strip his pow­ers and marginal­ize his role. Repub­li­cans will now be lim­ited to pass­ing leg­is­la­tion that can avoid — or has enough Demo­cratic sup­port to sur­vive — a Cooper veto. North Carolina’s Repub­li­can law­mak­ers sense the po­lit­i­cal ground held by their all­white, ru­ral-based ma­jori­ties is shrink­ing. That’s why they rammed though leg­is­la­tion along party-line votes while they could. And that’s why they extended their hands into the fu­ture by putting six con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments on the Nov. 6 bal­lot.

Vot­ers wisely saw through two amend­ments that were plain power grabs. Those amend­ments would have al­lowed for the leg­isla­tive takeover of ju­di­cial ap­point­ments and over­sight of elec­tions.

Un­for­tu­nately, a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers sup­ported two amend­ments that were vague and mis­lead­ing in their word­ing. The first caps the state in­come tax at 7 per­cent, in­hibit­ing fu­ture leg­is­la­tures from re­spond­ing to state needs and block­ing a full re­in­state­ment of the pro­gres­sive in­come tax the Repub­li­cans elim­i­nated in fa­vor of a flat tax. The sec­ond will re­quire vot­ers to present a photo ID, but leaves it to the leg­is­la­ture to de­cide how re­stric­tive the ID re­quire­ments will be.

Both th­ese amend­ments are anti-demo­cratic. They re­flect a Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity that lacks con­fi­dence in the long-term ap­peal of its fix­a­tion on low taxes and a party that doubts its abil­ity to hold its ma­jor­ity in a de­mo­graph­i­cally chang­ing state with­out the help of voter sup­pres­sion. Such bul­warks might de­fend against an oc­ca­sional blue wave, but they won’t hold back a ris­ing blue tide.

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