Political experts define North Carolina as the most important battleground state. Some describe the political fault line in North Carolina as the political equator of the United States. In 2008, Obama carried North Carolina by the thinnest plurality in the nation, a margin of victory that was much smaller than those margins in much smaller states. The bold decision to situate the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte sets up the most important battle in the presidential campaign of 2012.
Inside North Carolina, a political storm of hurricane proportions has been brewing since Friday the 13th of April that involved allegations of sexual harassment and a cover up within the staff of the Democratic Party.
Under siege and a pledge to resign his office as Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party (NCDP), David Parker is now being hailed as the "Democratic Lazarus." At a special meeting of the State Executive Committee (SEC) Parker's fellow Democrats affirmed and re-affirmed their confidence in his leadership by repeatedly rejecting his resignation during a tedious sequence of parliamentary maneuvers.
The meeting to oust Parker took place in Greensboro on the same day that First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. Unsurprisingly, the first lady did not make an appearance at the crisis meeting of the SEC.
The backstory explains the dramatic tension that propelled the crisis. On Friday the 13th of April, Sallie Leslie, a former administrator at NCDP headquarters, blew the whistle about an alleged sexual harassment scandal that she said had been deliberately covered up by Party officials.
Mrs. Leslie, a senior administrator of the NCDP, told reporters that senior staff members covered up a sex scandal that involved one of the top officials of the NCDP. Claiming that the NCDP was "an organization that protected a predator," Mrs. Leslie stunned North Carolina only a few short weeks before the statewide vote on Amendment One, the right-wing Republican law to ban marriage rights for the LGBT community. To the regret of all but the most conservative Democrats, Amendment One was approved at the polls last Tuesday only a few days before the SEC meeting.
Shocked by Sallie Leslie's April revelations, a media feeding frenzy ensued while shrill voices called for the immediate resignations of David Parker and Executive Director Jay Parmley.
That weekend Parmley resigned, stating, "Even though I have done nothing wrong, I need to move on. I refuse to become a distraction." Explaining that right-wing political enemies framed him as the aggressor in the bogus sexual harassment allegations, Parmley said they were "spreading a false and misleading story."
Parmley's resignation did not satisfy a group of Democrats surrounding the Council of State (COS). Citing the 'handling' of the case, members of the COS -- Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Treasurer Janet Cowell, Auditor Beth Woods, Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson -- signed an open letter that called for the resignation of Chairman David Parker.
In his initial response, Parker refused to resign, explaining that there was insufficient evidence against Parmley for termination with cause. While a confidential payment had been made to Parmley's accuser, Adriadn Ortega, Parker explained it had been part of a routine severance agreement and not "hush money." Further explanation established that current case law prohibits the public discussion of unsubstantiated claims of sexual harassment, thus requiring organizations to maintain privacy of the parties involved.
Amidst the media feeding frenzy Governor Beverly Perdue joined the call for Parker's resignation, soon followed by similar calls from leading Democratic candidates for the gubernatorial nomination, Walter Dalton and Bob Etheridge. At that point a mild statement from an official at the Democratic National Committee suggested that Parker should not seek re-election at a hastily called meeting of the SEC scheduled for May 12th to deal with the crisis.
At a lengthy press conference, Parker stood before a gaggle of television cameras and reporters as he presented a detailed legal explanation of the case. Responding to questions from the press and media, Parker clarified the situation and argued that the NCDP attorney, John Wallace, handled the complaint within the limits of the current law.
About two weeks later at the special meeting of the SEC, nearly five hundred members showed up on Mother's Day weekend that is traditionally filled with graduation and commencement ceremonies.
Parker convened the meeting and introduced the victor in the Democratic primary for governor, the incumbent Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, who made a fine speech that only fleetingly referred to Parker's resignation.
After Dalton finished and made his exit, ostensibly to meet with Michelle Obama, according to rumors on the floor of the meeting, Parker delivered a dramatic speech calling for Party unity that soared to oratorical heights far above that of Dalton. From the outset, Parker struck a resonant chord with the SEC by referring to the loss of a battle he led to defeat Amendment One to grant marriage rights to gays.
Parker said, "Our hearts are heavy with the disappointment that this great State chose to single out a group of us for special discrimination and a return to Jim Crow style policies that stigmatize, intimidate and challenge the pride of many of our brothers and sisters."
Turning to the Democratic ticket, Parker celebrated, "President Barack Obama who has more courage in his little finger than Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and all the other 'Etch-a-Sketch' pandering pachyderms of the Tea Party Republicans and their mealy mouthed consultants and greedy puppet 'one per-center' masters combined. Whether it is affordable health care, saving American pride at GM, or standing for marriage equality -- this is an American President who believes in the politics of conviction rather than the mere politics of convenience."
Citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Parker's stentorian tone gripped the audience and commanded their rapt attention. Every eye steadily gazed on Parker. Every ear harkened to his message. You could have heard a pin drop.
On the day when he faced his darkest hour, David Parker delivered one of the classical political speeches in North Carolina history. (For the complete text click here)
When he departed the auditorium, a palpable frisson swept through the chamber as Vice Chair Gwen Wilkins handled the gavel during the vote required by Robert's Rules of Order to accept or reject Parker's resignation. A melee ensued to grasp one of the four microphones, as speaker after speaker moved and seconded and called for the question to reject Parker's resignation.
After a voice vote that sounded as though it went in Parker's favor, the Chair called for a hand vote that led to the appearance of a majority of support for Parker. Then someone from the floor called for 'division' -- ie. ballots to be cast and counted. After two rounds of voice votes, hand votes and balloting the majority of the SEC consistently voted each and every time to reject Parker's resignation.
The dismay and disgruntlement of Parker's accusers were plain to see. Elaine Marshall, Janet Cowell and Beth Woods seemed thunderstruck. Hopefuls to replace Parker who had waged campaigns via telephone and internet were crestfallen. Confusion and chagrin coursed through a now swiftly dwindling minority who backed Parker's replacement. When it was announced that Parker would return to the hall, some of his opponents hopefully anticipated a second resignation speech, while the majority expected him to do as Gwen Wilkins said he would do and formally accept the rejection of his resignation and return to his office as Chair.
It emerged that Parker and his wife, Sally, actually left the hotel and drove down the highway toward the beach for a well-deserved holiday. However, the turn of events surprised him and compelled Parker to return to the chamber and preside over the remaining order of business.
Dewey Sheffield, a Democratic grandee from Wilson, North Carolina, made some interesting observations. "I have been to every Democratic National Convention since 1956, and I have never seen anything like this. I have never before heard such a speech except from a governor. David Parker is the Democratic Lazarus."
At the end of the meeting, most of the Democrats departed to their homes, their mountains and their beaches refreshed and reunited for the battle ahead.
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