The Long Leaf Pine Slate

Today, I’m going to make an exception to my general policy of not posting about politics. But it isn’t just to blow off steam. This week, I launched the Long Leaf Pine Slate, a project dedicated to making a real, tangible difference in the way my state, North Carolina, is run. I’m going to explain here what the Slate is, but first, I need to explain why I’m doing it.

If you want to, or are already familiar with what’s been going on in North Carolina, you can skip down to just the section on the Slate itself.

Spoiler: at the end of this post, I’m going to ask you to donate to the Long Leaf Pine Slate and to share it in your personal network. But I think it’s worth knowing first, why this effort is so important; and second, why now is the time.

The situation, and how we got here

North Carolina’s politics have been a national spectacle for most of the last decade.

After winning control of NC’s General Assembly in 2011, Republicans moved swiftly to insulate their political control from democratic accountability. Their gerrymander of both our Congressional and state legislative voting districts were arguably the most aggressive in the country. North Carolina Republicans literally drew themselves a supermajority of the legislature in a single stroke of a pen.

There’s a lot you can say about the gerrymander, and Republicans’ aggressive, decade-long campaign to defend it (and its variants). It was openly racist, for one. Their first map was struck down in federal court for targeting minority communities “with surgical precision.” Republicans explicitly used racial demographic data to draw maps which would minimize those communities’ political representation – because, as they freely admitted in court, people of color in North Carolina overwhelmingly vote Democratic. The chief slimeball behind those maps was quite open about this. The Republicans lied, again and again, to courts, the press, the people and especially to Democrats about what they were doing. Judges finally found the Republicans so consistently dishonest that, for the latest round of map-drawing, they required the process to be livestreamed on the internet in a special room.

(Note: there is not a single Republican person of color in the entire NC legislature. By contrast, PoC make up 47% of the Democratic House caucus and 41% in the Senate.)

Nevertheless, litigating those maps has taken years. In the meanwhile, Republicans pretty much had a free hand to do as they please. They immediately passed a same-sex marriage ban (later struck down). They passed HB2, the nationally infamous “bathroom bill” that overrode local anti-discrimination statutes to insist on sex-specific bathrooms. They banned local minimum wage laws. They tried to shred state gun regulations. Refused Medicaid expansion (the ACA). Slashed taxes for corporations and the wealthy (of course). They literally tried to steal a Congressional election. Their executive director was sent to jail for bribery. And that’s not even the half of it.

Tellingly, the Republican majority’s most aggressive moves were aimed at entrenching their political power even further. The did this through a raft of voter suppression measures: voter ID. Eliminating same-day voter registration. Purging registration lists. Shortening early voting periods and closing poll sites (in majority black areas).

When Democrat Roy Cooper won the governorship in 2016, the entrenched Republican majority responded by stripping the governorship of many of its powers. (In particular, the governor’s oversight of the state elections board!) This prompted a number of lawsuits between the executive and legislative branches that are still on-going today.

The bottom line, however, is that representative democracy as we’re accustomed to in America is under direct assault by the North Carolina Republican Party. I know that sounds dramatic, but it really is true. There’s no both-sides about this. The North Carolina legislature has not accurately represented its people for much of the last decade.

Now, the good news

In 2018, Republicans reluctantly drew new legislative maps under a federal court order. They were still badly tilted in Republicans’ favor, but due in part to the 2018 “Blue Wave,” Democrats flipped seats across the state and broke the Republican supermajority in both the House and Senate. With Roy Cooper in the governorship, Democrats could now sustain his veto, forcing Republicans to negotiate. It was a breakthrough.

They haven’t reacted well. Just a few months ago – on the morning of the 9/11 anniversary memorial – the Republican leadership simply lied to Democrats on basic procedure in order to engineer an opportunity to spring a surprise vote to override the governor’s budget veto. They were successful. The spectacle rightly drew national outrage. So far, the veto has still been sustained in the Senate, but it faces a much closer margin.

After the federal courts finished litigating our districts, it was the state courts’ turn. After another course of litigation, state courts required another, more exacting round of map-drawing. And this, finally, brings us to 2020.

