Elections have consequence. Elections matter. Let's start with that.
The Republicans who control the North Carolina General Assembly won control by virtue of several elections. They campaigned as conservatives who would change state government in substantial ways. They did not pretend otherwise.
History is full of examples of politicians who campaigned one way and governed another. This is not the case here.
The Republicans say that those who are getting arrested in demonstrations at the legislative building are trying to thwart the will of the people. The Republicans say that the voters sent them to Raleigh to do just what they are trying to do.
One argument that can be made is that the Republican dominance in the legislature came about because redistricting stacked the deck in favor of the GOP by creating more districts that were Republican-friendly.
Various studies showed that the Republicans hold a higher percentage of seats in the state House and Senate than they received statewide, if all the votes were tallied up for each district. The N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform released a study in May that showed that Republicans received 54 percent of the votes in House races but control 64 percent of the seats; in the Senate races, they got 50 percent of the vote but control 66 percent of the seats.
Ah, but when the Democrats were riding high 20 years ago, they received 52 percent of the House votes but held 67 percent of the seats, and got 55 percent of the votes in Senate races but controlled 78 percent of the seats.
It is safe to say that partisan redistricting does not advance the cause of democracy, no matter who is doing it. Democrats are now making the case, in demonstrations and in court, that legislative dominance by Republicans because of redistricting shenanigans has made for an unrepresentative General Assembly that, in fact, does not represent the will of the people. The Democrats would be more persuasive if they hadn't maintained control of the legislature for decades with redistricting tricks of their own. Maybe the time has come to take redistricting out of the hands of the politicians. Far-sighted Republicans might want to do that, because the pendulum has a way of swinging back.
But, as I said at the beginning, elections matter. Demonstrations are one thing. But it's not clear how all the Moral Mondays are an electoral strategy. Elections are won by finding good candidates with a good message, raising money and organizing a get-out-the-vote infrastructure. That is hard, grinding work facing the Democrats, particularly in districts that are leaning Republican. If the Republicans in the legislature have over-reached, then enough of them may be vulnerable to well-financed Democratic challengers in enough districts. The Democrats do not have to win back control to win back a bunch of power. As we have seen in this session, the Republicans are not monolithic. There are fissures throughout the GOP caucuses in the House and the Senate. We have seen that recently in tax and budget policy and - close to home - the move to repeal the Jordan Lake regulations. Geography and other factors can trump party. Democrats can exploit these fissures if they elect some more members.
The Democrats' theory is that many North Carolinians are dismayed by the Republican legislative agenda and will stream to the polls in 2014 and toss GOP incumbents out. And that this can happen, the Dems hope, even though the districts are stacked in the Republicans' favor. So outrageous has been the Republican legislature - the Democrats believe - that the voters will come to their senses.
But these are the same voters that evidently had it up to here with scandals in Raleigh when the Democrats ran things. The Democrats are hoping not only that the Republicans have overreached, but that the voters have developed some form of amnesia.
In any event, we have legislative elections next year that will answer this overreach question.