Partisan politics has not always been as divisive as it is now. At one time, there were unspoken rules of partisan governance that got the job done despite deep-seated differences.
Look no farther than the North Carolina General Assembly to see what I mean.
The majority party ruled the roost, no doubt, but the minority party still had a say-so in lawmaking.
It was simple. If a member of the minority party introduced a piece of good legislation before a major-party player filed it first, the proposal would be sidetracked in committee where it would be rewritten without destroying the intent, reintroduced and passed. Sometimes, the only changes were a couple of words and the punctuation.
That’s how Republicans remained effective legislators when Democrats overwhelmingly controlled the House and Senate. Look back and you’ll find many pieces of major legislation containing Democrat and Republican signatures.
It wasn’t a sign of weakness or party treason to get together on what the public wanted or needed. Note I did not say “wanted and needed.” Want and need are not always synonymous.
I remember when the state Senate had only one Republican — Sen. Don Kincaid of Lenoir. He was not treated with disdain. Even as a minority of one, Democrats were too smart, then, to abuse Don. He served the people of North Carolina effectively and with distinction for many years.
Democrats and Republicans seemed to realize that political fortunes can change. A good example is the election of 1980.
Were there times when the parties simply could not agree and the majority party had to flex its muscle? Of course. The state lottery, concealed carry permits and completing Interstate 40 come to mind. The delay in completing I-40 through Catawba County was retaliation for too much support for Republicans.
But the General Assembly usually managed to do right by the state.
There are several N.C. House and Senate members serving today who should remember when political fisticuffs were more genteel (even with the volume turned way up) and differences actually contributed to good government.
A good idea is a good idea, no matter who brings it up first, regardless of the government in question. Party was just as important 30 years ago as it is now, but we can’t be faulted if we think the people as a whole were perceived by the partisans as more important (and smarter) than they are now.
That applies especially to all levels of government. Wisdom is not petty or imperious.
If you think we have a problem — and some people believe we’re living the political good life — take heart and hold dear your vote. When the will of the people is applied, it cannot be denied.
Partisan differences and split ballots can and have fostered good government. But every elected official must embrace the notion that the ballot box is not a contest of winner take all. Public officeholders serve everyone, and those who voted for the other candidate are not “deplorables.”
That attitude can and should cause trouble. Whatever the issue, whatever the situation, we’re in it together, with emphasis on “together.”
That leads me to Henry David Thoreau. I love his works. He knew nature. Watching the bluebirds strip the Beautyberry bushes of their ripe fruit reminds me of his many observations in the woods.
He also knew people. Thoreau was shrewd in business. He could not have spent that time at Walden Pond without money. His prowess made his struggling family business profitable.
Thoreau played politics because politics is crucial to all Americans, politically, socially and economically. Unalienable rights were important to him. Don’t forget, he gave us “Civil Disobedience.” So it is that I share some of his words with you.
“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”
Making a point does not require bile and verbiage. But if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. That’s all you’ll get.