Embattled North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said he won’t seek another term leading the organization, citing Sen. Kay Hagan’s loss on Election Day.
“I personally judge myself on the loss of the U.S. Senate seat,” Voller told hundreds of Democrats from across the state Saturday at a meeting in a Pittsboro high school auditorium. “I’m not going to run for re-election because I believe that I need to take responsibility for that loss.”
Voller, a former Pittsboro mayor, earlier this year faced calls to resign over concerns that he owed back taxes and for firing the party’s executive director. He’d also come under fire for a trip to Las Vegas with friends in March 2013 to watch a basketball game in which he used a party credit card to charge $3,327. And some criticized him for awarding party consulting contracts to friends.
The party will elect its next chair in February; first vice chairwoman and former state Rep. Patsy Keever of Asheville has already announced that she’ll seek the job.
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After this year’s election losses, Voller said he doesn’t want the debates to be about him. “This election process should not be a referendum on the chair,” he said. “This needs to be a discussion about elections and how we’re going to retool, not whether I like someone or don’t like someone.”
Voller said his successor will need to “maintain peace among all Democrats” to avoid the “consistent circular firing squad” he faced as chair.
“We have to stop this demonization of each other, because we aren’t going to win if we do,” Voller said.
Wake County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Blue III also said the state party needs to move forward from years of infighting.
“The situation that we’re in did not start with our current chair – it’s been going on for awhile,” Blue said. “This is a civil war within our party, and most of you have to agree that it has to stop. I want you to join me in making sure that we have a united party going forward.”
Credited for turnout
Some Democrats at Saturday’s meeting said they’ll be sad to see Voller go. Jaymes Powell Jr. of the party’s African-American Caucus credited Voller with increasing turnout among black voters. “His whole thing has been to bring in minorities to vote,” he said.
Despite losing North Carolina’s most important race this year, Democrats voiced optimism about the election results, pointing to several wins in state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races as well as local contests.
“I know it was rough, but we kind of stemmed the bleeding in this state,” state party director Casey Mann said, adding that Democrats in other states “got whooped top to bottom” this year.
Mann noted that Hagan got 4 percentage points more than the Democratic candidate in the 2010 U.S. Senate election. And she pointed out that Democrats won 219 of 404 down-ballot races across the state. “That’s a winning percentage,” she said.
The state party had a limited role in Hagan’s campaign, which instead partnered with the Wake County Democratic Party in a coordinated effort called Forward N.C. Voller said Hagan’s efforts to avoid President Barack Obama was a bad strategy.
“Distancing ourselves from the president and what we stand for is part of the problem,” Voller said.
Looking ahead to 2016, Voller said the state party chair should become a paid position after he leaves, and Democrats should open an office in every North Carolina county. He called on the organization to raise more money, pointing to a change in election finance laws that cut more than $1 million in state funding to the parties. “We are in a hole now that we’ve never seen before,” he said.
Turnout will also be key to avoiding a repeat Republican victory in two years, Democrats said. “We lost this election in large part because not enough Democrats were voting,” said Boone Mayor Andy Ball, who serves on the party’s executive committee. “We have a massive uphill battle heading toward 2016.”
And while multiple speakers Saturday called for unity within the Democratic Party, the meeting ended on a sour note when a representative from Chatham County voiced concerns about a voter shaming letter sent out by the party. He called the letter – which told voters they’d get a call from the party if they skipped the election – the “elephant in the room.”
Before the representative finished speaking, someone else angrily called for the meeting to be adjourned immediately – and because the gathering no longer had a quorum, it was cut off without further discussion.