It’s been long time since I was among the newcomers to Charlotte. Almost 35 years for this native of Chicagoland.
I came to the Observer in 1981 to cover City Hall. That soon evolved into covering politics.
So here are 10 ways I’ve seen politics and the media change over those years.
1. Demographics. All you have to do is drive around Charlotte and see the growth.
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With an influx of people from around the world, we became a majority-minority city for the first time in 2010. In a reverse of the Great Migration, African Americans arrived from other parts of the country. At the same time, taxes and schools drove many people to suburbs in places such as Union County.
2. The rise of Democrats in Charlotte. For years Republicans had a better than even shot of getting elected to local office. African Americans had a harder time.
In the first city council race I covered, two black Democrats led the at-large primary but neither got elected in the fall. Charlotte did make headlines in 1983 when it elected the first black mayor. But after he lost re-election in 1987, Republicans held the office until 2009.
Now it seems Democrats have a virtual lock on city government.
3. The rise of Republicans in North Carolina. When Jim Martin was elected in 1984, he was only the second Republican governor of the 20th Century. But General Assembly Democrats were well into their second century of control.
All that changed after Republicans swept to legislative victories in 2010 and then redrew districts that helped them cement power. The 2012 election of Gov. Pat McCrory gave them control over the governor’s office as well as the legislature.
4. Becoming a purple state. For years North Carolina was a reliably red state in presidential races. In 1976 Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to carry the state.
Until 2008 that is. Demographic changes and the influx of outsiders, particularly to fast-growing urban areas, moderated the state’s political climate. Democrat Barack Obama won the state by around 14,000 votes. He narrowly lost it four years later. It’s a swing state again in 2016.
5. The increase of polarization. Across the country we’ve seen the return of almost tribal politics, and North Carolina is no exception.
You see it in everything from national to local politics, from the presidential race to the debate over House Bill 2, which invalidated a Charlotte ordinance that extended anti-discrimination protections to people based on sexual orientation and allowed transgender people to use the bathroom and locker room for the gender with which they identify.
6. The fall and rise of “the Great State of Mecklenburg.”
For years that was a term of derision for the state’s biggest county in a legislature dominated by rural interests. But the term virtually disappeared as Mecklenburg County lawmakers rose to power, even the speakership.
But the rural-urban divide is as pronounced as ever, fueled by Republican dominance in rural and suburban counties and Democratic representation in urban areas. And the debate over HB2 has only aggravated tensions with the state’s biggest city.
7. The growth of the “political/industrial complex.”
This is fueled by what’s become almost constant fundraising, which began even before the 2010 Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates on political spending. Among other things, this has turned opposition research – and dishing dirt to reporters – into a full-time occupation.
8. The advent of “media cocoons.” Blame cable television and the Internet for channels such as Fox News and MSNBC that allow news consumers to reinforce their own beliefs and prejudices with like-minded “news.”
It was John Hood, who led the conservative John Locke Foundation, who called these sites “media cocoons.”
9. The changes at newspapers. The McClatchy-owned Observer hasn’t been immune to changes across the industry as we’ve cut back on resources and staff.
Here’s one example of the changes: When I first started covering the General Assembly 30 years ago, there were reporters from papers in Asheville, Greensboro, Wilmington, Winston-Salem and even Gastonia. Even WBTV had a reporter there. Now, none of them do.
10. tronc. You may have heard the news this summer about the re-branding of the venerable Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times. It’s now called “tronc Inc.” (with a lower-case T).
That stands for “Tribune Online Content” and a press release described it as “a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels.”
As humorist Dave Barry used to say, I’m not making this up.
Jim Morrill covers politics for the Observer.
Charlotte City Council
Jennifer Roberts, mayor, (D)
Vi Lyles, mayor Pro Tem, (D)
Julie Eiselt, at-large, (D)
Claire Green Fallon, at-large, (D)
James Mitchell, at-large, (D)
Patsy Kinsey, District 1, (D)
Council member, district 1
Al Austin, District 2, (D)
LaWana Mayfield, District 3, (D)
Gregory Phipps, District 4, (D)
John Autry, District 5, (D)
Kenny Smith, District 6, (R)
Ed Driggs, District 7, (R)
Mecklenburg County Commissioners
Trevor Fuller, chair, at-large (D)
Ella B. Scarborough, at-large (D)
Pat Cotham, at-large, (D)
Jim Puckett, District 1, (R)
Vilma Leake, District 2, (D)
George Dunlap, District 3, (D)
Dumont Clarke, District 4, (D)
Matthew Ridenhour, District 5, (R)
Bill James, District 6, (R)