By the time you read this, everything might have changed.
This magazine hits the streets in mid-October, a few weeks before an election that could prove hugely consequential for North Carolinaís future. The state’s Democrats think they have a chance to break the Republican supermajorities in one or both houses of the General Assembly. If they do, that will prevent Republicans from overriding Democratic governor Roy Cooper’s vetoes at will. And that, in turn, will give the Democratic minority—made smaller by aggressive partisan and racial gerrymandering—some real teeth.
Or that might not happen, and Republicans will have another two years (at least) to run roughshod, as they have since taking power in 2011: the aforementioned gerrymandering efforts and a voter ID law that “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision,” in the words of a federal court, all ruled unconstitutional; HB 2, the so-called bathroom bill that forever stained North Carolinaís reputation as a tolerant lighthouse in the Deep South; multiple laws to prevent poor, rural African Americans from suing giant pork conglomerates over liquefied pig waste literally being sprayed on their properties; bald-faced attempts to consolidate power by gaming the electoral system and stripping Democratic officials of authority, and so on.
Absolute power, the saying goes, corrupts absolutely. The Republicans have had absolute power since 2013—when Pat McCrory was elected governor—and if it hasnít corrupted them, itís certainly made them shameless. (In fairness, the Democrats who controlled the state for most of the previous century werenít always paragons of integrity or virtue.)
You’ll likely find a less reactionary bent in your local government. Durham, in particular, has sought to position itself as the most progressive city in the South. Its city council, which comprises a majority of women of color, is taking the lead on issues of social justice and gentrification and ensuring that the city’s success doesnít leave out marginalized communities. In May’s Democratic primaries—since Durham Dems outnumber Republicans nearly six to one, the primary is where the action is—Durham voters rejected the incumbent county sheriff and district attorney and replaced them with candidates more overtly committed to criminal justice reform. That’s a sign of where Durham is headed. So is this: Last year, activists tore down a Confederate monument in downtown in plain view of TV cameras and cops and basically got away with it.
Over in Orange County—Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough—you’ll see similarly progressive (and overwhelmingly Democratic) sensibilities, albeit with less of an activist streak—although, in September, a group of UNC students toppled Silent Sam, a Confederate statue that had stood on campus for more than a century, so maybe that’s changing. The main arguments here are centered on development and counteracting the affordable housing crisis, especially in Chapel Hill.
Four years ago, Wake County’s Board of Commissioners was in Republican hands, led by staunch conservatives who refused to raise taxes to fund schools and who rejected light rail and built highways instead. All that changed in 2014, when four Democrats were elected on a progressive platform—and there’s been no looking back. In fact, two Democrats were ousted in primaries earlier this year for not being progressive enough on school funding. The all-Dem board has pushed issues like antidiscrimination policies, affordable housing, and ensuring that county workers have a living wage, but it’s also worked diligently to lure business investment.
The Raleigh City Council, now made up of Democrats and Democratic-aligned independents, takes a similar approach to governance, though it’s often stymied by its own hand-wringing. The city has spent four years trying to figure out how to regulate Airbnb, for example, and its affordable housing efforts are hindered by inclinations to give outspoken NIMBYs whatever they want.
Raleigh’s dynamism is evolving in a vacuum of leadershipódespite the city government, not because of it. The once-sleepy town is quickly becoming a big, vibrant metropolis; it just needs to get out of its own way.