Moving to the political middle

The Observer editorial board

Rep. Becky Carney has joined the Main Street Democrats.
Rep. Becky Carney has joined the Main Street Democrats. AP

N.C. Republicans are having a hearty chuckle over news that a growing number of folks from the opposing party are joining the “Main Street Democrats,” a new group for centrist-minded Democratic leaders.

According to the Observer’s Jim Morrill, you can count Reps. Becky Carney and Beverly Earle of Charlotte among the newest members. The group, founded by Rep. Ken Goodman of Rockingham, now includes 21 of the 61 Democrats in the General Assembly.

N.C. Senate Republicans, via their Twitter feed, passed the news along Monday with a side order of snideness. “Liberals booted from office for massive tax hikes are suddenly ‘Main Street’ and business friendly,” their account tweeted.

Republicans have ample reason to feel cocky. They hold both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. The Democrats have been reduced to bystanders, watching helplessly as the GOP dramatically rewrites the state’s playbook on everything from tax policy and abortion regulations to gay marriage and voter restrictions.

The creation of the Main Street group does seem an implicit admission that Democrats have lost their touch with middle-of-the-road voters who kept them in power in Raleigh for more than a century. Earle’s politics, for instance, seem more left than center.

Republicans are right to feel a little gleeful. But they’re dead wrong if they think their party doesn’t need a similar mid-stream adjustment. Their legislative track record over the past few years hardly qualifies as hewing to the political center.

From their preoccupation with culture-war fights to their unwavering faith in the magical power of tax cuts, they’ve pushed hard to the right. The Senate leadership went so hard-right on job-recruitment incentives that they’ve butted heads with traditionally pro-Republican business leaders.

Gov. Pat McCrory has at times tried to exert a moderating influence, but received a string of overridden vetoes for his troubles.

It would be refreshing to see middle-of-the-road Republicans like Mecklenburg’s Rep. Charles Jeter or Sen. Jeff Tarte speak up more forcefully in the GOP. (Then again, Jeter, who initially voted against the magistrate bill, turned out to be one of the 10 House members who didn’t show up last week for the veto override vote. He said he had a stomach bug).

Hard-right conservatives don’t appear ready to entertain any such moderating voices, unfortunately. Gerrymandered safe seats leave them with little incentive.

Still, their ideological zeal has driven them too far right. They’ve left the middle of the political landscape wide open. Whether a battered, rebuilding N.C. Democratic Party takes advantage is anyone’s guess.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer