NC Democrats Set To Elect New Leader Amid Troubles At The Bank And Ballot Box
For the past two years Randy Voller has been the Chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. His term has been controversial.
On Saturday, February 6, Democratic leaders will elect his replacement.
At least four people are running for the job. After a string of election defeats, party infighting and money troubles, that job won’t be an easy one.
Last year was not a good year for North Carolina Democrats. Kay Hagan was voted out of office. Republicans held their super-majority in the General Assembly. And the North Carolina Democratic Party was short on cash - so short some wondered if the party could pay their full time staff.
"We’ve been making payroll but, I mean, certainly funds are tight," said Randy Voller, the outgoing chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Voller says finances took a major hit when the General Assembly ended the “check-off” program that let North Carolinians designate $3 of their income tax refund to go to the political party of their choice.
As for fundraising, Voller says, that dried up after the Democrats lost their hold on Raleigh. "We lost control of the legislature. Then we lost control of the executive branch in 2012. So we’re in a position that Democrats haven’t been in before."
That position is nearly broke. While the state Republican party has just over $151,000 in the bank, Documents filed with the State Board of Elections shows the Democrats have just $42,731 in the bank.
But Voller says that figure is incorrect.
He sent over another document showing the state party has a bit over $53,000 in the bank. Voller acknowledges that number is low, but, he says, not unexpected. "When you’re done with an election cycle you’re always depleted because your job is spending money on electing Democrats."
But there’s the rub for the party. Money has been spent, but not enough Democrats are getting elected. And that’s lead to a lot of questions internally says Michael Bitzer, political scientist at Cawtaba College. "The Democrats are still trying to find what their state is and how to rebuild it."
And how to recover from a rocky two years.
Voller’s predecessor stepped down under pressure after a sexual harassment claim. It was hoped Voller would get the party back on track.
But some democrats thought he was moving the party too far to the left. And there was his hasty firing last year of the party’s executive director and his plan to hire controversial civil rights leader Benjamin Chavis to replace him. That move fell apart. There were questions, too, about how money was being spent. At one point last year State Auditor Beth Wood publicly demanded her $500 contribution to the party be refunded.
All this came with a high dose of infighting and doubts about the party’s effectiveness. Kay Hagan, the highest profile Democrat up for election last year paired with the Wake County Democrats, and not the state party for her get-out-the-vote efforts.
"Political parties are made up of factions," says Michael Bitzer. He adds new leadership is needed to rebuild the party. "Voller could not reach across within his own party to solidify things to get a coherent message out there."
And the new state chair will have to rethink who they target with that message. "They play well in the urban areas. Where do they go in terms of both the suburbs and do they try to make any outreach in the rural areas?" Areas currently dominated by Republicans.
Randy Voller, the outgoing Chair of the Democratic Party, hopes Saturday’s vote will be about who has the best ideas to lead the party forward, "not talking about childish things about I like this person, I don’t like that person." Which is just the kind of bickering that has gone on throughout his tenure. Last year was not a good year for Democrats, still, in his note to party officials late last month, Voller wrote ‘we have no reason to hang our heads and every reason to play the long game. And play to win.’