Justin Conley and Elaine and Bob McCollum were elected by voters in the 11th Congressional District during a convention held in Haywood County on May 19th to represent Western North Carolina at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) which will be held in Charlotte this September.
“Attending and participating in your political party’s National Convention, as members of the host state delegation, is most likely a once in a lifetime event,” said Elaine. “It will be both humbling and exciting for us to work alongside our political peers and party activists as we chart the future of the Democratic Party.
The highlight of the convention will, of course, be the nominating speeches, roll call votes, and the acceptance speech by President Obama.”
Beginning in 1832, the DNC is a series of presidential nominating conventions held every four years by the United States Democratic Party. The primary objective of the DNC is to nominate or confirm a candidate for president and vice president, adopt a comprehensive party platform and unify the party.
Elected delegates from all 50 U.S. states and from American dependencies and territories such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands attend the convention and cast votes to choose the party’s presidential candidate.
Of the 158 delegates who will be representing North Carolina, three are native Maconians. Ninety-three of the 158 delegates, including the three Macon County residents, were elected at the Congressional District Conventions held on May 19. Thirty-one at-large delegates will be elected at the State Party Convention in Raleigh on June 16. In addition to Conley and Mc- Collum, the third slot for the 11th District male delegates was filled by Parker Sloan, president of the Buncombe County Young Democrats. Young Democrats, Valerie Barnes and Sarah Zambon from Buncombe and Henderson County respectively were elected alongside Elaine. “Mama” Beth Ostgaard of McDowell County who won the O. Max Gardner Award honoring the contributions of a Young-At-Heart Democrat, was the fourth female elected as delegate for the DNC.
“To our knowledge, Macon County has never had a delegate to the Democratic National Convention,” said Bob. “For Macon County to have three of the seven delegates from our Congressional District is quite a feat. Historically most delegates have come from Buncombe County as it is the most populous and therefore has the most votes when electing National Convention delegates. We all had to start early in the process and work very hard to garner enough votes to insure election.”
Based on voter turnout and gender demographics of the 2008 presidential and governor’s election, the 11th Congressional District was designated to send four female and three male delegates to the National Convention. Conley and Bob McCollum ran against 23 other men from Western North Carolina, and Elaine McCollum ran against 25 females to earn a spot at the DNC. Macon County has the opportunity to have additional Convention Delegates as Macon County residents Corey Duvall, president of the WCU Democrats, and Dr. Ed Morris, chair of the Macon County Democratic Party will be on the ballot at the June 16 State Convention running for two of the 31 at-large delegate slots.
As the Young Democrat of the Year, Conley ran for the delegate position to be a voice for young voters at the DNC. “I went to highlight both the fact that rural Americans and young people do not have a large enough voice at the national convention,” said Conley of his reasoning for running as delegate. “The 11th Congressional District did such an outstanding job proving me wrong. Not only did we elect a majority of delegates from rural counties, we also elected a majority of delegates under the age of 35.
“I have a host of different capacities in the party locally, but statewide I currently serve as the newly-elected State Treasurer of the Young Democrats of North Carolina and have been appointed to the Young Democrats of America Rural Caucus to represent the Southeastern United States,” said Conley. “From as far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to help people.”
“Though I got involved in politics because I realized that things didn’t just come together for the greater good, someone has to work for it. I also felt that the folks in Raleigh are out of touch with ordinary people. Like this most recent budget that continues the twoyear assault on public education and continues to make it harder for working-class people to climb the economic ladder,” he continued.
Between the two of them, the McCollums have decades of political experience to bring to the DNC. Bob has served as the former precinct chair of both the East Franklin and Millshoal districts in Macon County. He has also served as president of the Macon County Democratic Men’s Club, and from 1997-2001, served as the chairman of the Macon County Democratic Party. For 15 years, from 1997 until 2012, Bob also served on the State’s Executive Committee, and since 2001, he has held the post of secretary for the 11th District Executive Committee.
Elaine served as the vice-chair of the Macon County Democratic Party from 2003-2007, and also served on the State Executive Committee from 1997 until 2012. She also volunteered as an Obama For America worker, and since 2007, has held the post as the Precinct Chair for the Millshoal District of Macon County.
“The most important aspect of this selection process is that for the first time the majority of delegates, four out of seven, come from smaller more rural counties,” said Elaine. “This is the product of better party organization, increased active membership, and a determined effort by the smaller counties to make sure they have a voice in party affairs.”
“As delegates, our responsibilities will include participation in all Convention and Standing Committee sessions wherein the business of the party is conducted,” said Bob. “These include Convention Rules, National Party Resolutions and Party Platform, as well as a host of sub-committees under each of these areas.”
According to Conley, he hopes that by being a voice for young voters in the state, he will be able to encourage the Democratic Party's platform to look toward the future when creating long-term goals. “As a young person who is civically active I feel my party needs to take a stronger stance on issues that are forthcoming,” he said. “We need to be sure that we’re leading the way when it comes to reigning in our country’s debt. I believe in good government and that there are some issues that only the government has the ability to handle, but my generation shouldn’t be punished because the generation before us spent thoughtlessly.”
With progress in mind, Conley believes that Young Democrats will have a strong voice at this year's convention. “I believe you’ll see the Democratic Party take a stand for marriage equality; the Young Democrats of North Carolina were the first organization in the state to publicly take a stand against Amendment One and we’ll be working hard to make our party inclusive for all Americans,” he said. “I believe we need to lead the way in immigration reform and let immigrants who serve our country in the military or graduate from our schools have an easier legal route to becoming American citizens. These are issues that we’ll be discussing and hopefully moving forward on. Those are a few topics that over the week we’ll discuss and I plan on being a big voice.”