Justin Conley and Corey Duvall, two Macon County residents, were recognized for their dedicated involvement in politics at the statewide Young Democrats and College Democrats of North Carolina (YDNC) 2012 Convention, which was held Friday, March 30 through Sunday, April 1, in Charlotte. Being founded in 1928, YDNC has the distinction of being the oldest Young Democrats chapter in the country.
YDNC is organized at the county level and active membership is open to any Democrat under the age of 36. In addition to county chapter members, all chartered members of the College Democrats of North Carolina and the North Carolina Association of Teen Democrats are considered voting members of the YDNC.
Hundreds of young Democrats from across the state travelled to Charlotte for the convention. Charlotte was also selected to be the site for the National 2012 Democratic Convection later this year. To celebrate the involvement of the young Dems within the party, prominent party leaders such as Congressman Mel Watt, former Congressman Bob Etheridge, Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, Representative Bill Faison, Senator Eric Mansfield, labor leader Chuck Rocha and several Democrats running for North Carolina governor, lieutenant governor, and council of state participated in this year’s convention.
Each year, the YDNC Convention hosts an award ceremony to recognize the involvement of individuals within the party. This year, two Franklin natives found themselves on the receiving end of the awards.
Corey Duvall, was one of five individuals from across the state to be names the “Five Outstanding Young Democrats.”
“My understanding is that this award was to honor the growth of Young Democrats and College Democrats chapters in the Western Region of North Carolina,” said Duvall. “In the past year, the number of Young Democrats in the Macon County has doubled. We have also reorganized the College Democrats of WCU. In the past year, the College Democrats have gone from non-existent to over 70 people on the roster, registering over 600 people to vote in the past three months alone. Many of the people who registered in Cullowhee are new voters, but many of those people are formerly unaffiliated or Republican voters who upon entering college, have learned just how much politics affect them.”
According to Duvall, through his work with WCU College Dems, he has worked to educate students about each party and often answers questions around campus. “Instead of voting as a Republican as there parents have done in the past, students have started to think for themselves, and have reregistered as Democrats,” he said. “I believe that my position as President of then College Democrats of WCU has allowed me to help grow the Macon County Young Democrats as well, ensuring that when the members of our group go home for the summer, or after they graduate, are able to continue their activism in the Democratic Party, fighting for the issues that affect them the most.”
As an active member of the College Democrats at Western Carolina University, Duvall helped to organize the non-partisan Cuts Hurt forum to educate students on the devastating affects of budget cuts.
“I was honored to accept two awards in Charlotte. One was on behalf of my College Democrats chapter at WCU,” said Duvall. “We received the award for the College Democrats of North Carolina Program of the Year honoring the non-partisan Cuts Hurt program we co-sponsored with the Student Government Association and the Leadership Council of WCU.”
The WCU College Dems worked with the SGA to present a non-partisan forum with the intention of informing students about the budget cuts and increasing tuition being handed down by the North Carolina General Assembly. “This program was designed to draw attention to the deep cuts made to the education budget produced by the General Assembly,” said Duvall. “We were able to obtain several speakers, including Representative Ray Rapp, John deVille of the NCAE, several students such as SGA Vice President Alecia Paige, and even a video message from Governor Perdue. I think that the biggest honor that we received in regards to this program is the feedback we have received from college campuses across the state. The College Democrats of NC have since adopted the program, and campuses across the state are in the process of organizing their own events. It has even spurred a new web program sponsored by the Duke University College Democrats called NCGOPCutmyjob. com where the public can go to find more information on the various jobs that have been cut by them GOP led General Assembly budget.”
During the convention, Duvall was elected to the position of the Director of Membership of the College Democrats of North Carolina. “This is my first State level office, and the work includes chartering new chapters in Colleges and Universities across the state,” said Duvall. “Our current priorities are with the more conservative campuses, or campuses in more conservative areas where liberal and progressive voices are less likely to be heard. It will be a challenge, but I feel that it is well worth the end result of helping my great state move forward into the future.”
Duvall, who is finishing up his junior year at WCU as a criminal justice major, believes that WCU will pay an instrumental roll in the election later this year. “I believe WCU is a pivotal location in the coming elections,” he said. “The turnout for the Cullowhee precinct in Jackson County was abysmal in the 2010 election, and we paid dearly for it. With tuition rates rising rapidly, we feel like it is time that the students of WCU stand up for ourselves, as it is obvious that those in the General Assembly are not fighting for us.”
In addition to working with the College Democrats, Duvall has been active with the Macon County Young Democrats since January of 2011. He was also one of the five founding members of the Macon County Teen Democrats during his Senior year at Franklin High School during the 2008 elections. “I have gained a greater understanding with the workings of the government, as well as how the decisions made by the government affect me, the latter of which has been made more than obvious after the takeover of the General assembly,” said Duvall. “But most importantly, I have learned how to organize my fellow students in a movement to help save our education system, because individually, our voice is small. But as a whole, we are mighty, and we will be heard.”
