Gergen, Lake and Goodman is not a law firm or a rock group from the ’70s. It is a trio of men who in the past week have delivered important messages about where North Carolina needs to go – away from the extremism of recent years and back to the thoughtful moderation that made this state great.
David Gergen was an adviser to four presidents: Nixon, Reagan, Ford and Clinton. He delivered the commencement address at Elon University on Saturday, and he used it to decry the direction North Carolina has taken in recent years. He also offered a prescription for returning the state to its rightful place as one of the nation’s most admired.
A Durham native, Gergen recalls the state’s transformation from rural backwater to sophisticated economic powerhouse during the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st. A big part of that was breaking down divisive walls that had prevented us from tapping into the talent of all residents, including women and minorities.
That blossoming happened because leaders such as Terry Sanford and many others made a commitment to expanding equality while building consensus.
Recently, Gergen says, that approach “gave way to a new, angrier, extremist politics.”
“But let me emphasize that at heart, our differences are not Democrat vs. Republican nor liberal vs. conservative…” Gergen told the students. “No, the real differences here are between moderates vs. extremists, between those who want a better life for all citizens vs. those who want to go back.”
The second in our trio is Beverly Lake Jr., the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court from 2000 to 2006. As a conservative Republican senator and judge, he strongly supported the death penalty. Last week he wrote an astonishing column for the Huffington Post in which he renounced that support.
“I’ve come to realize that there are certain adverse economic conditions that have made the system fundamentally unfair for some defendants,” Lake wrote. “… Our inability to determine who possesses sufficient culpability to warrant a death sentence draws into question whether the death penalty can ever be constitutional under the Eighth Amendment. I have come to believe that it probably cannot.”
Finally, there’s state Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat. He announced plans last week to file a bill that will let unaffiliated candidates get on the ballot just as Democrats and Republicans do. Currently, unaffiliated candidates have to secure thousands of signatures to get on the ballot while Democrats and Republicans just pay a filing fee. With the parties veering left and right, a growing number of N.C. voters – 1.9 million, or nearly 30 percent – are unaffiliated. Removing obstacles to independent campaigns for office could help moderate the two major parties.
North Carolina has a lot to be proud of, but we’ve taken a detour. Gergen, Lake and Goodman give us hope that we might eventually get back on track.