Before last week, 99 percent of North Carolinians probably never had heard of David Parker.
An even higher percentage – including some political insiders – probably couldn’t tell you what a political party organization actually does.
Still, there was Parker on television last week explaining that, as chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party, he had followed the law and done nothing wrong.
It’s never a good thing when someone is suddenly thrust into the public spotlight only to make that kind of disclaimer.
In Parker’s case, he was defending the party organization’s decision to enter into a financial settlement last fall with a party employee, Adriadn Ortega, after he alleged sexual harassment by the party’s executive director, Jay Parmley.
Parmley resigned recently after the matter finally spilled into the public.
Parker faced calls for his own resignation because Parmley had been protected until the allegations hit the newspapers, TV stations and Internet blogs. Those calling for Parker’s resignation included several top Democratic elected officials, with Gov. Bev Perdue eventually joining the chorus.
Parker dug in his heels. At a news conference, he said he would not resign immediately but would attempt to accelerate a party meeting to select his successor.
He noted that he and the party had followed the same course as any business facing similar circumstances. He said allegations supported by any evidence failed to rise to the level of sexual harassment and that he was in the right. (Parmley, on the day that he announced his resignation, denied any sexual harassment.)
Of course, politics isn’t business, a distinction that Parker seemed to struggle with during his news conference.
In politics, right and wrong don’t always matter. So much of it is about advantage, who has it and who can use it.
In this case, Republicans and conservative outfits had the advantage. They could crow and giggle about the Democrats’ distraction in an election year in which North Carolina is hosting the Democratic National Convention and in which the state is deemed critical to an incumbent Democratic president’s re-election hopes.
They could watch as the Democrats wiggled and squirmed in a brew of their own uncomfortable making.
Beyond a little crowing and giggling, there wasn’t much else to be done, not a lot of advantage to be gained.
Why not? Because the primary significance of state political party organizations today – as much as party activists and party heads would like to believe otherwise – lies in their role in moving campaign cash where it is most needed.
The people who really control the campaign cash are legislative leaders and governors, not party chairs.
Sure, folks like Parmley and Parker have a role in serving as attack dogs to be unleashed on the opposing party. They organize get-out-the-vote efforts and fire up the troops.
And they typically wield about as much power as the local dog catcher.