06/16/2011 11:54 am ET | Updated Aug 16, 2011

Battleground North Carolina: Midnight Madness & the Southern Backlash

Riding the final crest of a wave of extremist populism, the Republican-dominated North Carolina General Assembly held two midnight sessions to conceal their darkest deeds.

The first midnight madness vote approved a radical stripping and lashing of public education in a draconian budget. The second seizure of midnight madness saw the Republicans override Governor Beverly Perdue's historic veto of the deeply unpopular budget by one paltry vote aided and abetted by their tiny coterie of five Democratic collaborators.

In North Carolina, Bev Perdue is becoming a progressive political phenomenon. With her numbers sagging badly in the aftermath of the 2010 election cycle, the coal miner's daughter shot back to political viability with a string of vetoes targeting radical Tea Party-Republican attempts to destroy public education; devastate social services and demolish voting rights.

In the South, North Carolina has a strong reputation for progressive educational and social policies established by her iconic governors: Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt -- a tradition that is now being upheld by Beverly Perdue.

The election of Barack Obama as America's first black president triggered an especially strong backlash in the South, where blacks, progressives and moderates recognize the familiar politics of race in the Tea Party as well as the primary driver of the acute radicalization of the Republican and segregationist right.

In 2008, North Carolina elected Perdue as the first woman governor, and for the first time since 1976 the state voted for the Democratic nominee for president, Barack Hussein Obama. The historic coalition of blacks, women and minorities set off a wave of alarm bells yelping inside the brains of Republicans, Christian Conservatives, racists and the broad spectrum of prejudice and bigotry on the political right.

At the same time, the Democratic National Committee correctly identified the center of the American political cyclone as North Carolina and sited the 2012 National Convention in Charlotte, the second largest banking center in the USA and the Queen City of the South.

The election cycle of 2010, saw the right-wing backlash to Obama that struck down 52% of the Blue Dog Caucus in one fell swoop nationwide removing 28 of the 54 members in their Populist caucus. It is instructive that the backlash against Blue Dogs was deepest in the South, where 57% of the caucus (13 losses out of 24 seats) fell to Republican radicals. In a year that saw a heavy turnout of the political right, the right-leaning Blue Dog Democrats fell in droves while Progressives remained strong and retained almost all of their seats. At the same time, a new crop of Democrats arrived in the Capital, and the Progressive caucus is now stronger than ever and it reigns supreme as the largest ideological organization in Congress.

Today, there is compelling evidence that the progressive trend is gaining momentum for a backlash of its own in 2012 -- including the South. In 2010, Cedric Richmond won in Louisiana, and Terri Sewell won in Alabama to become the first black woman to enter Congress from the Deep South state of George Wallace and Bull Connor and, yes, that progressive icon and liberal savant, Forrest Gump.

While there is a growing progressive trend supporting vetoes of radical right-wing legislation, there is a definite backlash against centrist, populist, Blue Dog-style Democrats in North Carolina and all across the South.

In the past few weeks, the so-called "Party of Five" Populist Democrats emerged in the North Carolina House of Representatives to support the disastrous Tea Party Republican budget. The extremists' budget ripped $900 million out of the heart of public education. The Teapublicans slashed funds for Planned Parenthood and devastated a host of essential services -- all to prevent the dreaded restoration of a one-cent sales tax in the low tax state.

The ringleader masterminding the Party of Five Democratic turncoats at the center of the plot was one, James W. Crawford, a rich legislator from Oxford in Granville County, North Carolina. Crawford is an iconic throwback to the Dixiecrats of the Jim Crow Era, and his story reveals a dark and foreboding flood of truth about the political dynamics of the South.

Crawford gained his wealth by marrying a rich heir of the Cannon textile fortune, and he describes himself as a 'developer' who practices politics. In the 1980s, Crawford inherited the political mantle of the late "Billy" Watkins, a local Dixiecrat who defended the Teel brothers against the charge of racial homicide in the riveting murder case of Henry Marrow, a historic hate crime that inspired Tim Tyson to write his autobiographical bestseller, Blood Done Sign My Name.

Henry Marrow was killed by the Teels in Oxford, a racial murder that set off a stunning backlash in the black community. The upsurge of grief at the murder of Marrow catapulted twenty-two-year-old Ben Chavis into the public arena as a bold civil rights leader in the mold of Dr. King and Golden Frinks. Last year, Tyson's book became a popular film starring Nate Parker in the heroic role of Ben Chavis, reminding the current generation of Oxford residents of their moments of crisis during the Civil Rights Era.

