Thursday, August 24, 2006

Repubican moderates – threatened species?

Former state Rep. Maggie Keesee-Forrester of Greensboro died the other day, and a lot of folks remember her gentle, graceful style – and the iron backbone she must have had to deal with the criticism she took for taking a stand against paddling children in public schools.
In those days she was Margaret Keesee, at 27 the first woman elected to the N.C. House from Guilford County. She was a Republican, and when she went into office, there were just nine women in the entire General Assembly. She was elected the same year Richard Nixon won his second term, the year Jim Holshouser became the first Republican governor since the turn of the century and Jesse Helms the first Republican U.S. Senator.
It was a watershed moment for Republicans, who in the 1973 legislature had 50 members – nearly 30 percent. But Republicans were also divided.
Some of them were loyal to Jesse Helms and shared his strong, socially conservative stances.
Others, such as Rep. Kessee, then-state Rep. Howard Coble of Greensboro, Don Beason of Mt. Airy and George Little of Southern Pines, were more moderate. They aligned with Holshouser, a mountain Republican who was fiscally conservative but less motivated by strong social conservatism. It was Holshouser, remember, who helped win passage of the landmark Coastal Area Management Act, a key environmental protection law that has helped save our coastline from the kinds of development more familiar to Florida andNew Jersey.
Keesee, a former Head Start teacher who also taught 12 years in Greensboro schools, wanted to prohibit the paddling of children for classroom misbehavior. My colleague Mark Binker of the Greensboro News & Record dug up a quote from that session: “What this bill will say is that we can no long whip out the paddle just because the child says no – and this happens a lot,” she said.
Her bill didn’t pass, but it stirred a lot of controversy from folks who thought teachers ought not spare the rod when a student acted up. Other agreed with Keesee that parents should be the only ones to make that decision.
Keesee lost her first re-election bid, but it wasn’t just the paddling bill. In 1974, the Watergate scandal cost Republicans everywhere, and reduced the Republican caucus in the legislature to a scant 10 seats. The GOP would be a decade in recovering its 50 seats.
But Keesee, who in 1982 married Democrat Chuck Forrester, a Guilford County commissioner, was already back in the legislature, retaking her old seat in 1979. And she sponsored a bill that has transformed primary elections in North Carolina. The 1987 legislature approved her bill allowing the executive committees of either party to permit unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in their primary.
Republicans were much smarter about this than Democrats. They realized that the number of unaffiliated voters was growing rapidly. Getting them to vote in Republican primaries might become part of a habit that included voting for Republicans routinely and maybe even registering Republican. Democrats later caught on, and began allowing unaffiliated votes to vote in the Democratic primary, too.
Keesee-Forrester served six terms in the legislature, where her reputation as a moderate Republican grew in stature even as political divisions festered. She would have been uncomfortable with the current effort in the Republican Party to punish members such as Reps. Richard Morgan and Stephen LaRoque, who so willingly cooperated with Democrats in recent years. But I don’t think she would have gotten out her paddle to punish anyone.


Anonymous said...

Given the Dems have divested themselves of all their conservatives, most of their moderates, and are now threatening leftists like Lieberman with expulsion, I don't think the GOP is the party divesting itself of anyone.

Though it could certainly stand to lose more than a few of the self-styled "mavericks," known to the rest of us as RINOs...

Anonymous said...

Two words: Joe Lieberman.

Anonymous said...

Of course moderate republicans are a dying breed. Who would want to be a part of that group of monsters when reactionary windbags like the one posted above call you 'RINOs' for not following their narrow views?

Both parties could use quite a bit more statesmanship these days. Until then, for the good of the state and country, vote Democrat.

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