A group of residents who say they are frustrated with the state of local politics and lack of policy education has organized with the goal of making a difference.
Members of the recently formed Greater Lake Wylie Progressives say they were frustrated with seeing mostly Republican candidates run unopposed in local elections. They also decided to take action to help their neighbors learn about important issues like healthcare and quality universal education.
The group’s President and co-founder, Carmen Quesada, said when she moved to South Carolina from Texas, she was shocked that so many local races had only one candidate and that the candidate on the ballot was almost always a Republican party.
“I can only describe it as crazy,” she said.
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She said the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election as well as attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., this past January spurred her to organize. Quesada said she started life as a Republican, but somewhere along the way there was a change in the party that caused her and others to shift away.
“What concerns us is a country that seems to be going in a direction that we’re not really thrilled with,” she said.
More than 50 people are now dues-paying members of the Greater Lake Wylie Progressives. Member Patti Ennis said she’s never been involved in politics on this level but was invited to a Progressives meeting by a friend. She hopes the group can affect change in a way that’s not been done for a long time —by going beyond just the colors red and blue.
“I’d like to see diverse ballots translate into diverse representation, I’d like South Carolina to be ‘purple,’” Ennis said.
‘TOUGH FIGHT’ AHEAD
However, local political analyst and Winthrop University Political Science Professor Dr. Adolphus Belk said achieving that goal will not be easy.
“Theirs will be a tough fight because of this area is so strongly Republican, but I do think that on a basic level this is how our politics works,” Belk said.
Quesada agrees. She has worked on political campaigns since she was a child, helping either her mother, a Republican, or her father, a Democrat.
“I like to say I came from a mixed marriage,” she said.
She’s helped run everything from school board campaigns to U.S. Senate bids for office and most recently on 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Quesada, who once worked for the National Education Association as a political specialist, brings a lot of experience to the table. She said one of the most important things her group can help do is educate the electorate.
“I’m really surprised that people just believe things and never check things for themselves,” she said.
That’s why the group hosted a candidate forum ahead of June’s U.S. Congressional special election. Quesada said the standing-room only turnout helped fuel her belief that voters in this area want and need more information.
“We realized that there was a real desire for someone to give voice to some other issues,” she said.
The group is planning forums on healthcare and fact-finding for later this year. Quesada believes voter education is just as important as getting more politically diverse representation and hopes education translates to action at the polls on a local level.
Ennis, a charter member, said she wants to see that lead to elected officials who are something other than Republican.
“That is one of the main goals — to affect change in politics on a local level and make sure there is always the option,” she said.
The Greater Lake Wylie Progressives aim to help more liberal candidates win local and state races so that those candidates can then go on to win seats in Congress.
“That’s where candidates come from, they don’t emerge fully at the Congressional level, they serve on the county council and go up so it’s important that you get representation there,”
Their goal is right on target, according to Belk.
“We focus so much sometimes on what happens in the District of Columbia when the overwhelming majority decisions that impact their daily lives happen on the state level,” he said.
Belk said it’s especially important to act now, before the 2020 U.S. Census. The elected officials in power at that time will have the ability to, among other things, redraw district voting lines in their favor. It’s just that type of gerrymandering, analysts have said, that allows the party in power to create “safe” districts that makes it difficult for voters to dislodge that party. Democrats have done it in the past and Republicans followed suite when they won so-called wave elections in 2010 and beyond.
Gerrymandering does have its limits. The U.S. Supreme Court last spring agreed with a lower court ruling that some North Carolina were illegally configured along racial lines an the Republican-controlled N.C. Legislature is wrestling with the issue, which could eventually find its way back in front of the high court.
“If you’re going to have some influence then you’re going to have to work now to get more of your candidates in the legislature and what we’ve seen is that Democrats in this state have a tough time not only in federal, Congressional and presidential elections, but in state elections as well,” he said, “You don’t have a single statewide position held by a Democrat.”
Ennis agreed that the time to act is now.
“Progressive is always moving forward, always thinking to the future,” she said. “The world is changing and we have to change with it.”.
Katie Rutland: email@example.com
Want to go?
The Greater Lake Wylie Progressives meets on the third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at locations determined by the month’s program. In September, group organizers will host a session on healthcare and future workshops are in the works covering topics like: “fake news,” being an effective campaign volunteer, the pros and cons of incorporation for Lake Wylie, and how immigration policies affect the public. Anyone interested in joining or receiving meeting notices can email firstname.lastname@example.org.