On November 7th Democrats finally awoke from their self-imposed coma to beat back the Republicans, with resounding victories, throughout the United States. The most convincing statement was made in Virginia, where they won all the top state leadership positions and came within one seat of retaking the House of Representatives. These victories have caused a stirring in the hearts and minds of loyal Democrats and Independents alike. But the question, for Democrats, is not whether they are energized enough to beat back the once powerful Republican juggernaut, but who will lead them? The question that is a major concern of the DNC, State and Local Parties, with elections on the horizon, is where do we go from here and who will lead us?
Enter Florence County Democratic Party, facing a period of transition. Their current chair’s term is coming to an end and there are justifiable concerns about who will replace her and if they will be qualified to take this party to the next level. With this in mind I spoke to some of the more knowledgeable individuals in Florence Democratic Party Politics and asked their opinion about the future of the chairs position in Florence. Included in my questioning was also one individual who says he is definitely running and another who has not made up their mind at this point.
The first person I spoke to was Councilman Bradley. When I told him, someone referred to him as a King maker, he laughed and said, “no, I am not a King maker”. When I asked him who he favored for the chair position, he stated that, “I only know of two people that may be running and that is Rev. Jerrod Moultrie and Lashonda Nesmith. Lashonda has had the position for a while. I will not state a preference because no matter who wins I will need their support in the upcoming elections”. I asked him what would be important to him in a new chair. He said that, “whoever we get should provide more support to the candidates after the primary. They need to have challengers for all those republican held seats on the county council. Have more forums/debates and help with some of the expenses we have with signs, advertising and getting out the vote”.
Next I contacted John Wukela, who was the youngest person that I questioned. John comes from one of the leading political families in Florence. He was raised on politics and I had met him before, at a few democratic party meetings, that I attended. I asked him had his family picked anyone to support for chair and he said, “we are not supporting anyone at this time because I did not know that it was time to prepare for the election”. I asked him what kind of chair would he want? And he stated that, “we need someone who has the time to put in to run the organization. Someone who is organized and a self-starter. Someone who will not meet for the sake of meeting. My next question was what do you think the priorities should be for the Party? And he said, “we need to recruit more young people in the party. I am 35 and I have been the youngest active person in the party for a long time. The vice-chair for young people has to be 30 or under. At the moment we don’t have anyone for that age group and if we don’t start recruiting young people soon the party will die out. We need more candidates not only to run against republicans but also to challenge our democrats. When our elected officials go unchallenged they become complacent in their positions instead of actively working for the people. My family is always recruiting candidates for the party”.
Rev. Moultrie, who openly admits that he is running for the position, was my next contact. When I asked him why was he running for the position, he said, “I am running because I feel the party needs a better direction. We need to be better organized, have more support for the candidates and be more diverse. Not just Black and White diversity, but also Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, young people…etc. Our party should reflect our voters”. My next question was, what makes you believe that you are qualified to run this organization? He stated that, “I feel that I am qualified based upon the work I have done as President of the NAACP in Timmonsville. When I was elected to my position there were only three members. Since my election we have grown above the state minimum of fifty members and it is a diverse group of Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Whites working together as one. This is my vision for our county democratic party”. My next question was what did he think was a significant problem with the party? He said that, “At this point I feel that the party could be better organized and that they could do a better job taking care of their candidates”. I then asked, what would be your priorities if you were elected as chair? Rev. Moultrie said that, “If I were elected as chair, I would:
- Organize our Precincts and make sure that they are able to perform their duties as they are mandated to be done. If the Precincts are strong then the party will be strong.
- Actively recruit candidates and to do a better job of taking care of the candidates that we have through better coordinated fundraising to ensure that we will be able to assist them financially after the primaries. I will also have more forums/debates to showcase our candidate’s ideas and presence.
- Coordinate better relationship with the State Democratic Party as well as our surrounding County Party’s.
- Promote and actively pursue diversity at all levels in the Party”.
Then I talk with the present chair of the democratic party Ms. Nesmith. I asked her what was her position about running for the chair again? And she stated, “I have been chair, of the Florence County Democratic Party, for two terms and I am undecided whether I will run again, at this point. When I was elected the last time, I said that this would be it for me and I truly believed it was, at that time. But, now, looking at all the innovations and changes that was instituted during my term, it is hard for me to walk away without seeing them being brought to fruition. I understand that once I walk away the next person may or may not be as committed to completing the needed changes that have begun. Changes like:
- Planning Committee – to keep us ahead of issues and making us more proactive than reactive.
- Education Committee – it was my belief, when I became chair, that we had to be more proactive in educating our voters. It was this commitment, to education, that led us to go door to door explaining to ex-prisoners that if they were not on probation or parole they had the right to vote. We not only registered over 500 ex-prisoners we also encouraged them to come out and vote.
- Vetting Committee – to ensure that individuals running for office as a Democrat are who they say they are. Committee members will also be responsible for tracking the performance of these elected officials to ensure they are adhering to the platform that they ran on”.
I then asked her thoughts about where the party is today as her term is coming to an end. Ms. Nesmith then said, “even though we have had some success, there are still considerable challenges that we need to address to be the party that I hoped we would to be. Things like:
- There is room for more and better organizing and that will come when, as a party, we show the people that we are not just a political organization that come out during elections. The people must learn that we are with them 365 or 366 days out of the year caring and seeking to address their needs. Then and only then will we get the dependable volunteers that we need to accomplish our goals.
- Either we need to do a better job of recruiting volunteers or democrats as a hold need to be generous enough to do more volunteering.
- For whatever the reason the party has not gained access to the financial donations and resources that we should have in a county of this size and prosperity. We have yet to acquire permanent office space for the party.
- We have not been able to assist our candidates financially as we should because of the lack of finances.
- We need to do a better job of recruiting everyone, but, young people in particular.
If I choose to run and if I am elected, I will be committed to fulfilling all those things that I have mentioned because I believe that our members are ready to do great things, if they are given the opportunity. And it would be my job to help provide the opportunity”
In a written statement Florence City Councilman George Jebaily stated:
“There is strength in unity and weakness in division. To be our best, we need to collectively pull together for the betterment of all. For too long, many in the Pee Dee Region have had a mentality of “fighting over scraps” that is self-limiting. That attitude, if continued, puts a self-imposed lid on our success. Why would we choose to put such limits on ourselves and our communities? On the other hand, choosing to “work together with a unified vision” puts an organization, team or family in the best position to be successful. The choice is ours.”
Let me know what you think.
As of the writing, of this article, there is only one other person that may be in the running for this position. I spoke to a gentleman who said that, he was one hundred percent in favor of her, if she chooses to run. But, unfortunately, he was unwilling to go on the record because she had not announced her candidacy. As a chair of a county party, I can personally attest to the fact that this position that is being pursued is not an easy job, but it can be fulfilling. May this election be based on ideas and solutions. And may whoever win be what the party needs and not just what they want.