This year, North Carolinians will vote with yet another set of legislative maps. They are still tilted towards Republicans (after all, Republicans drew them). Yet this time, Democrats have a real chance.

After their gains in 2018, in this cycle, Democrats must flip just 6 seats in the NC House or 5 in the Senate to win a majority in either chamber. (They must also, of course, defend a bunch of close seats too.) The state party is ready. They have managed to recruit strong candidates in every single competitive race in the state. With dedication, hard work, resources and a bit of luck, Democrats now face the real possibility of winning back control of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Enter, the Long Leaf Pine Slate.

The Long Leaf Pine Slate

The Slate” is not a PAC or even really an organization. It is just a website, connected to an ActBlue dashboard, profiling a handful of Democratic candidates challenging the must-win incumbent GOP-held districts we need to flip. These are the races that will determine whether Democrats win a majority or not.

One issue for legislative candidates like these is that most have very little visibility outside of their districts. It’s just hard to get people to care about a state legislative race – at least, people who don’t spend all of their time obsessing about politics. But packaging these candidates together raises the stakes. These candidates are our path to a majority in the NC General Assembly, and that’s something that lots of people – in and out of our state – should care about. It’ll impact not just everyone in North Carolina, but the Congressional delegation NC sends to Washington and the 15 electoral votes our state commands.

All members of the Long Leaf Pine Slate agree to some basic requirements. Critically, they must support independent redistricting reform, to permanently take the map-drawing process out of the hands of currently serving politicians. Neither Republicans nor Democrats should be in the business of choosing their own voters. Candidates must also support affordable access to healthcare (Medicaid expansion) and to fully fund our public schools, which Republicans have held hostage for greater corporate tax cuts. (Part of what the current budget veto standoff is about.)

The Slate is currently 5 women, 4 men and 2 people of color. A few more candidates will be added as they stand up websites, social presences and, crucially, ActBlue accounts.

The Slate is also an experiment. Are there enough people who care about flipping the North Carolina legislature to make this work? The usual-suspect big donors already give to national PACs on this stuff, but will they give directly to candidates? And in as heated a Presidential year as this one?

One reason to think they might is that their political donation goes a lot further in these races than giving it to a national or Congressional race. An average state house race in North Carolina costs around $250,000. A state senate race, about three times that. These are not multi-million dollar campaigns supported by massive dark money PACs (at least, not on our side). What that means is that small donors have much more leverage in changing outcomes.

Why now?

The 2020 cycle is a particularly important one, mostly because of the census.

The 2020 census is used for the decennial redistricting process, which will happen in 2021. If the same Republicans who jammed through their gerrymander in 2011 are in charge of redistricting in 2021, not a lot is going to change. North Carolina could be in for another decade of nasty, racist and smug suppression of democracy. It would be a disaster. Even if Democrats win back a majority of just one chamber, it would radically shift the outcome towards fairer, cleaner elections.

Here goes nothing

I am basically a novice at all of this. Despite some desultory experience working in state politics right out of college, I have no deep experience in political fundraising. Moreover, I hate asking people for favors, let alone money. It feels incredibly gross.

Yet here I am, making the ask for you to contribute to the Long Leaf Pine Slate. Whether you’re able to give $25 or $1,000 (the maximum donation is $5,400 per candidate, btw 👀 👀) your money will go directly to helping turn North Carolina back into a democracy that works for its citizens. Please support however you can.

That goes beyond money, by the way. This is not a massive or professional fundraising operation – it’s just me, a guy with a computer. The success or failure of the Slate will depend on its “organic reach” – the ability and willingness of folks (like you, Dear Reader) to share this effort, particularly among your non-Extremely Online network. I deeply appreciate anything you’re willing to do. Got ideas? Send them my way.

We launched this week, with big boosts from North Carolina Democrats like Senators Jeff Jackson and Sam Searcy and Rep. Graig Meyer; from national Democrats like Bakari Sellers and Jason Kander; and, of course, from all of the candidates on our Slate. We raised several thousand dollars in the first 48 hours alone. And we’re just getting started.

Let’s see where it goes.

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