PICK NICK is a fascinating and intimate look at Galifianakis' political career in the context of a changing South. From his origins at his father's Durham, North Carolina restaurant through his stunning political successes to a final doomed battle for the Senate, Nick Galifianakis mastered the art of politics and showed what was possible - and what was not - in the American South in the 1960's and 1970's.
Listen to the author and Nick himself interviewed on The State of Things from WUNC here.
What others have to say:
“These days, Galifianakis is mainly the answer to a political trivia question: Which Democrat did Jesse Helms defeat in his first run for the U.S. Senate in 1972? In "Pick Nick," however, retired Chapel Hill history professor John E. Semonche argues that Galifianakis was much, much more. In a state that was once just black and white, Galifianakis was the first wedge, opening the good ol' boys' club of Tar Heel politics to new ethnic groups. Plus, he was one of the most entertaining politicians North Carolina ever produced ….[Semonche] presents a balanced warts-and-all portrait of his subject, while chronicling a pivotal moment in North Carolina politics.” - Ben Steelman, Star News Online
“The nephew may be better known today, but his uncle Nick Galifianakis’ life and political career is an important one for those who want to understand our state’s history and political background.” - D.G. Martin, columnist and host of “North Carolina BookWatch”
“Pick Nick” shows the historian’s hand at work – facts is facts, as the old folks say – even when your 88-year-old neighbor is the subject of your book. John Semonche’s even-handed biography rescues one of North Carolina’s most colorful politicians from near-obscurity. For a generation of Tar Heels and a legion of immigrants to the state who know little or, more likely, nothing about the election of 1972 and Nick Galifianakis (though they likely recognize the name in another context: actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis is his nephew), “Pick Nick” is an overdue introduction to the man and his times. The best political biographies not only revive memories for those who lived through an era, but also tell the story for those who didn’t. Pick Nick is an accessible tutorial on a savvy first-generation American’s political journey through pre-1972 North Carolina, a page-turning rainy-day read blessedly free of the muddled writing that afflicts so much contemporary scholarship.” - Bob Wilson, The News and Observer
“Semonche recounts the remarkable like of Galifianakis, who was the first to pave the way in politics in North Carolina for candidates of various ethnic backgrounds, including Greek-Americans like himself.” - The National Herald
A sales sheet is available here.
In Semonche's words: "The unlikely political rise of a gregarious Greek-American in the land of Dixie where old times are not forgotten may be a half-century old, but it resonates in today’s political environment. In a state of political transition, the South in the 1960s was trading its solid Democratic past for a Republican future. This party shift masked an underlying continuity—a better opportunity to gain support for preserving as much of the past as present circumstances permitted. North Carolina spokesmen had long prided themselves on the state’s ability to escape a past that weighed heavily on an ability to grasp the future. Among the states of the Confederacy, they said, North Carolina was different. But was it?
One did not have to pierce through much of the veneer to find the same resistance to change that characterized other areas of the South. Nick Galifianakis, with considerable effort, was able to find support in the more liberal Piedmont area of the state, but when he had to summon support statewide he was stymied. One might expect that the intervening years have brought the people of the state together with the state’s optimistic spokesmen, but such had not been the case. Just look at the national condemnation of what is referred to as House Bill 2, the creation of a special session of the Republican state legislature in part designed to kill a Charlotte city ordinance allowing transgender persons to use the toilet facilities of their choice. Just how can a so-called progressive state etch into law palpable discrimination when the nation as a whole is extending the civil rights crusade to its logical conclusion. Opponents locally and nationally have grasped the fact that reform succeeds often not because opponents are converted but rather because retention of the change becomes economically costly or in other ways undesirable. The Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott by blacks ended not because their opponents were convinced of the inequity of segregation but because the financial health of the transit system was endangered. Or the nation finally enacted the 19th Amendment enfranchising women not because opponents saw the error of maintaining an all-male electorate but rather to offset the disturbing image of new arrivals to the nation outvoting the earlier arrivals.
Nick Galifianakis was disturbed by the fact that when he was mentioned in history books it was in regard to his loss to Jesse Helms in the 1972 election. (It is hoped that this book will be a partial corrective.) But, of course, that election of Helms was historically significant. It was not only an important part of the move of the South from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, but it helped fuse the conservatism of Barry Goldwater, the badly defeated Presidential candidate in 1964, with a brand of evangelical Christianity. In fact, until the 2016 Republican primaries, the Republican Party saw as its core the religious right, accepting the social conservatism of that core as the price for advancing the economic conservatism of its leaders.
One of the Republican candidates in that series of primaries was no less than a reincarnation of Jesse Helms. Ted Cruz, believed, as had Helms, that political conservatives could succeed by refusing to compromise and by campaigning to what had become the party’s evangelical base. Cruz could not understand why Donald Trump, who was no evangelical Christian and no conservative, was winning the Southern state primaries that the Texas senator had counted on. In this fascinating Republican race for the Presidential nomination, the fact that Cruz was now, to head off a Trump nomination, getting support from the very Republican establishment that he attacked was indeed ironic."