Franklin native Justin Conley received the YDNC’s prestigious Tyre Taylor Award for the most outstanding Young Democrat of North Carolina.
Tyre Taylor was the founder of the YDNC in 1928 and began shaping the vision of building an organization to serve as the official youth arm of the North Carolina Democratic Party (NCDP). The President, National Committeeman, and National Committeewoman of YDNC serve on the State Executive Council of the NCDP, which governs the North Carolina Democratic Party.
“The Tyre Taylor award is giving to the Young Democrat of the year; which is cool because Tyre Taylor fought prohibition, which to me, is super admirable,” said Conley. “When they announced my name, I was surprised; I know of a number of other Young Democrats who are just as deserving of the honor, though I am grateful to have received it.”
According to Conley, he went to his first YD Convention three years ago to represent Macon County and believes that by winning the award this year he is certain that his actions did not go unnoticed.
Conley, who comes from a long line of Macon County Democrats, said that he has been involved in politics since birth. “If you ask my grandparents, I’ve been involved in the Democratic party since birth; but my involvement in state politics began after my graduation from WCU,” said Conley. “When I was in school I was a part of the college democrats, but my participation was limited because of the other activities I was involved. My activism didn’t really start until I saw the money being spent against public servants whom had WNC’s best interest in mind. I always thought that it was something you might see in DC, but never in Macon County.”
In the past year, Conley has worked diligently to progress North Carolina’s Democratic party. “This past year I focused on the founding the Rural Caucus,” he said. “NC didn’t have one; which was ridiculous considering the layout of NC and the number of rural communities in the state.”
At the convention Conley’s newly formed Rural Caucus held meetings which featured Phil Feagin State Senate Candidate for 47th and a YD, Scott Bryant Commissioner of Ag candidate and Congressman Larry Kissell, who is a member of several subcommittees relevant to the rural caucus’ mission.
“I have being trying to work toward organizing YD’s throughout the 11th Congressional District and look to influence policies that help young people; especially those in rural areas,” said Conley. “ The mission of the Rural Caucus is to promote the involvement of members in less urbanized areas of our state. Young rural Americans face unique challenges, especially in political processes. Thus is our charge to represent the timeless principles of the Democratic Party; while also keeping a strong focus on rural concerns.”
Conley, who has volunteered on various county and state level campaigns, plans to spend the next year helping put Democrats back into office. “I want to continue working to elect candidates whose priorities consider the future of young people in NC,” he said. “I want to advocate for smart policies that will expand opportunities to people and work against pointless legislation passed today, which will have to be undone by young leaders tomorrow.”
One major life influence Conley attributes to his strong dedication to politics comes from his upbringing in Macon County and wants to continue promoting that for the next generation. “I know that my success in life is the direct result of my family and the educational advantages I’ve been granted; due in larger-part to the idea that we made educating our kids a priority decades ago,” he said. “I believe ignorance is the most oppressive tax of all and it affects generation after generation. We owe the next generation the same societal benefits we’ve enjoyed; that opportunity is under attack.”
According to Conley, in 2010, the North Carolinians who voted-in the current group of Republicans were voting for new jobs and lower taxes. “Unfortunately, the GOP didn’t pass a single jobs bill last year, but they’ve went above and beyond to push divisive social legislation and to assault public education. The folks that believe government is the only problem in our country are unqualified to manage it. The people pushing these policies are out of touch. I mean, when was the last time a presidential candidate for the United States had a Swiss bank account? People shouldn’t be punished for the situation they’re born into, I wish our current folks in Raleigh understood that.”
Content on advocating for citizens of Macon County for the time being, Conley does not plan to run for a higher office quite yet, but says it is definitely a possibility. “If you’re privileged enough to have that chance to serve as a legislator, I would sincerely hope it’s not due to ambition, but because you’ve got a reputation of service to your community,” said Conley. “While I love the idea of young elected officials; I am just working to help my community with whatever talents God’s endowed me. If there comes a time where I think that more could be done in an elected position then whatever I’m able to do at that time; I’ll probably consider it, but that’s a good ways off in the future.”
The three-day event also highlighted the contributions of North Carolina women, led by the Women's Caucus of the Young Democrats of North Carolina. The late Charlotte City Councilwoman Susan Burgess was honored in a reception where she received the Women's Caucus Legacy Award.. Burgess is credited for leading the charge in Charlotte that eventually landed the opportunity to host the Democratic National Convention later this year.
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue was also honored by the Women’s Caucus for her tireless effort to work for the citizens of North Carolina during her tenure in office. During the convention, Perdue received the Women’s Caucus Trailblazer Award.