While I am not running for the position of Wake County Democratic Party Chair, I do have a few ideas on what is needed to lead our county party. I also feel much of this applies to county party leadership across North Carolina.
The historic election of 2008 shows the future promise and opportunity for the Democratic Party in Wake County. A massive infusion of money, staff, and enthusiastic volunteers from the Obama campaign resulted in 75% voter turnout and wins for nearly every state-wide and county-wide Democratic Candidate on the ballot. Our own county party efforts had significant impact too, with voter registration, canvassing, phone banks, distribution of voter guides, and a huge GOTV effort for early voting and Election Day. The entire Democratic team in Wake County, from each local Precinct activist up to our new President-elect, deserves great praise.
But the election exposed challenges that must be addressed if we are to progress and grow as a strong majority party in Wake County. We continued to be hampered by the “ring of fire” – precincts roughly outside the Raleigh beltline that lean Republican and have little Democratic activity, in spite of most having 35% or better Democratic registration. Massive efforts, such as the field work of the Obama campaign and my own grassroots run in Southern Wake County show that we can make large gains, even if we can’t always get majorities in those precincts…yet.
Another challenge we must rise to is attracting Obama activists to engage in our county party. I believe this will require special effort and consideration, an outreach we should start even before our April convention. We must also raise our expectations of our current activists, from Precinct Chairs to our Board members. Providing clear, challenging goals, with the resources and leadership needed to reach them must come from an activist party chair.
We also must recruit quality candidates to challenge every seat in municipal and school board races in 2009 and the legislative and county board seats in 2010.
I have often described the job of party chair as two major items: “herding cats” and fundraising – I just covered the “herding cats” part, but I want to point out we have a huge challenge in our fundraising, too.
Wake County represents over 10% of the vote in North Carolina, is the home county to our State Capitol, and to our State Democratic Party Headquarters. We take on many burdens other county parties don’t. We pay a full-time Executive Director, we often assist state-wide party initiatives, and we lead the way in areas of technology, training, communications, and community outreach. And I think we must do even more in the next two years.
Wake County also represents some of the most generous Democrats in North Carolina. But times are hard for everyone. It will take constant effort to coax the needed funds for us to both maintain the current quality of service and grow as the base of the Democratic Party grows in Wake County. The face our generous donors deserve to see everywhere, the voice they deserve to hear over the phone regularly and the signature on the frequent correspondence must be the Party Chair.
I believe strongly that political party activism is civic service of the highest caliber. For people like me, who care deeply about a wide variety of issues in their community, like the environment, education, economic opportunity, social justice, equality, and civil liberties, our mission is clear – grow our Democratic Party from the Court House and the State House, all the way to the White House.