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John Kasich’s advice for North Carolinians

Last week, Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary. Both results would have been a major surprise one year ago, but then again this election season has featured one surprise after another.

However, it wasn’t Trump, or Sanders, who caught my attention that evening. It was Ohio Governor John Kasich. Kasich’s appeal toward a politics of “light, not darkness” drew my mind back to my own political awakening and the years that followed.

Those born in Caldwell County from the mid-1980s forward have spent their entire life in a Republican-dominated region. The Broyhill family, the closest thing Caldwell County had to the Kennedys of Massachusetts, were Republican and had helped lead the political transition beginning in the 1960s.

As a child, my only memory of any Democratic Party influence was the local Sheriff.

As the 1990s unfolded, and the local furniture economy crashed, the trend was toward populism. A lot of my family members were inclined to support Ross Perot after he spoke to the “giant sucking sound” of jobs leaving for Mexico and Asia.

Pat Buchanan also found an audience in Caldwell County, and among my family, in 1996 after winning New Hampshire on the strength of his denunciation of free trade and the global economy.

Like many youth, my own initial political awakenings trended toward the same candidates that my family supported. My class election in 1996 featured a sizable victory for Bob Dole and my own election night memory from that year featured tears related to Dole’s loss.

In 2000, my parents, like many others in the area, rallied around George W. Bush, which led to my first political break with my family as Senator John McCain became my candidate. My support of McCain flowed from his calls for campaign finance reform, along with other reforms of DC politics. In the years to follow, my politics would shift.

Today, my own registration reads unaffiliated.

Last Tuesday, Governor Kasich harkened back to the days of McCain in 2000, arguably even back to the early messages of President Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign, by reminding us of the opportunity for politics to be a noble profession aimed at improving the lives of others in our community regardless of partisan affiliation.

Kasich told the crowd that New Hampshire had taught him to slow down. He said that perhaps we all ought to slow down and pay attention to our neighbors, to listen to one another, to join the work of improving our community.

Kasich declared, “There are too many people in America who don’t feel connected. They’ve got victories that no one celebrates with them, and they have defeats, and pain sometimes, that they have to absorb themselves.”

Regardless of partisan affiliation, Kasich’s words were a moving reminder that we do not have to wait for our leaders to save us.

His call for us to slow down, to begin to connect with one another, offered a reminder that we can all do more beginning in our own backyard.

Today, North Carolina ranks as average in overall civic health, which perhaps runs counter to the historical narrative of North Carolina’s “generosity of spirit.” This phrase originated in the 1950s when bank executive and Research Triangle Park champion Archie Davis declared, “In North Carolina, there is a generosity of spirit and a generosity of mind — people work together for the common good of the state, as one can see from the history of the Research Triangle Park.”

Only 26.3 percent of North Carolinians volunteer, which rates us at 28th among the 50 states according to 2014 data.

North Carolinians rate slightly better than the rest of the country around connecting with our neighbors. We are slightly above average when it comes to doing favors and talking with our neighbors, which from my own experience is true for my Mother at the very least, and we are also slightly above average when it comes to working with our neighbors to fix or improve something in our local area. 

The staff at the Institute for Emerging Issues have noted that we do not have enough historical data to know if the narrative around our “generosity of spirit” was ever fully accurate, but we do have enough examples from our state’s history to know that we have had defining moments, whether that means keeping our schools open during the Great Depression, building the Research Triangle Park while other states were massively mobilizing against desegregation, or our consistently remarkable response to natural disasters in our state to know that it is part of the makeup of a number of North Carolinians throughout the years.

Yet the numbers show us that we have further to go. Addressing child poverty and hunger through clothes donations, summer feeding programs, and other issues are not inherently political. And, perhaps, that is why Governor Kasich’s remarks are worth noting. We can, and should, weave tighter connections to our neighbors across the state to celebrate their victories, help absorb their defeats, and ultimately build a North Carolina that truly takes care of our own.

For Kasich’s remarks:

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.