Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jerry Meek has benefited Democrats

As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on November 25th, 2006:

When Jerry Meek was elected chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party last year, riding the wave of support from activists who thought there should be a greater emphasis on the grassroots, you would have thought from what some folks were saying that the sky was falling.

Meek's hands-on leadership style is certainly different from what people were used to. There were also concerns about his ability to raise money for the party.

Twenty months and an extremely successful election later, those voices seem to have disappeared.

Simply put, Meek's emphasis on making the most out of the strength of the party's individual activists has worked. Across the state Democrats had a remarkable number of volunteers considering the lack of attention-grabbing races. Not only were thousands of new workers, empowered by Meek's commitment to them, coming out of the woodwork, but they were also performing higher level and more creative tasks than they ever had before.

The greatest accomplishment Meek can point to is that even though legislative Democrats could have been tarred by the scandals involving Jim Black, they actually made significant gains in the House and Senate.

One of the keys to that success was simply making a commitment to contesting more seats. For instance Ty Harrell defeated Russell Capps in a western Wake County district that no Democrat even contested in 2004. In another Wake County district, Greer Beaty came within a handful of votes of knocking off incumbent Nelson Dollar, who also had not faced a Democrat in his previous campaign.

There certainly is room for improvement in the number of seats with serious Democratic candidates, but in his first term Meek made significant strides in changing the culture around the party and emphasizing the importance of not writing off any area of the state.

One of Meek's first actions upon taking office was the unveiling of a Western North Carolina task force. Democrats had underperformed in that area of the state for a significant period of time, and Meek thought it was important to get a bunch of party activists together to have some serious dialogue about how to improve the problem in the future.

The results speak for themselves. Democrat Heath Shuler knocked off longtime incumbent Charles Taylor in the region's U.S. congressional seat. Democrat John Snow retained his state Senate seat in a Republican-leaning district by a significant margin, and his fellow party member Joe Sam Queen beat an incumbent Republican to take back the seat he had lost in the 2004 election.

Democrats also nearly swept the statewide judicial races, including the victory of every party-supported candidate for the Supreme Court. While other Democratic successes in North Carolina this fall could be attributed to the national political climate, the nonpartisan nature of these races makes the work the parties do on behalf of their candidates that much more important.

It had been a long time since there was an election where Democrats dominated the judicial races, but it happened this fall based both on the strength of the candidates and based on the work of many activists across the state who got out the vote on their behalf.

Many of those volunteers wouldn't have been there if Jerry Meek wasn't chairman of the party.

I know many people who have been pleasantly surprised by Meek's performance. Orange County's activists knew all along, though. When Meek was elected two years ago, he earned the overwhelming support of our local delegation, and no one I've talked to since the election regrets it.

Meek's re-election as party chairman this winter seems a certainty. Why would anyone challenge a winner?

The party activists who blog at, which prominently include Orange County activists Jim Protzman and Robert Peterson, have encouraged Meek to pursue a "100 county" strategy for the 2008 election. This would entail fielding Democratic candidates for every office in the state.

This seems like an admirable goal, and one Meek and his leadership team should subscribe to in the coming months. Frankly, it's one Republicans should pursue as well, since competition enhances the political process.

I think the success Meek has had over the past couple of years with the North Carolina Democratic Party is a good sign for politics in general. Although he's been a fine fundraiser, he has emphasized the power of people over the power of money, and that is how politics should work.

I'm glad that our local Democrats saw the need two years ago to help put Jerry Meek into office, and I'm glad that his work over the last couple years has ensured that they don't regret it.

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