A legislative reunion in honor of the statehouse's 50th birthday brought former lawmakers out of the woodwork. And the difference between the gray-haired Democrats and the Republican young guns was visually apparent.
Former Congressman Bob Etheridge, a Democrat who served two-terms in the N.C. House, said the legislature of the past is nothing like the current one under Republican control. "A lot of folks who were here today remember the days when you would come to this building -- you may argue and we had Democrats and Republicans -- but we were doing things to make a difference to move North Carolina forward," he said. "And what I saw in the paper the other day, the (legislative) proposals give me reason to be very concerned."
Etheridge is particularly troubled by a Senate provision to add two justices to the N.C. Supreme Court. "It's pretty obvious what that's about it," he said. "That's not about making (the state) better, it's about power and control. That's pretty frightening. It should send some signals of alarm to folks.
"That's not what elections are about," he continued. "Elections should be about ideas. Elections should be about making life better, it should be about creating jobs in this state. ... We ought to be looking at how do we improve education in this state, how do improve education for every child."
Etheridge nearly won the N.C. Democratic Party chairmanship in elections Saturday -- even though he wasn't a candidate. His take on the vote: "I didn't make a lot of it. I was not an active candidate for the job," he said. Randy Voller, the Pittsboro mayor, won by 11 votes.
As for the future of the state party: "We'll be OK," Etheridge said. "Randy is a good guy. I mean, he really is. He'll work hard."
Etheridge said money drives politics but the Democrats can win on principle, such as investing in the future and the ideals that carried Democrats to establish a great university and community college system. "I think we have to get out and talk about the better ideas, the angels among us, and call people out when they do bad things," he said. "Otherwise, we will be relegated to repeating the dark days of history."
Etheridge said he's not sure what role he'll play in Democratic politics going forward but vowed to stay involved.