A tough Roe to hoe: State and local Democrats are searching for a way back forward
HBuncombe and Henderson. It’s also one of those NC-11 counties that has felt the impact of declining Democratic support over the past decade, on the order of 27%.
In 2022, the party lost the state’s only elected tax collector, Democrat Greg West, in favor of a 21-year-old Republican who hadn’t yet graduated from college and had no real-world job experience.
By all accounts, West had done a stellar job over the previous four years, and his only flaw was the “D” next to his name.
Haywood’s Democrats could field only two candidates for the three county commission seats up for election in 2022 and failed to stop a three-time loser who hadn’t paid his taxes for nearly 15 years — Republican Terry Ramey — from winning a seat.
In 2016, the commission had a 3-2 Democrat majority. Now, there’s not a single Democrat on the commission.
“At this point in time, we have a large number of Republican office holders and a smaller number of Democratic office holders, which poses a challenge for the Democratic Party to present its message and to be a presence in local and state government decisions,” said Sybil Mann, newly-elected chair of the HCDP.
Mann, who is married to Democratic Waynesville Town Council Member Chuck Dickson, said that among other things, her party is currently working on plans to recruit Democratic candidates for 2024 county commission and school board races.
Training and supporting those candidates is as important as recruiting them, Mann said.
“I think the Democratic Party can help candidates by offering campaign training, how to campaign door-to-door, how to use volunteers, how to target voters with a message,” she said.
That involves digital literacy, but it also involves maintaining a more active presence in local government affairs; over the past few years, public comment sessions have become the hottest ticket in town, with a constant barrage of misinformation presented by speakers — overwhelmingly Republicans.
Democrats have utterly failed to compete in this arena by advancing their values and countering misinformation with facts.
“We need to be an opposition party that promotes accountability,” Mann said.
Still, many of Mann’s local challenges come full circle to the national party’s disconnect with voters in the rural South.
“I don't want to focus on the national party,” she said. “To the extent that there is a state party and a national party, that's important, because Democrats fight for people, we protect people, we're there for the underdog,” she said. “That's important. But right now, we've got a lot of needs in Haywood County that I think would benefit from Democratic solutions. We really need to concentrate on those.”