RALEIGH — It was 30 years ago that I founded my first conservative organization. It was a student magazine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My compatriots and I decided to name it The Carolina Critic — not only because we intended to be critical of the prevailing left-wing culture on campus but also because we intended to champion critical thinking.
The Critic staff included highly opinioned conservatives and libertarians who argued with each other, as well as with the progressive columnist we recruited to keep things interesting. Some Critic writers still work together today on various projects — and debate their differences, robustly but respectfully — including my twin brother David Hood, who became an attorney and the chairman of the Catawba County Board of Elections; Tony Woodlief, who worked at the Koch Foundation and now serves as executive vice president of the State Policy Network; and Rick Henderson, whose journalism career took him to Los Angeles, Washington, Las Vegas, Denver, and then back to North Carolina as editor-in-chief of Carolina Journal, the newspaper I founded in 1991 while at the John Locke Foundation.
As I plugged away at the Critic, I received encouragement from a wide variety of people. They included conservatives such as National Review founder William F. Buckley and UNC-Chapel Hill sociologist John Shelton Reed, who served as faculty advisor for the magazine, as well as folks from the other side of the political spectrum. One of them was Phil Meyer, a national pioneer in computer-assisted reporting and the journalism professor for which I worked as a research assistant. Another was the always gracious Bill Friday, who had just retired after 30 years as president of the UNC system.
I relate this little bit of history to make two points. The first is that personal relationships matter. Maintain them. You never know how a friendship or acquaintance might shape your future or enrich your life. And don’t be reticent to form those relationships across differences — be they personal, professional, or political. If you just surround yourself with like-minded people who reinforce your preexisting views, your intellectual muscles will atrophy and your errors will proliferate.
My second point is that I’ve been at the task of helping to build a modern conservative movement in North Carolina for virtually my entire adult life. Thousands of colleagues, employees, donors, and advisors have joined me in this task. Some have limited their activities to policy analysis, journalism, or grassroots activism. Others have gone into electoral politics, including some of my former colleagues and employees.
While much work remains to be done, North Carolina conservatives have already accomplished a great deal over the past three decades. What was once a one-party state is now a competitive one. The state’s tax code, budget process, and regulatory system have all been reformed in ways that maximize freedom and economic growth. More families have real choice among schools and stronger property rights.
What ought to happen next? The John Locke Foundation has just published its ideas for 2017 and beyond, in a booklet entitled The Road to Freedom. The recommendations include more tax reforms to encourage investment and job creation in our state, more regulatory reforms to liberate entrepreneurs and workers from costly rules, and less government meddling in such areas as medical care and alcohol sales.
JLF analysts think North Carolina should make its funding system for public schools more rational and fair. They think North Carolina should reform its criminal-justice system by raising the default age of juvenile jurisdiction from 16 to 18, curbing the ability of government to seize assets of people not yet convicted of crimes, and requiring proof of criminal intent before turning a mistake or infraction into a criminal offense.
You may think these ideas sound promising. You may think they sound bonkers. By all means, engage and debate them. But avoid the temptation to turn political disagreements into personal attacks. In my experience, resisting that temptation is in your own self-interest in the long run.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation. You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.