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Editor's note: This is Damon Circosta's final column with The Voter Update magazine as he transitions to the AJ Fletcher Foundation. We at the N.C. Center for Voter Education thank him for his great work and many contributions throughout the past five years and wish him all the best in his new position.

A Front-Row Look at Democracy Working

By Damon Circosta

RALEIGH - It has been said that North Carolina politics are a paradox. On one hand, we are a state with a deep respect for tradition and history. On the other hand, we are downright impatient and don’t fancy ourselves as a people who merely wait passively for the next thing.

We are comfortable with our southern heritage, but equally as comfortable with the influx of non-southerners who migrate here from around the country and across the globe. Our politicians can be noble and ignoble, thoughtful and obtuse. Our government institutions find ways to be exceedingly transparent one day, only to become opaque the next.

Such incongruity in our public affairs can be both confusing and entertaining. It’s tough to really understand how our state is governed until you get comfortable with contradiction.

For the last several years I have written this column to offer a glimpse behind the curtain of state politics. In my role as executive director for an organization dedicated to informing and involving voters I have gotten to see the political process up close and personal.

Sometimes it has been downright ugly. After all, they don’t compare politics to sausage-making for nothing.  Other times, when you least expect it, the folks who represent us in state government find a way to set aside their differences and work together for the betterment of the state. It’s in those moments that I realize how truly sublime our democracy can be.

From this unique perch I have learned a few things about how state government works, and as I depart from the N.C. Center for Voter Education I want to share with you some of the insights I have gained in my time watching North Carolina politics.

Despite how it might sometimes appear, the overwhelming majority of our politicians are doing their best to make the state better. It’s easy to get caught up in a divisive political battle and assume the worst about the opposing side. But no one in Raleigh wakes up in the morning, twists their hypothetical mustache and plots to do evil upon their fellow North Carolinians.

Yet right now, the two major political parties have very different views about the role state government should play in our society. Lately such disparity has led to a lot more conflict in our legislative chambers. But make no mistake, these people we elect are doing their best to represent their constituents and pursue their vision for a better North Carolina, even when they disagree on how to reach that goal.

Watching the legislative process play out, it astounds me how right our Founding Fathers got it.  Separation of powers, checks and balances, constitutional review -- concepts we learned in civics class -- are what keep us from corruption and tyranny.

No matter how right or wrong a policy might be, it has to go through a process that, though conceived centuries ago, still works pretty well. In fact, most of the problems we have today stem from attempts to subvert that process. 

This is not to say we shouldn’t always be looking out for ways to improve our democracy. The founders weren’t perfect and could never have contemplated our modern world. Still, the core concepts of inclusive decision-making and diffuse power serve us well.

I’ve had a wonderful five years playing a bit part in the pageant of self-government. But the best part about our democracy is that the people come and go, and the process continues.

Damon Circosta is the executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education.