Just this week, many of us were glued to our TV screens and Twitter, watching results come in from the Iowa caucuses. This first-in-the-nation primary is a unique blend of personalities, politics, and possibility. But at its heart, it is democracy. People getting together in their neighborhoods to vote on the person they believe will make the best president.
But what happens when there aren’t many choices? Does democracy still work?
Nearly a third of North Carolina legislators – 40 House members and 13 senators – will face no opposition in the upcoming election. Lest you think this is unusual, in 2014, 56 legislators were re-elected with no challenger.
Now, I genuinely believe that the vast majority of politicians want to serve their constituents and make the best decisions for their communities. Politics and ideology differ, but the desire to do good is sincere.
Yet, without elections without real choices, the people are not served. Even the best-intentioned public servants can get too comfortable. They don’t have to do as many public forums; there are no debates; no profiles in the newspaper. Important questions aren’t asked. Citizens find a candidate less motivated to listen to their concerns.
Thee concerns have even greater implications for the women of North Carolina, who often struggle to have their voices heard. Getting legislators’ attention for so-called women’s issues – like equal pay, family leave and reproductive freedom – is challenging every day. With only 38 women in the General Assembly – representing just 22 percent of that body – finding champions on these issues is quite the task. Heck, finding legislators who can even relate to the concerns of women is difficult.
The power of incumbency is already strong. Holding a legislative seat helps a candidate to foster connections, raise money and raise his profile. Add to that a flawed process of drawing legislative districts that favor the party in power, and you have a recipe that limits choices and hurts North Carolina.
Recruiting women to run for office and candidates who reflect all of North Carolina will help raise awareness of the issues facing women and our families. Taking politics out of the redistricting process would help too.
At the end of the day, we need more North Carolinians willing to step up and serve. We need more people who will take on the arduous and often thankless job of running for office. And, we need to support those who do choose to run.