Young people want to reenergize Mecklenburg County Democrats

Young people want to reenergize Mecklenburg County Democrats

Drew Kromer (left) and Braxton Becoats (right). Photos courtesy Drew Kromer and Braxton Becoats.

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Editor’s note: Drew Kromer was selected to chair the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party on April 22.

A pair of candidates for chairperson of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, both under 30, hope to join a statewide youthful makeover of the party’s leadership.

Driving the news: Braxton Becoats, 28, and Drew Kromer, 26, are vying to be the next chairperson of the local Democratic party at a pivotal time for young people in the party.

Last month, the state party ousted its chair and elected 25-year-old Anderson Clayton, who says Democrats are at a “crisis point” and intends to focus more on rural voters, Axios Raleigh’s Lucille Sherman reported.

  • Democrats underperformed in North Carolina compared to other swing states in 2022, losing the U.S. Senate race and failing to stave off a supermajority in the state Senate.
  • Becoats and Kromer are running to replace party chairwoman Jane Whitley, a seasoned leader in politics who’s held the position for the last six years. She’s not running for reelection.

Context: On the surface, it would seem like Democrats are successful locally: They control the vast majority of elected offices in Charlotte. Yet, turnout in Mecklenburg County was 45% in November’s election, trailing the statewide average of 50.5% and well behind other urban areas like Durham, Wake, Guilford and Buncombe counties.

  • Some within the party say its near dominance has made it complacent, I reported last year.

Why it matters: Mecklenburg’s low turnout is hurting Democrats statewide, who count on reliably-blue urban areas in races for offices like U.S. Senate, governor and North Carolina Supreme Court.

  • The difference between Mecklenburg’s 45% turnout and Wake County’s 56% is the equivalent of more than 80,000 votes, which is more than the margin in some races.

Of note: Members of the party will choose the next chairperson, but their work affects voters in the entire county. County parties encourage voter registration and participation, share information about candidates, host fundraisers and more.

  • For instance, the Democratic Party prints a “Blue Ballot” to give out to voters with information about candidates.

What they’re saying: Becoats, a seventh grade social studies teacher, tells Axios the party needs to do more to get out the vote to energize voters who don’t always come out every election. That requires going places that might be uncomfortable for some, he says.

  • “Sometimes Democrats are not comfortable going into the community,” particularly the Black community, Becoats says. “If you don’t go into the community, then you’re not going to reach your voters, you’re not going to know what your voters want.”
  • Becoats, who is also president of the African American Caucus of the local Democratic party, wants to partner with local colleges to engage with students. He also says the party needs to do more advocacy at the state and local level.

Kromer, an employment law attorney, says Democrats need to engage underrepresented voters and increase attention to precincts in communities of color. Black turnout was 38% in Mecklenburg, according to an Axios analysis of North Carolina and Mecklenburg board of elections data.

  • Kromer also wants to hire an executive director and split the county’s 195 precincts into regional groups. Many precincts are led by a couple of people and clustering them together could build community and drive turnout.
  • His goal is to raise at least $100,000, as party fundraising lags in Mecklenburg compared to other urban counties, Axios previously found.

Between the lines: Young people are flocking to Charlotte, yet they are a fraction of those leading institutions that hold power.

Yes, but: Fewer young people are identifying with political parties as party membership falls. Unaffiliated voters recently became the largest group of registered voters in North Carolina.

    • “It’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Kromer says. “Because when we say they don’t vote, and we don’t invest in talking to them or telling them what we’re going to do for them, they don’t feel like the party represents them.”

    The big picture: Rev. Ray. McKinnon serves with the two local candidates on the party’s state executive committee, which elected Clayton. He tells Axios the majority of the party wants to be in the community year-round, not just parachute in for an election. There’s naturally space for young people in making that shift, he says.

    • ” The things I think are possible are different than younger folks,” he says. “And our kind of instincts and our fears, our lack of imagination about what’s possible has continued to yield (the same) results.”

    What’s next: Party officers will be elected on April 22 at the annual county convention for two-year terms, Whitley, the party chairwoman, said in an email. Nominations will be taken from the floor.

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