WILSON — Donald Trump’s turbulent presidency and Republican challenges to Gov. Roy Cooper’s leadership is pushing North Carolina Democrats off the sidelines, state party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said Thursday.
In the first six months of 2017, more than 6,000 registered Democrats attended their first precinct meeting and 243 precincts with no party leadership structure during the 2016 general election have been organized, Goodwin explained.
“When we get knocked down, we pick ourselves up,” Goodwin said. “We dust ourselves off and we live to fight another day. We are a party of optimists.”
Speakers at the Wilson County Democratic Party’s annual Fall Fling fundraiser predicted the state’s leading political party by voter registration would gain ground in the 2018 congressional midterms and N.C. General Assembly election and build on those gains for 2020.
“We’ve seen an energy that’s been unleashed that we haven’t seen in a generation,” Goodwin told more than 100 attendees at the fundraiser.
A Hamlet native, Goodwin served four terms in the N.C. House representing Richmond, Scotland, Stanly and Montgomery counties before working in the state Department of Insurance. He won the 2008 insurance commissioner race and was re-elected in 2012.
Following an upset loss to Republican Mike Causey last November, Goodwin won widespread support to lead the N.C. Democratic Party and was elected to the post in February.
The former insurance commissioner said Congress should work toward a bipartisan solution to fix the Affordable Care Act and increase access to health care instead of allowing Republicans to ram through a hasty replacement for President Barack Obama’s signature health reform.
“It was not a perfect bill,” Goodwin said of Obamacare, “but you get what you get when Republicans refuse to participate.”
Goodwin’s remarks to Wilson County Democrats followed a speech from state Sen. Valerie Foushee, a Chapel Hill Democrat who represents Orange and Chatham counties.
Foushee railed against the Republican-led legislative redistricting process, which the U.S. Supreme Court said resulted in 28 districts being drawn as illegal racial gerrymanders. The 2017 maps approved on largely party-line votes in the state House and Senate aren’t satisfactory either, she said.
“Sadly but not surprisingly, the new districts were drawn to protect partisan control over the legislature,” Foushee said.
Federal courts have not weighed in on legal challenges to the redrawn districts. Foushee said judges could accept them as presented, reject the maps and return them to the General Assembly for revisions, substitute the maps suggested as alternatives by plaintiffs in the cases or appoint a special master to redraw district lines.
Even if the GOP-drawn legislative districts pass muster, Foushee said Democrats have a strong chance to break the Republican supermajority in the state legislature in order to “unlock Governor Cooper’s veto power.”
“The numbers are in our favor,” she said. With a strong get-out-the-vote effort, we can win in the proposed House and Senate districts — and win we must if Democrats are to be relevant in the General Assembly.”
Democrats’ agenda includes teacher pay raises, a state law requiring businesses to provide their employees with paid family leave and an increased minimum wage for North Carolina workers, Foushee said.
Both the senator and the party chairman predicted that voter turnout among Democrats will surge in 2018.
“Right now, energy is high,” Foushee said. “President Trump is inspiring activists to come out of the woodworks and get involved in politics for the first time.”
Wilson County’s own four-term former Gov. Jim Hunt capped the evening with passionate remarks about investing in public education and supporting Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as young children.
“They were brought along as little, bitty children hardly able to walk. But they’re here now,” Hunt said. “They’re our children. They’re going to our schools. They’re going to Fike High School out here, they’re going to Beddingfield out here, they’re going to Hunt High School out here. They’re our children…and God loves every one of them.”