Consider the Progressive Caucus of the N.C. Democratic Party well and truly launched, complete with the obligatory doctrinal blowup.
The founding convention Saturday in Greensboro "exceeded our wildest dreams," Mischi Binkley, the elected caucus president, said in an e-mail to her fellow "Greendogs" a day later. One measure of that: The turnout of 213 people, about twice what she'd expected. Another: The presence of at least a few progressive-minded Democratic candidates, including Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb, Superintendent of Public Instruction-aspirant J.B. Buxton, and, of course, state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird of Carrboro.
The caucus will now seek official recognition in the party and seats on its committees alongside the Hispanic, African-American, women's, senior's and Young Dems groups.
The dustup came late in the day, after more than half the crowd was gone, over the organization of a legally separate political action committee to raise money for specific candidates in targeted races.
The going-in name of the committee: Progressive Democrats of N.C. PAC. Once Pete MacDowell was elected its president, however, those remaining in attendance supported his motion (by better than the required 2-to-1 majority) to remove the word "Democrats" from the name.
The decision seemed to undercut the whole thrust of the day, which was to get progressives working within the Democratic Party, not outside of it. Binkley said she'd have preferred the vote go the other way, and she emphasized that the PAC and the caucus are different entities. Hers is Democratic all the way, she said. But in a coalition, "not everyone will be happy," and things don't always come out right the first time.
Stephen Gheen certainly isn't happy. One of the caucus founders and the prolific webmaster behind www.thepoliticaljunkies.net (saluted as "the online equivalent of having a politically rabid, Democratic reference librarian as your neighbor" by the Wake County Democrats), Gheen ripped MacDowell's "reckless" title change as opening the financial door "to Republicans, Greens, Nader, Democrats or candidates of any political stripe." Gheen urged Democrats to give it "not one dime" lest the money somehow fall into the hands of Ralph Nader's presidential campaign.
MacDowell says the question of whether to support Greens or other third-party types never entered his mind when he made the motion. Rather, he said, he was thinking of non-partisan local and judicial elections, where party labels aren't used. "The whole notion was to cast a wider net and respect independent candidacies in a non-partisan race," he said.
As for Nader, MacDowell said, a state PAC can't give to a federal candidate anyway.
What about a terrific Green Party candidate in a partisan state race against a not-so-hot Democrat? "That's a question the PAC would have to look at very carefully," MacDowell said.
But MacDowell was holding out the olive branch on Monday. "I think we can find a way to resolve this and move on," he said. Besides, right now the PAC has no money anyway, "so the question is moot for the foreseeable future."
On that point, Raleigh's Chris Lizak agrees. Himself an indefatigable e-mailer of things progressive, Lizak had left before the PAC flap, but was sanguine about it. "I have no doubt that Democratic Party candidates will consistently win the lion's share of funds distributed, on the basis of "electability' if nothing else," he said. "Anyway, you can't destroy a vehicle that hasn't been built yet."
To get Stephen Gheen's missives, write email@example.com . To be on Chris Lizak's list, write CLizak@NCMCapital.com. The Progressive Caucus of the N.C. Democratic Party Web site is www.greendogs.org .