David Miner is still a Republican. But the Cary legislator, beaten in a primary a week ago as he sought a seventh term in the state House of Representatives, thinks the GOP's intolerance of different views--and different folks--is a mistake of historic proportions.
"I think the Republican party in North Carolina is heading down a very dangerous path," Miner says. "There's a blood war going on--the party has become intolerant in many ways." He adds: "If you're not with them 100 percent, they label you 'not a real Republican.'"
Miner, a moderate, was hammered by the conservatives who were out to purge the GOP of House Co-Speaker Richard Morgan and his small band of Republican legislative allies. Morgan's group made a power-sharing deal with Democratic Co-Speaker Jim Black after the '02 House elections ended in a 60-60 party split. The deal helped facilitate compromise state budgets, with the Black-Morgan team choosing temporary sales- and income-tax surcharges over sharp budget cuts. But that infuriated the GOP's right-wingers, and they sought revenge at the polls.
In last week's elections, the conservatives narrowly missed beating Morgan himself in his own Moore County district. But they were able to take out five of the eight Morgan allies they targeted around the state, including Miner. Rolesville's Rick Eddins, the other Wake County Republican legislator who backed Morgan, apparently survived his primary challenge, though the result is close enough that his opponent, Raleigh lawyer David Robinson, is likely to seek a recount.
Two Morgan foes, Reps. Russell Capps and Sam Ellis, also were easy winners in their primaries against young Morgan-backed challengers.
Morgan's moderate bloc is down to about a half-dozen now, depending on what happens in the general elections in November. But that might be enough to maintain the power-sharing deal if neither party wins a clear majority of the 120 seats.
Miner won't be part of it, though. He was beaten nearly 2-to-1 by conservative Nelson Dollar, a Cary political consultant, who attacked him not just for backing Morgan but for refusing to toe the right-wing line on social issues.
Specifically, Miner co-sponsored the bill to impose a two-year moratorium on the death penalty in North Carolina, a measure backed mostly by Democrats. And he refused to co-sponsor the Republicans' pet attack-bill, which would have put a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot banning same-sex marriage.
Both measures, he says, are about fairness and "non-discrimination." Is the state's system of capital punishment fair to every defendant, regardless of income or race? The moratorium bill calls for a study of that question. As for same-sex marriage, state law already prohibits it. But more important, society is moving the other way, Miner thinks, and he compares the effort to stamp out gay unions with Prohibition, which was tacked onto the federal Constitution in 1919, only to be repealed--after a public outcry--in 1933.
"I think our culture and society is beginning to understand that homosexuals should be treated fairly in life," Miner says. "And they understand that you don't amend the constitution to turn a whole class of people into second-class citizens."
Miner's defeat owed something to the gerrymandering of Wake County legislative districts. His old district had some Democrats in it. The new one has so few, no Democrat is running in November. Just to the north, the district represented by Democrat Jennifer Weiss, which used to be hard-fought by the two parties, is now so one-sided that she has no Republican opponent in the fall.
Thus, Dollar wasn't risking being labeled an extremist by a Democratic opponent when he sent out a mailing that accused Miner of wanting to "turn marriage upside-down," illustrated by an upside-down picture of two presumably gay men. Dollar also dredged up a 2000 vote by Miner against a fellow Republican's effort to bar the state from working with film and TV production crews in Wilmington if their shows were obscene or contained nudity.
It was, all in all, a very effective attack campaign, and it was augmented by anti-Miner, anti-Morgan advertising from an independent group called "Americans for Prosperity," which was heavily supported by former Wake County Rep. Art Pope's family fortune--the same fortune that's behind the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh.
And when Miner tried to respond with an ad that contained his own audiotape of President Bush, who thanked Miner for his help as a fundraiser in 2000, it prompted a rebuke by a Republican National Committee member that was issued by the state party itself, making it clear that State Republican Chair Ferrell Blount was backing Dollar.
Miner didn't help himself, according to some Cary Democrats, by his own lax campaigning and his habit of not always returning constituent calls. Nonetheless, Democrats and moderate Republicans alike were shocked by the tone of Dollar's ads and the "whispering campaign" that conservatives mounted against Miner's fitness to hold office.
In the last week, Miner says, he's heard from "more Republicans than maybe they know about who share my concerns" about the party. "Sooner or later, you can only run off so many people before you're a permanent minority."
He's also heard from a few Democrats who suggested that he'd be welcome in their party, a move he's not thinking about making. He's been a Republican since he was a kid, a leader in the party since his teen years. He's 41 now, and the party is moving away from him. But he's young enough, he's hoping it will wake up and start coming back.
Meanwhile, Republicans might consider this: After Tuesday's primaries, they have a fresh-faced gubernatorial candidate in Patrick Ballantine (who's 39), not associated with gay-bashing and not saddled with a anti-gay marriage amendment on the November ballot to make him look like--oh, Bill Cobey, for instance. For that, they can thank Richard Morgan. And David Miner.