CHARLOTTE -- Last November, Mecklenburg County zagged when most of the rest of the state zigged. Statewide, voters chose George W. Bush over John Kerry for president by a wide margin, picked Richard Burr over Erskine Bowles for U.S. Senate by a surprisingly not-so-narrowm argin, and cast more votes for Republican candidates for legislature than for Democrats (gerrymandering, some natural, some engineered, still yielded a Democratic majority in both chambers, however).
But in Mecklenburg County, Democrats had one of their most-successful general-election cycles in years. Kerry and Bowles won comfortably. So did Mike Easley (but that was also true statewide). Democrats even won all three at-large seats for county commission (though the provisional-ballot issue leaves one outcome blurry), thus recapturing the government of the state's largest county from a dazed GOP.
One factor in the outcome, according to excellent spadework for Tara Servatius at Charlotte's Creative Loafing newspaper, was the arrival in town last year of ACORN, a national group with a history of involvement in both electoral politics and left-wing activism. Servatius reports that between April and November of 2004, ACORN -- which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- registered nearly 23,000 new voters in Mecklenburg. If they voted, most of these likely picked Ds.
What's more, the organization didn't just parachute into Charlotte, plant some anti-Republican incendiaries, and then take the first chopper out. It has set up a base camp with several full-time employees and hundreds of dues-paying members. ACORN plans to organize "low-income people" to work on issues such as school reassignment and a proposed living-wage ordinance. It will also remain politically active, which could prove important this fall as Charlotte holds municipal elections and Republican Mayor Pat McCrory faces a more serious challenger than he has in years.
So in a nutshell, what's ACORN? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
The group has been around a long time. Back in the 1960s, a left-winger named George Wiley created a group called the National Welfare Rights Organization. He intended to mobilize welfare recipients to flood government offices, forcing the system to collapse and bringing on the long-awaited overthrow of American capitalism. The strategy half-worked. Welfare dependency did soar during the late 1960s and 1970s, in part because of legal and organizational efforts to "protect" the "rights" of recipients to other people's money. But capitalism didn't fall. It just got saddled with heavier fiscal burdens.
ACORN was founded in Little Rock, Arkansas as an outgrowth of the NRWO. It now has more than 100,000 members, and chapters in dozens of American cities. Charlotte is just the latest target. Actually, I'm a little surprised that it took ACORN so long to set up local shop in the Queen City, since one of its tactics has long been to participate in bank shakedowns -- excuse me, in "enforcement efforts" of the Community Reinvestment Act that essentially end up with banks paying off activists and their wards in order to obtain federal approval for mergers. What is now Bank of America had to cut several of these deals during past mergers, including forming a "strategic alliance" with ACORN.
There are credible charges of election fraud and tax-funded corruption surrounding ACORN in other states. Its stepped-up activities here in North Carolina are worth watching closely.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.