Republicans may have supermajorities in the legislature, but Governor Cooper will have a superpower: the biggest microphone in the state. Or, in today’s world, the biggest smartphone.
Forty years ago, Stephanie Bass and I were setting up Governor-elect Jim Hunt’s first press office. And we had a theory.
We had come out of the capital press corps. We had seen how politicians dealt with – or ducked – the media. Not one did it well, we thought.
We believed that Governor Hunt should try a new approach: more aggressive than past Governors – and more accessible, even when the questions were tough.
We wanted to make news, set the agenda and dominate the debate.
The media world is very different today. The mainstream media, print and electronic, has been devastated by budget cuts. Blogs, social media and advocacy journalism have exploded.
Still, the Governor occupies the commanding heights in the battle for the public’s attention – and approval.
Witness Donald Trump and the power of his tweets.
To cite a more uplifting example, John F. Kennedy quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt as saying the Presidency is “a place preeminently for moral leadership.”
In that same speech in October 1960, Kennedy said:
“A political campaign is an important time because it gives the American people an opportunity to make a judgment as to which course of action they want to follow, which leadership, which viewpoint, which political philosophy, and it is also an important time for political parties, because it does give the political party an opportunity not merely to live off its past successes, but also consider where it is going in the future, what contribution it can make.
“That responsibility falls particularly heavily on a minority party, a party out of power, because it is its function under our system to present alternatives, to suggest better ways of accomplishing the goals which all America seeks…”
That responsibility – and opportunity – fall to Governor-elect Cooper now. And he doesn’t have to wait to take the oath of office. He can exercise that power now, from this day forward.
Democrats may not have the votes to sustain vetoes. But Cooper can put forward good ideas, like fully repealing House Bill 2, expanding Medicaid and giving teachers a real pay raise. Republicans can say no, Cooper can exercise the veto and the legislature can try to override him.
Throughout that loud and long process, Cooper can talk directly to North Carolinians. He can explain why he’s right and the Republicans are wrong.
A Governor can beat a legislature at that game all day long. Then he can take his case to the voters in the next election. And Cooper could have three chances to do that in four years.
This power of moral leadership is echoed in a great essay by Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling: “Why Pat McCrory Lost and What It Means in Trump’s America”:
“(T)he seeds of McCrory’s defeat really were planted by the Moral Monday movement in the summer of 2013, just months after McCrory took office….
“He allowed himself to be associated with a bunch of unpopular legislation, and progressives hit back HARD, in a way that really caught voters’ attention and resonated with them….
“(T)he Moral Monday movement pushed back hard. Its constant visibility forced all of these issues to stay in the headlines. Its efforts ensured that voters in the state were educated about what was going on in Raleigh, and as voters became aware of what was going on, they got mad. All those people who had seen McCrory as a moderate, as a different kind of Republican, had those views quickly changed. By July McCrory had a negative approval rating- 40% of voters approving of him to 49% who disapproved. By September it was all the way down to 35/53, and he never did fully recover from the damage the rest of his term….
“And it’s a lesson for progressives in dealing with Trump. Push back hard from day one. Be visible. Capture the public’s attention, no matter what you have to do to do it. Don’t count on the media to do it itself because the media will let you down. The protesters in North Carolina, by making news in their own right week after week after week, forced sustained coverage of what was going on in Raleigh. And even though it was certainly a long game, with plenty more frustration in between, those efforts led to change at the polls 42 months after they really started.
As of yesterday, the progressive movement in North Carolina has an elected leader with the power to capture the public’s attention, make news and force sustained coverage of what’s going on in Raleigh.
And lead to real and lasting change.
Keep pounding, indeed.