A big crowd turns out to talk politics on a cold and rainy night. It’s the Raleigh way.
As event planners, we’re terrible meteorologists.
All the stars aligned for the big event — availability of guest speakers, convenient venue, sellout response — EXCEPT what I can vaguely interpret as a middle-school brawl between two weather fronts.
On Wednesday night, someone up there didn’t get the memo that state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and state House Speaker Tim Moore were guests at an invitation-only event organized by NC Insider (a politics news service owned by The News & Observer).
Local meteorologists had predicted a surge of rain and wind for days. When the day moved into evening and remained more cloudy than catastrophic, we bought in like someone getting two numbers right on their first-ever Powerball ticket.
Maybe, just maybe, we picked a winner of a weather day! Even by North Carolina in January standards!
By the time NC Insider Editor Lars Dolder welcomed the packed house at Caffe Luna just two ticks past 6 p.m., the clouds spewed everything but cats and dogs. Those who showed up early escaped the downpour; those who arrived late have dry-cleaning bills.
Here’s the bright spot.
We may have picked cumulonimbus in the cloud lottery, but the crowd didn’t mind. Politics in the Triangle isn’t a fair-weather sport, but it has a thunderous following.
North Carolinians know whatever gets accomplished in Raleigh will depend upon Berger and Moore. They’re the traffic cops that will decide which legislative initiatives get the green light and which ones are caught in a roundabout with no exits.
This column is not about legislation, party affiliations, or even the weather. (Hey, I’m no Kat Campbell — although delivering complex information succinctly with natural cheeriness is an enviable attribute.)
This is about the joy of being a professional observer in a community where state politics is the local business.
Cumulonimbus clouds be damned, only a handful of badges remained on this stormy Wednesday evening. I stood in the back of the room and admired the networking dance of well-dressed politicos migrating from one conversation to another.
Robert Willett, a longtime N&O photographer who also exudes natural cheeriness, offered to introduce me — the newcomer — to Berger and Moore. “We’ve shaken hands,” I said. “Besides, Robert, they’d rather spend time talking with you about college basketball.”
Basketball, barbecue and whatever’s happening in Raleigh — that’s the mirepoix in our state. Everyone has an opinion — even our barbecue tastes are split, albeit over vinegar — but politics ranks with Armando Bacot in the Triangle’s buzziness level.
Politics enters so many everyday discussions. I had to smile to this response from a Wake County homeowner completing a survey attached to “On The Market,” The N&O’s upcoming real-estate newsletter:
The news and opinion operations at The N&O are separate, but confusion reigns often.
Lars, our talented NC Insider editor, did a fine job recently of explaining how we cover state politics: “Every reporter, photographer and editor is required to uphold the paper’s impartiality. We don’t wear campaign merchandise, or donate to or advocate for political candidates. Our social media activity can’t suggest political allegiances. Reporters are free to vote, in keeping with their rights as citizens, but that’s as far as they go in support of political players.’
Among those mingling Wednesday, in what could be construed as a Republican-friendly crowd, were members of The N&O politics and NC Insider teams. They made new connections, indulged in appetizers and, most importantly, listened. Impartially.
Because, rain or shine, we’re going to be there throughout the legislative session. It’s your interest. And it’s ours, too.
Bill Church is executive editor of The News & Observer. He has lived in three state capitals.