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OPINION: Mecklenburg County Democrats Owe Cheri Beasley an Apology

N.C. election results, Mecklenburg County Democrats
In this op-ed, Jennifer De La Jara argues that Mecklenburg County Democrats must look at the troubling statistics from the November 2022 elections and do better moving forward. Pictured: Former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. (Photo courtesy of Beasley campaign)

We as Mecklenburg County Democrats owe Cheri Beasley an apology. If you live in Mecklenburg County, you may be confused by this statement, as many local Democrats — particularly those with direct ties to the party — often brag about how “blue” Mecklenburg is. Yes, it’s true that most local seats go to Democrats, including the two historically Republican school board seats (Districts 1 & 6) that flipped “blue” this election cycle, but in a county with a voter turnout rate of just 45%, should Democrats be bragging?

To put this into context, I recall a conversation I had with then-U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley at the 2022 Mayor’s Masked Ball fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund last March. The former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Beasley asked me about the political climate in Mecklenburg. I paused for a moment, then chose to start my answer with an apology.  

I told her I felt that the failure of Mecklenburg Democrats and progressive voters to turn out had cost her the Supreme Court Justice seat in 2020. I explained how upset I was that she lost by 401 votes despite my going out twice with others knocking on doors to find those votes in a ballot recovery effort. I knew that if Mecklenburg had just increased its voter turnout numbers in that election by 1%, we could have made the difference in re-electing her to the NC Supreme Court.

I’m sure Justice Beasley’s Senate campaign team came to the same conclusion about the importance of Mecklenburg County, because she spent a lot of her last six weeks before the 2022 Senate election in Charlotte. And yet only 45% of Mecklenburg voters turned out for last year’s election.

For comparison, the state average turnout was a little over 51%, and Wake County’s turnout was 55%. So, what’s up Mecklenburg? That’s the question I’m posing to Queen City Nerve’s readers, a group I think of as a younger, more progressive and engaged voter base. I’m posing the question and I’m asking for your help.

The Mecklenburg Democratic Party is not going to figure this out on our own. If you are frustrated like I am with our politics, then I’m asking you to engage directly. What would get you fired up to come to the polls and vote? Or to participate at a deeper level, such as working in a campaign? 

My guess is that many of you reading this are unaffiliated, possibly even disaffected by the failure of our politics to make a difference in reducing the disparities in quality-of-life outcomes we see all around us. Many assume that unaffiliated voters are middle-of-the-road voters, but my experience is that oftentimes unaffiliated voters keep a “U” beside their name because the Democratic Party has moved so far to the center — or even the center-right locally — that there doesn’t seem to be a place for progressive values, and therefore voters, to find a home in Mecklenburg. If that’s you, then I’m asking you to help make the change we need.

This is not a condemnation of the Mecklenburg County Democratic party. There are many dedicated servant leaders currently in party leadership who are doing the hard and necessary work to elect good candidates and hold them accountable. Rather, this is a simple recognition that a 10-point increase in voter turnout in Mecklenburg would have likely produced over 51,000 more votes for Cheri Beasley. That wouldn’t have been enough to overcome the 121,000 votes Beasley lost by in November, but it would have gotten her a lot closer, and similar changes in neighboring counties would have put her in office. 

We would also have come in a lot closer for N.C. Supreme Court incumbent Sam Ervin and candidate Lucy Inman, who both lost their elections, giving gerrymander-happy Republican hands a 5-2 majority in the court instead of preserving the 4-3 Democratic majority.

The Mecklenburg County Democratic Party needs you to help close this gap with a robust get-out-the-vote campaign and a regional strategy to engage voters. That’s one of the reasons I did some campaigning for Democratic candidates in Iredell County this last election cycle —  because I recognize that Mecklenburg can be “blue” all day long, but we can’t elect a fantastic U.S. Senator like Beasley on our own.

I’m proud of the work that groups like the New North Carolina Project and the New Rural Project are doing. They are reaching out in traditionally “red” areas to help spread messaging around why Medicaid expansion and funding our schools — investments in health and education — will produce a more prosperous North Carolina. It must be a two-pronged approach; this work is absolutely needed in rural N.C. and we also can no longer be complacent with the status quo in metropolitan counties like Mecklenburg. 

