The idea broached by Huey Mitchell came during a meeting called by Upshur Democratic Chairman Dan Miles Jr. partly to discuss changes in election laws affecting his party’s March 4 primary. Some 14 people, all of them black, and this reporter attended the gathering at the Disabled American Veterans headquarters.
As occurred in 2012, no Democrats are running for Upshur County elective office this year and the only two holding county office, County Treasurer Myra Harris and Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace W.V. Ray, are retiring at year’s end.
That means that unless Libertarian Peggy LaGrone defeats Republican Terri Ross for County Clerk in the November general election, all of the county’s elected officials will be Republicans next year for the first time in modern history when, less than 20 years ago, all were Democrats.
Mitchell said he was concerned that “we as the Democratic Party have been totally dismissed” in the process of choosing county officials. Saying he had attended some Republican forums, and noting that party’s primary races for County Judge and two County Commissioner posts, he asked, “Who are we going to support?”
“The way it’s going now, we have absolutely no say,” Mitchell said. “Why sit here on the sideline and do nothing?”
Miles responded that he appreciated Mitchell’s thoughts, but “I would never encourage a Democrat to vote (in a) Republican (primary)” just for the sake of voting.
Miles said the party needed to “work hard to get a nominee” for a county office, but that he’s been unable to find anyone to run. He suggested the party “continue to pester those that don’t want to participate” to do so.
One woman pointed out the Democrats do have candidates for statewide offices on their ballot. Miles noted at one point the party’s nomination for governor is contested.
Said Mitchell, “Well, you can beat a dead horse, and that’s what we’re doing.” He said that once a Republican wins that party’s nomination, he or she has won the election.
“If we continue the road we’ve been going on in Upshur County, we do not have a choice,” Mitchell argued.
Miles said that if he himself gave up the party’s county chairmanship to run for office, nobody else wants the chairman’s post.
Some current Upshur officials were initially elected as Democrats, but later converted to the GOP. Rev. Huey Jones said of officeholders who have changed parties, “If they are too good to be a Democrat, I am not good enough to vote for them.”
Jones told Mitchell, “I understand what you’re saying” before adding that Democrats need “to have a voice. . . We need to get together and let the people know we yet exist.”
Later in the discussion, Mitchell said, “There had to be a reason for these people (officeholders) to switch parties.” He said they decided “this horse I’m riding on is dying.”
“Nobody wants to run as a Democrat because they know it’s a joke,” Mitchell argued. “The people here (at Monday’s meeting) are not going to be able to elect anybody. . . We need to develop a different strategy.”
He said they could vote for a Republican in the primary and a Democrat in the general election.
Said Miles, “The time to discuss this was prior to (the deadline for filing for) nominations.”
At one point, Gene Turner asked the chairman, “What are we going to do this year? We don’t have a (local) candidate to vote for.”
Miles responded the party has candidates for state office to vote for. He also said he thought he had someone lined up to run in the Democratic primary for County Commissioner, “but they backed out.”
The chairman also said he would be “banished from office” if he contacted or supported a Republican. Replying to a question, he further confirmed that someone who votes in the GOP primary cannot be a delegate to the Democratic county or state conventions. (In addition, a person who votes in one party’s March 4 primary cannot legally vote in the other party’s.)
When Mitchell predicted no Democrats will run for county office next time, Miles urged him not to give up “so easily.”
Mitchell replied he would not fight for a “lost cause,” and decried the idea of running one’s head “against a brick wall.”
But Winifred Jackson said people need to vote in the Democratic primary on the races for statewide office.
Gilmer School Board member Gloria King said that only a few years ago, Democrats had more candidates in Upshur County than the GOP, “but the Republicans didn’t give up.” In small groups, Mrs. King said, “they started working on their younger people.”
“We have not educated our posterity. . .They’re not interested in politics,” she said. “We need to beat the bushes, start at the grass-root level.”
Replied Miles, “I don’t know if we’re afraid to put our name out there (to run for office), or what it is.” He said that when he moved back to Upshur County three years ago, “I was shocked” that the party wasn’t even holding meetings.
When Shirley Jackson asked “how many of us are involved in voter registration drives?,” only Rev. Jones said he was. Mrs. Jackson said the problem was that they were the only two present who were.
She suggested holding such drives “and give away food so people will come.” She also said the party needed to tell registrants that Republicans “are going to take away your Social Security.”
Mrs. Jackson said that when she was a judge in a Democratic primary election that was being held at the same polling place as the GOP primary, she observed Republican voters and wondered “How could you vote Republican, as (financially) poor as you look?”
“They (Republicans) make you believe that just black people get food stamps” and welfare, Mrs. Jackson complained.
Turner suggesting starting in the church to help get people registered to vote.
Said Mrs. Jackson, “I can plan an activity that will get people there,” but that the party will need the Gilmer Civic Center, which will cost money, or a place like the center to hold the event.
Said Miles, “I’ll back anything you want to do legally. . . (If) y’all want to get together, we’ll find the money.”
Mrs. Jackson suggested seeing if a Democrat “with name recognition” might appear, and Miles said he had been working with the Democratic chairmen in Camp and and Titus Counties on that. Miles said the problem is “getting us to meet them (Democrats with name recognition) once they get here.”
Concerning the upcoming Democratic primary in Upshur County, Miles said “it’s very important” to have up-to-date forms of identification to comply with the state’s “voter ID” law. If the ID’s date isn’t current, he said, a person can only cast a provisional ballot (a board decides if such votes should be counted).
A woman said one man could not vote in the last election because his form of identification was outdated.
In discussing changes in the state laws concerning elections, Miles said “none of them favor the Democratic Party.” One will eliminate electing delegates to the county convention at the polling place on election night when voting is over, he said.
Instead, anyone who shows proof they voted in the Democratic primary can attend the March 22 county convention as a delegate at a place yet to be determined, said Miles. The county convention will elect delegates to the state convention