Former Gov. Jim Martin is the philosophical leader of North Carolina’s modern Republican party.
The Mecklenburg County chemistry professor won the Executive Mansion in the mid-1980s, at a time when Democrats controlled nearly all the levers of government. Martin carved out the party’s brand as a pro-business moderate, an advocate of small government and lower taxes, and a stickler for efficiency.
But a growing number of people inspired by Martin and his brand of government are becoming disenchanted by today’s North Carolina GOP. This schism of sorts is starting to show up in multiple arenas — from campaigns for Congress to disagreements over proposed constitutional amendments.
“I believe there are many, many Martin/Broyhill Republicans who are either now registered unaffiliated or are simply disengaged and unwilling to support the party,” Judge Bob Orr told Longleaf Politics. Jim Broyhill served 23 years in the U.S. House and briefly in the U.S. Senate after being appointed by Gov. Martin.
“I can’t think of meeting anyone who has moved to the GOP but am constantly engaging with people who have left the party,” Orr, a Republican and former N.C. Supreme Court justice, continued.
The party is still growing overall.
North Carolina Republican party membership stands at 2,089,771, as of August 25. That’s roughly 8,000 more registered Republicans than 3 months ago and 35,000 more in the past year.
For comparison, the ranks of unaffiliated voters have grown by 150,000 in the past year. There are 22,000 more Democrats in that span.
Still, he’s definitely on to something.
Part of the reason for the break is President Donald Trump, who has caused an identity crisis among Republicans nationally. North Carolina Republicans have a mixed relationship with the president.
You’re seeing this in the emergence of a “Republicans for Dan” group supporting Democrat Dan McCready for the 9th Congressional District, over Republican Mark Harris who has aligned himself closely with Trump.
But the other major break is all because of the Republican majority in the General Assembly. They took charge of the state legislature after the 2010 midterm elections and swiftly implemented a new political agenda.
In the past two years, however, there’s been much more emphasis on consolidating power — spurred by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s election.
For example, Republican appeals court Judge Doug McCullough was alienated after being asked to retire from the bench early so that Republican governor Pat McCrory could appoint a successor rather than governor-elect Cooper.
Appointments have also steadily been shifted from the governor to the General Assembly, and this year there are several proposed constitutional amendments to formalize those sorts of arrangements.
After decades of calling for good government while in the minority, some Republicans have been turned off by what they consider to be power grabs now that they’re in control.
Former Gov. Martin himself has publicly opposed the two amendments that shift power away from the governor. So too have all living former chief justices of the N.C. Supreme Court, including Martin allies I. Beverly Lake and Rhoda B. Billings.
These sorts of schisms are nothing new in North Carolina politics. For nearly 100 years, the state’s Democratic Party was divided between populist, liberal and conservative factions that would often face off in primary battles.
And in the 1980s, Gov. Martin butted heads with the more socially conservative U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms about the direction of the party, including over who should serve as party chairman.
Will this disaffection be enough to impact the 2018 elections? Time will tell.
Want to know more about Gov. Martin? Read John Hood’s excellent biography, “Catalyst.” FYI, that’s an affiliate link that takes you to Amazon. Catalyst is one of 10 essential books about North Carolina politics.