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Ian O’Keefe, 19, addresses the Watauga County Democratic Party Convention at the Watauga County Courthouse on Saturday. O’Keefe, a sophomore at ASU, is active in Democratic Party efforts locally and statewide. Photo by Anna Oakes

Originally published: 2013-04-13 17:47:07
Last modified: 2013-04-13 17:47:06

Democratic convention focuses on youths

by Anna Oakes

Watauga County Democratic Party leaders on Saturday emphasized youth engagement and leadership in efforts to build a stronger party and get Democrats elected to offices in the Fifth District and state in 2014.

The county party held its 2013 convention Saturday at the Watauga County Courthouse to elect party officers, select delegates and consider resolutions for the Fifth District Convention in May and announce upcoming party events.

The county party's focus on youth was reflected in its choice of featured speaker -- 19-year-old Ian O'Keefe, a sophomore political science student at Appalachian State University.

O'Keefe first entered the local political scene as a freshman at ASU, helping to organize the People's Alliance for American Liberty to fight Amendment 1, the referendum on a state constitutional amendment providing that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic union legally recognized in the state.

The measure succeeded statewide in May 2012, but Watauga County was among fewer than 10 counties in North Carolina to defeat it. The statewide Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families used Watauga's PAAL model to organize against the amendment across the state.

O'Keefe will be working for the county party over the summer to develop a field plan for upcoming elections.

"We're going to make history today in this room," he said. "We're going to create a new South.
"We're going to stand up for North Carolina and its people, and you know what? We will win."

Fifth District party secretary and political consultant Lainey Edmisten said North Carolina's recent redistricting -- conducted by a Republican-led General Assembly -- looks to be favorable for district Democrats. She said that the redrawn district includes 90,000 eligible adults who are not registered to vote.

If Democrats can find those people and get them to the polls, "we will take back the Fifth District," Edmisten said.

Edmisten said the state party has hired her to begin a new youth initiative, noting that the "millennial" generation will represent 40 percent of the electorate in 2020.

"The millennials are here, and they are ready," she said.

The convention re-elected chairwoman Diane Tilson, first vice chairman Charlie Wallin, second vice chairwoman Marjory Holder, third vice chairman Jesse Presnel, volunteer coordinator Marsha Walpole, community outreach director Faisuly Scheurer, get-out-the-vote chairwoman Emily Bish, treasurer Susan Phipps and secretary Jerry Williamson.

Billy Kennedy and Loretta Clawson were once again elected to serve as Watauga members of the party's State Executive Committee, and joining them was Wallin, who replaces former committeeman Andy Ball, now third vice chairman of the state party.