If you spend time talking to boots-on-the-ground community workers, you will hear story after story of how our local residents are suffering. Housing and food insecurity run rampant. Access to mental-health services and quality school facilities continue to run at deficits.

But our local Democratic leaders too often seem content with fighting each other instead of fighting for their constituents — squabbling over mundane topics like electing precinct chairs or Robert’s Rules of Order, distracted from focusing on the two key roles of raising up a bench of quality candidates and getting out the vote.

I’m not saying it’s easy to lead a political party; there are personalities and territorial issues, rumors and gossip. I try to ignore the internal noise and keep focusing on making progressive change, but I can’t ignore the effects that the disorganization produces.

That brings me back to my question: What will it take to get your help changing the status quo?  Are there issues you care about? Please don’t assume that because a Democrat is sitting on the Charlotte City Council, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, or the CMS School Board that they are working for the change you want to see.

Is it our housing crisis? Is it gun violence? Is it our schools being underfunded? Is it our environment? Reproductive justice and access to healthcare?

Whatever it is, we need you to bring the energy you bring to direct action and advocacy to the Democratic Party directly. Yes, we need you voting in every single election, but for real transformation, we need you helping inform our agenda and our outreach.

We need you to help the Democratic Party to create real change — in the party and in the community. Help the party engage with younger voters and use technology to inspire participation in the electoral process. Don’t just sit out, do something; knock on doors, work on a campaign, or propose yourself as a candidate.

Again, the Democratic Party is not going to figure this out on our own. I’m sending out this S.O.S. in Mecklenburg and asking you to answer with your ideas and energy. We need to lay the groundwork in 2023 to be successful in 2024. The Mecklenburg Democratic Party will be organizing precincts and electing leadership in February and March. The time to engage is now, keeping in mind that our low current voter-turnout affects statewide elections. We cannot afford to let our local community continue to suffer because we let quality statewide candidates like Cheri Beasley continue to lose elections.

Jennifer De La Jara is a Democratic At-Large School Board Member elected in 2019.

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  1. Jennifer is the Candidate that spent $90,000 and came in 5th Place (top 3 Win) in the Democratic County Commission At Large Primary!

  2. Para 1: what does ‘bragging’ have to do with actual votes & actual results? One is a subjective endeavor, the other is objective.

    Para 2: Speculation combined with name-dropping. There is no way to ‘know’ a hypothetical. It’s also a tacit admission that Supreme Court seats are political offices when they are advertised as judicial offices (including by the candidates themselves).

    Para 3: Spending and turnout are not automatically correlated. In addition, when voters perceive a region as ‘safe’ then they are less motivated to turn out. This is Poli Sci 101.

    Para 4: How can the writer spend three paragraphs complaining about turnout than claim that the Meck County base is ‘engaged?’ Non sequitur.

    Para 6: More contradiction. How can Meck County be blue (or safe blue, or deep blue) without being a ‘place for progressive values’ already?

    Para 7: If the Democratic party isn’t getting results, why doesn’t the fault lay with the Democratic party? Are voters going to turn out more if they’re being blamed for someone else’s failures? A 10-point increase is a pipe dream. It also doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s entirely possible, even probable that in a tighter race GOP turnout in Meck and across the state would have been proportionally increased. One cannot assume Meck would be dynamic while 99 other counties would be static.

    Para 9: Beasley isn’t a US Senator and therefore ‘fantastic’ or other adjectives don’t apply. QED.

    Para 10: Taxes and spending and welfare aren’t ‘investments.’ They are taxes and spending and welfare. Words mean things. They certainly aren’t guaranteed to produce prosperity. This paragraph is a tacit admission that one of the aims of government largesse is buying votes.

    Para 11: If local residents are suffering and the county is heavily Democratic then the conclusion is obvious – Democrats are failing to solve the problems they cite, create and/or excerbate.

    In this end, this is a long-form delivery of sour grapes and shifting blame. Senate is a statewide election. 100 counties. Beasley lost by 121,800 votes. In Meck County she won 234,787 to 117,742 – a difference of 117,045 and a percentage of 65% which is landslide territory for any election or candidate. But if every last vote in Meck was cast for Beasley, she still loses by about 5,000 votes. These are the numbers. Anything else is wishcasting.

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