Forsyth County Dems discuss how to rebuild the party
North Carolina Democrats face a conundrum: While Democratic trend lines look increasingly favorable for the party with progressive-leaning people moving into the state, a growing Hispanic population and steady urbanization, the Republican Party is ascendant.
After seizing control of the General Assembly in 2010, the Republicans took the governor’s office and lieutenant governor’s office in the recent election, and a conservative Supreme Court judge backed by Republican donors has declined to recuse himself from ruling on controversial redistricting plans Republican lawmakers have used to consolidate control.
Forsyth County Democratic Women hosted a lunchtime panel at party headquarters to discuss how to regroup after such bruising losses. Speakers included NC Sen.-elect Earline Parmon, NC Rep.-elect Evelyn Terry and Forsyth County Democratic Party Chair Susan Campbell, among others.
Judge Denise Hartsfield, a Forsyth County district court judge and the moderator of the discussion set the tone in her characterization of Parmon’s relative power as a freshman senator in the minority party.
“Earline, you’re about to go into a war, for all intents and purposes,” Hartsfield said. “You’ve got to have your war clothes on because you’re going into a war where you are a minority in every sense of that word. Not just because you’re a woman, not just because you’re black, but because you are one of the few Democrats.”
Terry, who was elected to represent NC House District 71 following the announced retirement of Rep. Larry Womble, said she knows she’ll be at a disadvantage as a Democrat.
“With a super majority of hateful people, I recognize what the numbers look like,” she said. “We’re going to have to be very vigilant. Obviously, when you look at what we’re facing, just to be able to legislate with this session. The deals are already done.”
Terry said Democratic lawmakers will have to leverage relationships with constituents to be effective.
“The reality in my view is that in order to be able to do what we have to do for our constituents here at home and for others who have like minds throughout the state is to be very vigilant with our connectivity,” she said. “We’ve got to communicate. We’ve got to know that you’re there so that when we’re speaking the minority’s point of view and philosophy we can call up the numbers when it’s necessary.”
Campbell said the party is attempting to build an infrastructure of support for Democratic lawmakers.
“We’d love to have some watchdog groups,” she said. “We’ve talked about ways to communicate. Like how is, when Earline has issues and Evelyn has issues that they want us to know about, how do we find out? That’s the infrastructure that we want to set up with the communication. How do we get you upset about what they’re upset about so if they want you to make phone calls, then you go make phone calls. If they want you to write letters, then that’s what you’re going to do.”
The party is also trying to build capacity at its base.
“Each precinct, you’ve got stuff that you care about together,” Campbell said. “And so as a group, one of the precinct chairs he and his whole precinct were going to go to the school board meetings to talk about the superintendent [search]. As a group that’s an issue that they were going to take up. There are neighborhood issues, there are ward issues, there are things that you guys care about together, and have a little grassroots something going on.”
Terry alluded to the disconnect between the demographic trends favorable to Democrats and the Republican ascendancy in state governement.
“The Democratic Party won seven of 23 targeted districts that the party targeted, but when I looked at the number of folks that we lost in those targeted districts was less than 8,000,” Terry said. “Do you understand what I’m saying? So the reality is we’ve got to get a little more sophisticated about how we do our politics and how we do what we’re doing with people we want to elect into these offices. We have really got to drill down into it. And we have got to learn how to articulate the message that resonates with folks who have dropped out.
“The powerful in gray suits may have the numbers down there, but we have this great big forum that we can utilize to communicate our message and keep it energized throughout this two-year period,” Terry continued. “We may not win on one vote, or one issue I should say, but we can communicate the message and use every medium that is available to communicate that.”
Anne Wilson, one of the panelists, urged party members to write letters to the Winston-Salem Journal and the Chronicle to keep issues before the public and encourage people who care about the same things.
Panelists did not discuss leadership development, but the challenge of succession planning was highlighted by a question by Eric Ellison, a former member of the Forsyth County Board of Elections, about why the county party does not currently have a Young Democrats auxiliary. Campbell said party leaders have been looking for someone to chair the group, which is open to all Democrats under the age of 40.
Parmon said that in light of the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the first bill she plans to file will be to outlaw guns in parks. She also plans to file a bill to make attendance in schools compulsory, and to increase the age at which young people can be charged with a felony from 16 to 18.
“These are the kinds of issues that everyone should support them because it’s good for Forsyth County and it’s good for North Carolina," she said. "So we do have the issues that should keep people in arms and involved and active. So look for us to come out with bills. And I’m going to go to the media every time they don’t let us hear them in committees. Because that’s what’s going to happen: They will not even allow us to have these bills heard in committees."
Parmon said Republican members have already drafted a bill to cut the state’s unemployment insurance program. She said the second bill expected from Republican lawmakers would be to require voters to present picture ID before voting. The General Assembly passed a voter ID bill this past year but were unable to muster the votes to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.
“Now, I’m enraged,” Parmon said. “And I’m going to stay positive and professional, but like someone said, ‘Show up, stand up,’ and like Larry Womble said, ‘If necessary, act up.’ It’s coming to the time when we cannot just be prepared talkers and listeners because we’re talking about our very lives.”
Campbell said she hopes that 2014, a congressional mid-term election will be a reversal of 2010, when Republicans made great strides by mobilizing their base while Democrats were complacent.
“And you think: Okay, if it happened to us in 2010, it can happen to them in 2014," she said. "People were upset. They were angry and they were upset, and we were going, ‘Oh, we got the president, la-di-da-di-da.’ And we didn’t get out and vote, and they did. So we’ve got to flip that. And that’s our challenge. How do we keep people upset and knowing what’s going on?”