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No time to quit

By Chris Fitzsimon

After every election, the pundits and talking heads rush to proclaim the end of this era or that one and predict the long-term realignment that never happens. That’s truer than ever Wednesday morning as people continue to misinterpret this election and make generalizations based on their emotions instead of the evidence before them.

The party out of power almost always does well in off-year elections. Not this well, but they always make gains. So this was not necessarily a referendum on President Obama or the Democratic Party. It’s largely an expression of anger and anxiety by people suffering in the economic mess Obama inherited, frustrated that things haven’t improved faster.

People felt the same way in 1982 when Democrats made big gains in Congress when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and unemployment, at 10.4 percent, was higher than it is today.

A poll taken just a few weeks ago showed people disapproved of the GOP by a 53-25 margin and less than 30 percent of people thought the Republicans in Congress were acting in good faith.

It’s also important to note that the Republican wave did not carry every closely contested race. People may have been mad and frustrated in Nevada and Delaware, but they thought better of voting simply out of anger once they learned about extremists Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell.

In North Carolina, many pundits said Republicans could sweep the four toss-up congressional races, but it looks like only Republican Renee Ellmers may prevail when all votes are counted.

The congressional campaigns were all high-profile affairs, waged on television and in the media. People knew who the candidates were and in the end, most decided they didn’t want to risk making many changes in who they sent to Washington.

That was much less true in state legislative races, where the Republicans took over the House and Senate for the first time in more than 100 years. Those races were apparently decided by the angry anti-incumbent sentiment that was amplified by the endless stream of offensive attack mailers cranked out by the Republican Party and outside groups funded largely by Art Pope and his allies.

People didn’t get to know many of the Republicans well, like self-avowed John Birch Society supporter Glen Bradley, or they might have made the same choices as the folks in Nevada and Delaware. Instead, they just voted against everything and everybody they could, from incumbents to revenue increases.

This was an election of negative votes, not a question of people voting for very much.

There’s plenty of time for more analysis in the coming days as people parse turnout numbers and precinct patterns. The question is what happens now with a General Assembly controlled by conservatives who pledged to dismantle public schools, roll back environmental protections and slash the budgets of vital public institutions.

The message for progressives who might be feeling bowled over by Tuesday’s results could not be clearer. Get up, dust yourself off and get ready for the battle in the General Assembly that could define this generation.

The time to start is not in January. It is today. No bills have yet been passed, no budgets have been written, no progressive laws repealed or protections rolled back.

And remember, people in power want to stay there. It will be difficult for the new majorities in the House and Senate to ignore groundswells of opposition to their extremist agenda and their plans to slash funding for education and human services because of an absurd pledge to never raise taxes.

At the very least, a vigorous opposition to right-wing initiatives will clearly define the issues for the next election and teach people much about the real agendas of the legislators they have elected.

To paraphrase a legendary labor leader, don’t waste time mourning the results of the election. Instead, organize now to stop the damage the ideologues can inflict on North Carolina.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.

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