The Democrats pride themselves on being a big-tent party; they claim to be the most diverse and welcoming among the two main political parties. However, they’re only welcoming and inclusive in practice if you are flying the same banner of progressive ideology and purist loyalty.
The “NCPOL Universe” got a dose of this in the past primary election cycle. Gov. Roy Cooper stepped into the Senate District 19 primary by endorsing Val Applewhite against Sen. Kirk deViere, the Democrat incumbent, who then lost the chance to reclaim his seat.
Now, anyone unaware of the dynamics at play might jump to a reasonable conclusion and think that, perhaps, deViere was not doing his job, and the governor wanted to replace him. An interesting thought, but wrong.
Sen. deViere is known to be a reasonable moderate who gets things done. He stands on principle when he must and is unapologetically a Democrat but is unafraid to work with his Republican colleagues in a bipartisan way, something that good governance demands from more of our lawmakers, locally and nationally.
Not only is Sen. deViere loved by his Senate colleagues across party lines and known in Raleigh politico circles as a genuinely nice guy, but he gained huge appropriations victories in the last state budget, delivering to his district a whopping $299.5 million in appropriations, putting him in the top 3 budget recipients of all senators from both parties. He helped negotiate with Senate Republicans to get the budget signed by the governor (the first time in 4 years!) to move our state forward, continuing the decade-long economic prosperity from the Republican-controlled General Assembly. He fought hard to include retired military tax exemptions in the budget, is known for his advocacy on military and veterans’ issues more broadly, and worked with Senate Republicans on criminal justice reform, among other areas where good policy moved forward.
All in all, Kirk deViere is, arguably, one of the most effective Democrat members of the General Assembly.
Why would Roy Cooper primary such an impactful Democrat legislator like Kirk deViere? The only clear answer to objective observers on the outside is that deViere put policy over politics and pragmatism over partisanship — something Cooper cannot have in his version of a “big tent.”
Cooper and the Democrats are no strangers to playing these sorts of games against moderate lawmakers who seek to engage in bipartisanship. Cooper allegedly made similar threats before on the state budget in 2019, which of course, he then acted on against deViere in 2022. Recently, in Michigan, Democrats financially influenced the congressional primary against moderate Republican Congressman Peter Meijer, pumping money towards his Trump-endorsed opponent, who is considerably less moderate on the issues.
With the actions of Cooper taking out deViere and Democrats taking out Meijer, it seems that the Democratic Party is more interested in ideological purity and casting out those who might believe in pragmatic politics — something Madison talked about in the “The Federalist Papers”when he addressed political factions — that gets the job done.
Good governance sometimes requires pragmatism and compromise. That is not to suggest that ideology is not important — it is very important. Political ideology and first principles should not be wholly lost or cast aside when crafting policy or engaging in the political game. Likewise, we should not fetishize bipartisanship. Sometimes it is impossible to achieve. However, lawmakers should try to meet in the middle and work with those on the other side where they can and when they can to advance good policy for the good of society.
If you claim to be a political big tent, then that means some degree of ideological diversity is necessary. Coalitions on the right and left are likely better when they have those on their own side who challenge the prevailing view. Lawmakers and politicians who are influential moderates should not be thrown out simply because they do not meet some arbitrary ideological purity test.
deViere delivered for his district. He worked across party lines to get the job done for all North Carolinians. And Roy Cooper took him out for it.
André Béliveau is the strategic projects and government affairs manager at the John Locke Foundation. He is an M.A. in government candidate at Johns Hopkins University and previously served as a policy advisor in the North Carolina Senate.