Gary is taking a break from blogging. Our guest Tapster today is Nation Hahn.
It has been clear for several years that the NC Democratic Party has failed to build a deep bench of future leaders. It has become ever more clear during the Chairman race in recent weeks as people have tried to find a candidate who could rebuild our Party.
One of the points that Eric Mansfield made over and over again during his bid for Chair was that while Chair he would speak out on issues that mattered, but that we must have teachers to speak out on education, rural leaders to speak out on farming, while he spoke out as a Doctor on health issues as an example. The lack of a bench in recent years made this a salient point as we have been forced to turn to the same spokespeople regardless of issue.
The good news is that the next generation is here, if we only pay attention to them.
Andy Ball of Boone is running for 3rd Vice Chair and a talent worth noticing. He is a powerful speaker, he genuinely cares and he has a record to be proud of as a City Councilor. Zeb Smathers and Justin Conley are equally talented and remarkable. Zeb will likely make a career for himself out of building coalitions around shared values and getting things done regardless of party label.
Sam Spencer, President of the Young Democrats, Aisha Dew, and Tori Taylor are all associated with Charlotte and each bring unique skills to the table. Tori is one of the hardest working people that I know. Aisha has done a masterful job leading the Party in Mecklenburg. Sam has brought the Young Democrats back to a place of respectability.
Ryan Butler ought to be a future District Judge from Greensboro and his work as President of the LGBT Democrats has been tremendous.
In the Triangle, Zack Hawkins has been 2nd Vice Chair for one year and has a passion for public service. Matt Hughes, the young Chair of the Orange County Democrats, has built a fan club for himself over the last two years and is clearly a rising star.
We also know the names of young legislators, or would be legislators, that ought to be mentioned for Governor or Senator or another office in 2016. Eric Mansfield, Jennifer Weiss, Cal Cunningham, Deb Butler, Josh Stein and Deborah Ross among them.
I could go on, but I think you see the point.
We must begin to invest earlier than ever in recruiting and training candidates. We must develop leadership academies that teach people the essential skills of leadership. We have to provide the resources to move people into positions to make a difference and that includes our senior leadership beginning to make room at the table for young candidates, consultants, policy advisors and more.
If we are going to develop an agenda that can win today then we must move past tired ideas and the status quo. We have to figure out an agenda that builds the public will for education in age of choice. We must offer tax reform ideas that address the problems without falling inordinately on the poor and middle class. We have to invest in advanced manufacturing and the liberal arts.
The other key is that we must develop a Party that is not absolutist. President Obama was referencing Congressional Republicans and the DC crowd when he said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
He could well have been speaking to all of us who are meeting in Durham on Saturday for the State Executive Committee meeting.
In order to build the next generation of leaders we must retreat from absolutism, focus on getting the work of the people done and encourage reasoned debate.
Eric Mansfield would tell folks as he traveled the state that he judged a vote by three characteristics — people, policy and politics. A vote could be good for the people that you represent, in fact it should absolutely serve your constituents needs. A vote could be sound policy, even if it is unpopular, and those stands of principle must be regarded. Or, in the purely bad column, a vote could be just about politics. A vote that is cast only for politics should rightly be criticized, but we can’t be absolutists on the first two.
If we we are to build a new generation of leadership we must focus on shared values, even though we’ll occasionally disagree. We must accomplish work for the people of North Carolina, rather than fall victim to spectacles alone, and we can have debates that do not descend to name calling.
In order to figure out a new vision, a narrative that will work in the 21st Century and a path back to our progressive tradition we are all going to have work together. That is one lesson of leadership that the older generations can offer all of us, if only we’ll pay attention.