Left, right?

Published 12:28 am Friday, October 14, 2011

Former state Rep. Arthur Williams’ shift of allegiance from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party shouldn’t be interpreted as a shift of allegiance from the priorities he’s always had.

It could be said that Williams’ change of parties is a reflection of the current political reality.

The fact is, the days of the “Jessecrats” — conservative Democrats who voted for ultra-conservative U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms — are, in effect, over. These days, fewer eastern N.C. Democrats who lean to the right are willing to vote with, or remain a meaningful part of, a party they contend has moved to the left.

Still fewer local candidates for state House or Senate can expect to be elevated to these sought-after offices without making some concessions to the largely conservative values of rural eastern North Carolina.

Williams’ about-face might be a nod to the 21st-century demographics of the Old North State, which, generally, is more liberal in such places as Chapel Hill, Charlotte and Asheville and more conservative in such places as … well, Aurora, Belhaven, Chocowinity and Washington.

It will be interesting to see how area voters respond to Williams’ party change, if he hands truth to the rumors and runs for political office again.

Equally interesting will be how the two major political parties will handle that reality, if it comes to fruition. (A Williams candidacy could lead to some awkward moments for some of his Democratic friends and former Republican adversaries.)

But one thing is certain: The parties can start political careers, but they can’t sustain them. At some point, most legislative elections come down to one thing: “What have you done for me lately?”

The candidate who can’t answer that question effectively at home should worry less about party affiliation and more about how he’s going to fill the next two years out of office. That goes for Democrats and Republicans.