WHEN I WAS YOUNG, maybe three or four years old, and our family was living on Marshall Terrace in Danville, Virginia, my best friend was named Paul. (We called him Skip, and his mother always called him Skipper.) Our families were neighbors and our mothers were best friends. Our mothers did lots together as they were both, unremarkably for the era, stay-at-home moms with multiple kids.
Skip's mom, Jane, was a force of nature, even then. My family has a slide show of the Fourth of July parade that Jane organized for our street, which was essentially one long block. You can see Skipper and me on our festooned tricycles. As I remember it, the parade also had a pony, and Uncle Sam, and various wagons decorated as floats. Those were the days.
I recently got re-acquainted with Skipper myself. If you haven’t already, you will probably be acquainting yourselves with him as well. Before Tuesday, it had been, as you may have heard, 112 years since the Republican Party had control of the North Carolina state legislature.
Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam (R-Wake) has a good chance of becoming the next Speaker of the our state's House of Representatives. I may be biased, but Skip Stam will be a good one: open, honorable, honest and forthright (which is more than we can say about some of his predecessors). And as his mother told me long ago, when he competed in anything, he always knew the rules and played by them.
He is, not just in my opinion, one of the best, if not the best, legislator in the legislature. While he was in the minority, Democratic legislators, even very liberal ones, would go to Rep. Stam for help in crafting bills. He knows how to construct bills that make good laws – and he is constructive enough to take even what he thought was a bad bill and make from it a better law.
I will tell you how good he is. For this election cycle, the News and Observer endorsed him – one of the more conservative members of the legislature. (I will note, cynically, that the N&O editors were probably well aware that he was a shoo-in for re-election in his race.)
It was, in my opinion, time for this election's outcome. After a hundred years of one party calling the shots, I would say it's time another gets at least one. Here are some reasons why.
Our state's schools are failing a large number of our students. Read any comparison of the states in terms of elementary and secondary education – keeping in mind that the country as a whole is failing in comparison to other school systems in the developed world. Competition could help change that. Even Oprah supports charter schools, and Stam proposes to eliminate the cap on charter schools.
Corruption is as endemic in our state government as it is in almost any Third-World country’s. (Read the newspaper on any given day.) Stam commits to pass a law requiring a valid photo ID to vote, to end pay-to-play politics and to limit government power by passing an eminent domain constitutional amendment to protect private property from government confiscation for private development.
Stam commits to balancing the state budget without raising tax rates, then making our tax rates competitive with other states, while reducing the regulatory burden on small business. It won't be easy, but Stam says they will try.
But there is, in my mind, one reason sufficient to not be dismayed at Stam and the Republicans being given a chance to run our state's legislative branch. Next time you look at a map of this election's U.S. congressional races, don't look at who won and who lost, just look at the shapes of the districts.
These reptilian entities are an abomination to every principle of reasonableness, fairness and common decency. Elbridge Gerry would be embarrassed looking at them. These are the unconstitutional products (as determined by repeated decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court) of our Democratically controlled legislature. These districts run down highway medians and follow along the banks of rivers picking up voters of a particular hue and political stripe to create districts that will vote dependably one way. They are an anathema to true democracy.
As Chris Fitzsimon of the liberal advocacy organization North Carolina Policywatch says, "Politicians shouldn't choose their voters; voters should choose their politicians." Maybe the next year will see principle placed over politics and have redistricting done by an independent redistricting commission, one that operates in a way that promotes democracy rather than incumbency. Stam has supported the creation of one for more than a decade.
I don’t know about you, but if Stam accomplishes even some of this, I will be happy about this election.
Gary D. Gaddy voted early but not very often – though he could have.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday November 5, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy