Below is Part 2 of an interview, provided exclusively for ATPR, with Nicholas Hensley, the National Secretary of the Reform Party National Committee. Part 1 of the interview was published on July 7th, 2016 and can be read here.
Question: What do you think is the largest problem with politics in North Carolina?
Answer: The problem with North Carolina politics, is the winner take all tradition in the legislature. For decades, the Democrats clung to power by gerrymandering districts, disenfranchising Republicans, and stacking the deck against challengers. When the Republicans took over, they turned the table by doing the same thing to the Democrats.
The end result of these actions, is that the government of North Carolina is not accountable to the people, and only represents the legislators and their backers. As much as the North Carolina economy is booming, especially in the Raleigh and Charlotte areas, we have developed a lot of social unrest due to Republican muddling.
A big problem is that the current Republican leadership isn’t from here. A lot of the Republican leadership is composed of Northern transplants that don’t understand the social progression of North Carolina from slave holding state to segregation, from segregation to the civil rights era, and from the civil rights era to the modern day, how the policies they are stripping were put in place for good reasons as North Carolina made that progression, and how stripping them now puts North Carolina in danger of backsliding on these issues.
Q: You take a lot of shots at the Republicans. Is your opinion biased based on being a former Democrat?
A: I was never a Democrat before joining the minor party movement. I was always registered as unaffiliated, because one cannot register as a member of the Reform Party in North Carolina. I am however center-left with an unconventional social belief system and fall into the Blue Dog mold. I feel as if the Democratic Party has abandoned people with my political beliefs over the past eight years, and there is no political home for the middle spectrum of the populace.
The reason that I attack the Republicans more, is because they have a majority in the state house and state senate, and control the governorship. The Republicans are firmly in power here, and thus the establishment. As an anti-establishment leader, I fight the establishment, and therefore the Republican controlled state government.
I have a history of attacking both sides. If you read through statements that I released over the years, and the Reform Party Facebook page that I manage, you will see that I spare no one based on political affiliation.
Q: Let’s talk about your time with the MWP. You helped found the MWP of North Carolina, but later resigned as chair.
A: In the early days of the MWP, there was a massive battle for control and ideology. That is common in startup parties as they struggle for their identity. Larger parties also do the same thing on a smaller scale, and it is part of the natural progression of any political organization. I found myself drawing the same conclusion as many of my cohorts, and decided that it was time to leave. I hope the MWP the best, and I have no ill feelings towards any of the current leadership.
Q: Right now, House Bill 2 has been in the national news. What is your opinion of it?
A: I believe that most people don’t understand House Bill 2. It was marketed as legislation that kept perverts out of the woman’s restrooms, but in reality it was a giant attack on Democrats. If you look at the other provisions in the bill, it took away protections for the disabled and veterans, and stripped local governments of their power.
On the of subject of transsexuals, I understand both sides of this issue. You have a group that wishes to live their lives a certain way, and don’t wish to harm anyone. On the other side, you have a group that is worried about their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers. Both sides have a valid set of arguments. I believe that if you identify as a woman, look like a woman, act like a woman and live like a woman, you should have access to the woman’s bathroom. If you do none of those things, stay out of the woman’s bathroom.
Q: How large is the Reform Party of North Carolina?
A: The Reform Party of North Carolina is in a rebuilding phase. We have only had two and half years of party building behind us. We are small compared to the major parties, and have about 500 supporters throughout the state. Out of these supporters, only about 20 are active day to day participants, but that is the start of something much bigger. Growth rates have improved, and we are ahead of projection. Once we gain ballot access, and win some local races, things should take off.
Q: What is the main goal of the Reform Party of North Carolina?
A: The main goal of the Reform Party of North Carolina is to advocate for our platform, and break North Carolina’s political establishment by winning offices.
Q: What is the platform of the Reform Party of North Carolina?
A: The Reform Party of North Carolina’s platform is built around solving the problems that are unique to North Carolina voters. The best political issues to build a platform on are the local issues people deal with every day.
The most important thing we can do for North Carolina is to end the tradition of the winner take all mentality. We want to end gerrymandering, open the ballot to third parties, and enact a strict set of laws to regulate the behavior of lawmakers. We also want to get special interest money out of state politics, and return the decision making to the people.
Economically, North Carolina is doing well in the Triangle and Charlotte. The prosperity in these regions are due to embracing the tech industry, and the creation of Research Triangle Park. The other areas of North Carolina however have been hit hard by the outsourcing of American jobs. North Carolina was built on Durham tobacco, Burlington textiles and High Point furniture, but many of those manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, and now the people those jobs supported are struggling. The Reform Party of North Carolina wants to bring these jobs home by reforming American trade deals.
North Carolina has one of the best infrastructure systems in the region. There are rooms for improvement. The Reform Party of North Carolina has endorsed the creation of a light rail system.
Traditionally North Carolina is an agricultural state. At one point in time, like in many southern states, small farmers were the backbone of the North Carolina economy. Since the tobacco industry has been shrinking over the past decades, the decrease in demand for tobacco has harmed many. As these small farms have dried up, they have been incorporated into larger farming operations, and the way of life for small farmers has been threatened. We would like to see industrial hemp, which has next to no THC, and has a wide array of industrial applications, legalized so it will replace tobacco as a cash crop.
