A glimpse inside the direction of the North Carolina Democratic Party in a time of austerity and diminished power from its new executive director.
The North Carolina Democratic Party recently appointed Greensboro resident Casey Mann as its executive director It’s a position others in the party might shy away from, given the Republicans’ firm grasp on the state legislature and recent favorable redistricting. But Mann is approaching the position with pragmatic zeal.
Mann integrated into the party machinery in 2004 as a volunteer coordinator with the Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign, drawn into action by John Edwards’ proposal to expand healthcare coverage, she said.
Since then, she’s been involved in campaigns “all up and down the spectrum of the ballot,” including Greensboro Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson in a bid for mayor. After a brief return to school, netting a communications degree from UNCG, Mann became the party’s regional field director for the Triad during the 2012 election cycle.
Triad City Beat: Let’s start with your vision for remaking the Democratic Party given all the ground Republicans have gained in recent years in the state. How will you approach this position?
Casey Mann: The North Carolina Democratic Party is at an institutional disadvantage. We have seats that have been districted out, we have lost major seats of power and the tax check-off. In order to insure the long-term stability and viability of the party, it is time to engage people without spending millions of dollars. When you look at the Democratic Party, we’re the party of teachers, workers, people working two jobs. And we can’t lose sight of the fact that they are who we’re here for.
TCB: Will the NC Democratic Party be forced to cut back on services, staffing, support for certain races or other expenditures?
Mann: I feel confident in the way we’ve been working together to make sure that there’s a long-term stability with the national party. I don’t see anything right now that would lead me to believe we would need to close the [party headquarters at the] Goodwin House or cut services but we need to find ways to reorganize the delivery of those services so it’s a lean, mean, elections machine. Tax check-off money, which was a huge part of our operating budget every year, allowed it to be a way where the state party doled out the money that was needed. Now we need to diversify and look at how to deploy the assets we have in the most effective way possible.
TCB: Not to diminish you or your job, but it doesn’t seem like many people wanted the position.
Mann: There are a lot of people who wouldn’t want this job that I was willing to accept, but I’m not willing to walk away from the party just because it’s in trouble. Tough decisions need to be made and I’m in a weird way the one person who’s really willing to make those tough decisions. I’m not looking at this to be a popularity contest or garner me a future anything. I’m looking at this as my duty to help the state Democratic Party to make it a long-term viable institution for the people of North Carolina.
TCB: Are moderate Democrats uncomfortable with the activist wing of the party? How will you deal with any tension there?
Mann: I think that the turmoil is louder than it is real. You need both. In places like Harnett County, you need a strong moderate voice standing for the people but you also need the activists who are willing to knock on doors and go work the polls. The North Carolina Democratic Party is a big tent. All are welcome. I think the “us versus them” has been magnified because everybody likes to see a fight and the party, of course, has suffered losses.
TCB: It’s been argued that the state NAACP is the left’s real champion and that the NC Democratic Party followed its lead, arriving late to the Moral Monday protests.
Mann: [State NAACP President] Rev. Barber has done a phenomenal job with the Moral Monday movement and the values he is expressing are the values of the Democratic Party. I was actually at the first Moral Monday when it was all of 47 people. I do not think the Democratic Party came late to it but every institution that shares common values, we all have different roles to play and that doesn’t mean that one should be diminished or placed over the other. Very early in the process our executive council voted to endorse the Moral Monday movement and that was just a few weeks into the process.
TCB: In some ways, the Democratic Party is losing relevancy in North Carolina, partially due to an increased inability to win due to statewide redistricting. How will you deal with that?
Mann: Democrats have been in power for over 100 years so… it’s kind of a change of mentality to “How do we win seats? How do we make strides?” The greatest resource that the North Carolina Democratic Party has is its people. Having worked on campaigns for a decade, particularly on the field side of it, that’s our greatest asset. We want to have good candidates that can win some of these competitive races and there are indeed competitive races out there, and the key is to assist those county parties in their efforts to recruit volunteers and recruit these candidates. We have candidates across that state that have incredibly good opportunities to win seats.
TCB: Given limited funds, do the Democrats need to pool their resources into one or a few important, winnable races in order to hold key seats or focus on winnable victories? Take Kay Hagan’s hotly contested US Senate race, for example.
Mann: We actually work very closely with the Kay Hagan campaign to make sure they have what they need and we work back and forth. I am on the phone with them every day. At the same time, our job is to help all the Democrats on the ticket. It is indeed a statewide effort to make a stand against this extreme Republican agenda.
There are definitely places where there are opportunities. In 2013 Yancey County elected their first Democratic mayor in decades and decades. There are these opportunities that are unexpected and it isn’t a matter of putting all of your resources in one place over another. These little pockets of opportunity actually help Kay Hagan as well.