Oxford is an iconic town of the Old South. While haughty Victorian mansions line the affluent society on both sides of lily-white College Street, all any observer has to do is move across Main Street, and the impoverished black neighborhoods reveal the strikingly unjust economic realities that were commonplace from Reconstruction through the Jim Crow Era to our increasingly hot summer in 2011.

From his pristine Victorian palace on College Street, James Crawford lords it over his subjects and plies them with money at election time to buy political backing for his diehard Dixiecrat agenda. Professional educators in Oxford tell of Crawford's backing for conservative school policies that favor "private" and "charter" and "neighborhood" schools as segregationist devices to circumvent Brown versus the Board of Education.

While satisfying the atavistic demands of the segregationists, Crawford presides over a court of characters straight out of the pages of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. Crawford's wife is a cousin of one Robin Hayes, the Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. To rub his outmoded ideology in the faces of the locals, Crawford sent out invitations to lavish fundraisers held at his stately home for Republican Senators: Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr. Knowlegeable sources in Oxford say that Crawford was doing favors for none other than Jesse Helms when he helped raise money for Republicans.

Crawford arrived in his minor legislative office in 1982, during the era of the Reagan Democrats that was the high-water mark for Jesse Helms, the late racist who served four disgraceful terms in the US Senate. Described by members of his home community as a Jessecrat, Crawford personifies more than one critically endangered political species: Dixiecrats, Reagan Democrats and Jessecrats.

On the eve of the vote to override Governor Perdue's veto, a special meeting was convened in Oxford's First Baptist Church that was keynoted by Rev. William J. Barber, the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in North Carolina. With many leading members of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) in attendance, Rev. Barber launched into a riveting demolition of Crawford, the Tea Party, Republicans and the radical extremism that has gripped the North Carolina General Assembly.

Proclaiming, "Extremists have taken over the General Assembly," Rev. Barber intoned a powerful and rhapsodic message charging that the Republicans and Crawford's now infamous Party of Five are, "not working for the public good... they are working to disenfranchise people." Stating that the extremists are, "afraid of the future," and, "afraid of demographics," Barber informed his rapt audience that:

Politics is an illusion that knows it won't work. That's why they pass laws in the midnight hour. They are angry over the election of President Obama. The election of someone who feels the future is a dangerous thing. This crowd is afraid of the future.

Barber rose to the momentous occasion afforded by the treachery of Crawford and his coterie of five turncoats. Demonstrating oratorical skills at the level of Dr. King, Rev. Barber excoriated the Kochs, Art Pope and James Crawford as plutocratic manipulators with a racist agenda. At the same time, Rev. Barber extolled the courage of Governor Beverly Perdue to stand up and fight against this virulent surge of extremism by vetoing their radical budget, a first in North Carolina history.

While the Faulknerian dramas of North Carolina reshape the political geography of the most turbulent battleground state, several Democratic operatives in Washington are urging the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to perform a resurgence of Blue Dog-style Populism in the South.

Josh Miller of Roll Call published a story featuring comments from Southern pollsters calling for a highly refined strategy of fitting candidates to districts -- ie. providing right-leaning Dixiecrats re-branded as Populists in the South to contest the Tea Party and Republican right. But, that ploy is likely to fail. With the massive destruction suffered by the Blue Dog Caucus across the South last year, it would make no sense to replicate a game plan that has already failed in that political marketplace.

Someone once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to come out different."

Writing in the immediate aftermath of the Tea Party wave of 2010, David Dayen wrote:

Note that the only Democrat endorsed by the Tea Party Express, Walt Minnick, who used the endorsement to engage in basically racist tactics, lost too. The tea party imprimatur didn't matter. A better gauge of all this is how Blue Dog tactics undermine Democrats everywhere. They destroy the Democratic brand and give the impression that Democrats either stand for nothing or deserve scorn. They hurt progressives, moderates and even the Blue Dogs in their own caucus who align with them for various reasons but don't hurt the party in any major way. A better road would be to stop neglecting the base and (stop) lavishing attention on people who are ashamed of you.

Today, 16 months from election day in 2012, Dayen is dead right.

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