In Robeson County, plenty unites us

First Posted: 12/18/2013

Occasionally it is important to remind ourselves there are more things that unite us than divide us. Christmas is such an occasion.

We may disagree on how to grow our county, state and nation. But in the end, we all are Robesonians, North Carolinians and most importantly, Americans — born of different creeds but woven in the same fabric of freedom.

Recall the fierce school rivalries of our youth. Though nearly coming to blows and sometimes succeeding, one ultimately couldn’t find the staunchest of friends. Each cheered for the other, defended the other and many even found their spouses from these opposing schools. The same adage fits Robeson that we can fight each other, but no outsider can.

Whether it’s infighting among downtown Lumberton, the Tribal Council or the NAACP this year, we all share the pain. We feel it because as a tri-racial community we share a unique political experience.

Think about it. There are generally two political factions. It may be white vs. black issues, urban vs. rural, Republican vs. Democrat or Christian vs. Jewish. But in Robeson there are three.

No cultural group holds a super majority here. The ironic political result is that Robeson politicians quickly learn no one gets elected here without garnering the support of another diametric group. Working through differences is actually in our DNA.

This dynamic creates complex bedfellows. Which is why a wise a balding Democrat once advised this young former Democratic operative that Yale was an excellent place to get an undergraduate degree in politics. Harvard was probably the best graduate-level education for such a degree. But if one desired a PhD in politics, come to Robeson County.

Despite our trifecta culture, Robeson has been unilaterally Democrat. It sort of worked when Democrats were more like current Republicans. Democrats didn’t change much, but the party sure did.

Let’s face it, Hubert Stone was the most powerful Democratic sheriff in Robeson County since Malcolm McLeod was elected in 1950. When Stone’s native Robesonian son Keith is running for sheriff on the Republican ticket in Nash County, you know times have changed.

In 2012, Nash went 50 percent for Obama, 49 percent for Romney and has four Democrat commissioners and three Republicans. It’s not like Stone became a Republican for political expediency.

Before you say Sheriff Stone would be disappointed, consider the fact he would be proud. Proud that his son is carrying on conservative principles once championed by the Democratic Party and proud he is bold enough blazing a trail, not following tradition.

If you’ve watched chef Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” show, you know Ramsey travels the country helping failing restaurants. Though the nearly bankrupt owners ask for his help, they become upset when he tells it like it is. If a menu isn’t working, it should go, especially if it’s kept just because of tradition. But traditions die hard.

Tradition dies harder in Robeson. One hundred years of Democratic leadership hasn’t advance the county. In fairness, it’s not that Democrats are leaving the party though, the party is leaving them.

Republicans look more like older conservative Democrats now. And it’s not so much that Republicans should take over Robeson as much as they should be given a chance. Honestly, it’s the balance of power that works, not exclusivity.

Robeson has something unique. We are experienced at working in three-dimensional politics, not two. Juggling three balls takes more skill.

Robeson is slowly allowing a two-party system to develop. We are learning to drop the labels, because ultimately we share the same vision. Like friendly rivals, we share the same spirit.

Tradition is fine. But we should embrace bold change and be brave in its pursuit. We need more statesman, fewer politicians. We need more diplomats, fewer ideologues. We have the ingredients right here to blaze a trail.

Because ultimately, there is more in Robeson that unites us than divides us this Christmas.

Phillip Stephens is president of the Robeson County Republican Party.