Right-wing Republicans were routed in the Wake County elections last week. That's one way to look at it. Candidates endorsed by the Wake Republican Party lost all four seats on the board of education—in four suburban Wake districts—after losing the other five seats in 2011. The $810 million school bond issue passed easily.
Another way to look at it, though, is that the real Republican Party, the tea party types who control state government, simply didn't engage in Wake. They ran third-string candidates, gave them little help—and why not? After all, they have super-majorities in the General Assembly and a willing patsy in the governor's office. Which means they can squash any school board or city council if it fails to bow before them.
But there's a third way to look at it: The elections aren't over in Wake County. Except for Raleigh and Cary, all of Wake's municipal elections are Nov. 5.
Let me draw your attention to one of them: the election for three Town Council seats in Apex. It's a chance to work off your frustrations where crazy Republican obstructionists are concerned. Not much you can do right now about Pat McCrory or John Boehner. But do get excited about Apex, because:
- Apex is the home of right-wing Republicanism in Wake County, starting with state Rep. Paul Stam, archenemy of public schools and women's choice, and his longtime legislative aide, Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly.
- The two Democrats running for council seats, Jennifer Ferrell and Nicole Dozier, are terrific thirtysomething moms with strong values and moxie. Apex High School teacher Denise Wilkie is unaffiliated; until this election, she was a registered Republican.
- The three white Republican men running, if they win, would make six white men on the council, including Weatherly. Dozier, who is African-American, would be the first non-white member in memory.
True, these are nonpartisan elections, and Ferrell and Dozier are running as neighborhood leaders concerned about local issues, not the fate of the world. But that's no reason why the rest of us shouldn't see the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is that removing the Republicans from power in North Carolina will require beating them on their home ground, especially in the suburbs of Wake County. Consider this: Because they won the tea party elections of 2010, the Republicans controlled legislative redistricting; consequently, in 2012 the GOP won six of Wake's 11 seats in the House and three of Wake's five seats in the Senate, despite getting far fewer votes in Wake than the Democrats. One reason they received so few is that they only ran candidates in the elections they won. In the Raleigh-based districts, they ran nobody.
Of course, this is typical of the guerrilla tactics that allow the Republicans, despite being a shrinking minority, to shut down the federal government and run state governments into the ground.
Still, you can only slice the bologna so thin when you don't get that many votes in actual elections. None of Wake's Republican legislators is invulnerable. And three who are quite vulnerable hold House districts with pieces of Apex in them. The biggest chunks of Apex are in Stam's district and Rep. Nelson Dollar's. A little bit is in the Morrisville-based district of Rep. Tom Murry, who won in 2012 by just 1,500 votes.
In short, progressives will focus on western Wake next year and on fast-growing Apex (motto: "The Peak of Good Living") where the population has doubled in a decade to 40,000 and is projected to reach 80,000 by 2030. Thus, as Apex goes, so goes Wake County—and North Carolina.
Enter Ferrell and Dozier.
You may know Ferrell from her volunteer work with Public Schools First NC, the group led by former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, or for gun-sanity laws as part of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She was the woman with the adorable 4-year old twins, Trey and Emma, who go everywhere with her, including to Moral Mondays. "They were outside with my husband, Chris, the time I was arrested," Ferrell says. "They waved to me. They didn't know Mommy was going to jail."
Ferrell pleaded not guilty, and her trial date is in February.
Ferrell's been an at-home mom since she was laid off from an energy start-up at the outset of the Great Recession. Raised Republican in Virginia, she's become an active Democrat recently, though she didn't change her party registration until this spring. "I'm very moderate," she says. "[But] the more the Republicans do what they're doing, the more I push back."
Dozier is a paralegal at the N.C. Justice Center whose work centers on consumer issues, primarily health care. Like Ferrell, she's running to bring "balance" to the Apex council. Both say the town's growing too fast for its infrastructure. Both want a senior citizens center and youth programs, along with more greenways and bike paths. Both say a woman's perspective—and a mom's—is lacking.
"I'm telling people, this is not a partisan election," Dozier says. "As a working mother, I've learned that the key to success is balance." She adds, "Listening to all voices yields better decisions for the town we call home."
Here's another fact. It's not mission impossible for a Democrat to win in Apex. Bill Jensen is already on the Apex council. Susan Evans knocked tea-party favorite Ron Margiotta off the school board in 2011.
This year's election offers a chance to lift up two future leaders in western Wake. It's also a chance to get a head start on the 2014 legislative elections, when Stam, Dollar and Murry will be on the ballot. It's a chance to send a shot across the Republicans' bow.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Spotted in Apex: progressives."