Small businesses thrive in North Carolina. Those businesses however are hindered by regulation, taxation and other issues imposed by the North Carolina legislature. The Reform Party wishes to address these issues, and take unnecessary burdens off of small business owners.
Immigration is a touchy issue in North Carolina. The opinions on both sides of the issue have validity, and both make good points that must be debated. The reality however is that there are twenty million undocumented people living in America, and it is impossible to deport twenty million people without creating a humanitarian crisis. This is not the 1830s, and the Reform Party of North Carolina does not wish to repeat the mistakes of Andrew Jackson. To fix the immigration issue that effect North Carolina, a path to residency must be created.
At the same time however, a nation is not a nation without borders. We need to do a better job of boarder security, and find solutions to keep people from coming here illegally in the future.
As far as Civil Rights in North Carolina, the Reform Party understands that the state has had a long issue with race and class relations. In the last 150 years, North Carolina has moved from a slave holding state to a segregated state, to a state that resisted the Civil Rights Act to a state that created some of the most progressive programs in the south east. The Reform Party of North Carolina understands that, as a society, America has a way to go towards institutional changes, and wishes to lead that fight in the legislature. There are many places in which we can do better.
Q: How do you propose restoring the industrial jobs?
A: How do we rebuild Durham tobacco, Burlington textiles and High Point furniture? Well there is a lot of things we can do ranging for economic incentives to regulatory reforms to tax reform. Those reforms however would only have a minor impact compared to leaving NAFTA, CAFTA and the WTO.
Q: How can North Carolina do better in the Civil Rights category?
A: North Carolina should mandate body cameras for all police officers, and train officers on techniques to deescalate situations.
I have personal seen at least one incident, in my teen years, where a white teenager poked her head out of a school bus when it was stopped by a police officer, to tell her mother that everything was okay. The police officer responded by shouting by telling her to shut up in a very aggressive manner, and putting his hand on his firearm. Even as a 15 or 16 year old, I knew that the situation could be handled better, and it scared the hell out of me.
The incident that was being investigated was that a ball of paper was thrown out the window, and hit a car causing no damage. The most sever charge anyone could have been charged with would have been littering. There was no reason to escalate the situation. These were also Wakefield high school kids from Raven Wood, Hunter’s Landing and the areas around St. Luke’s. They were from middle and upper-class neighborhoods, and were complying with trooper. Looking back at it, a dozen years later, I still have the same opinion of the incident.
On the side of institutional changes, the North Carolina judicial system has a long history of treating lower classes differently than the wealthier. There has been a history of anti-Semitism in a number of police departments across the state, and these issues must be addressed through changes in institutional policy, and legislation when necessary.
Q: In the state of North Carolina, what are the biggest challenges your party faces?
A: Ballot access. North Carolina has one of the most brutal ballot access requirements in the Union. In order to get on the ballot, a party must get 85,000 valid signatures. Since a number of signatures will not be valid, 100,000 signatures must be collected. If we hired a set of professional petition gatherers, that would cost the NC Reform Party about 300,000 dollars.
The Libertarians succeed in gaining ballot access, but they say it’s like running two campaigns. They have to campaign for ballot access, and then campaign to win 5 percent of the vote in the governor’s race. Since they have to spend so much money to gain ballot access, they don’t have the money to get 5 percent of the vote.
To date, only three minor parties have gained ballot access in North Carolina. Only one of those parties has maintained it – the Libertarians.
Recruitment is also difficult. Most people are indoctrinated to believe that a minor party can’t win elections, even though they do, so they don’t join. Some other people also say they’d join or help out if we gained ballot access, but we need people to help with that effort, and it creates a giant Catch 22.
Our fundraising problem mirrors our recruitment issue. First because it’s hard to find a good treasurer, secondly because people don’t want to donate money to a party that doesn’t have ballot access, even though we need money to gain ballot access, thus another giant Catch 22 is created.
In order to overcome these issues, we need to recruit organizers that understand the long term nature of party building, and would be willing to work for several years knowing these difficulties, but still willing to invest their time and capital.
Q: Does the Reform Party of North Carolina support candidates?
A: Yes! The Reform Party has supported several candidates. We made an endorsement of liberal Shawn Eckles and conservative Barry Gurney, both of them write in candidates. In nonpartisan races, we support Matthew Overby for Wake County Soil and Water Board. This year we made an unsolicited endorsement on social media for Mike Morgan for NC Supreme Court, because he is the better candidate in the race.
This year, the Treasurer of the Reform Party of North Carolina, Rick Kasa is running for Congress in North Carolina’s Second District. He is running as a write in candidate using the campaign as a vehicle to conduct outreach for the Reform Party.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add about the Reform Party of North Carolina?
A: In my opinion, the Reform Party of North Carolina is the best vehicle for change in the state. What we need more than anything else to accomplish this, is a team of organizers that don’t mind tackling the monumental task of building a political party from the ground up. If we can assemble a decent team, we have a chance at changing the political discussion in the state.