Injecting youth into the Forsyth GOP

by Keith Barber

As Nathan Tabor concluded his remarks during the Tax Day Tea Party at Winston Square Park in downtown Winston-Salem on April 15, he pointed out the one thing that was missing from the citizen protest against the government’s tax policies. “Look around, this is an awesome crowd; you’re a good looking crowd but how many youth are here?” Tabor asked the crowd of roughly a thousand people. After several moments of silence, Tabor asked, “What are we going to do to change that?” As the newly elected leader of the Forsyth County Republican Party, the 35year-old Tabor told the rally’s attendees that if the GOP hopes to reverse its fortunes in the 2009 municipal elections and the 2010 mid-term elections, it’s going to take three things — technology, money and youth. Any improvement over the Forsyth Republican Party’s poor showing in the Nov. 4 election would be a welcome change, Tabor said. US Rep. Virginia Foxx’s defeat of Democratic challenger Roy Carter aside, the Democrats swept every single race in the general election in Forsyth County by significant margins. When Tabor was elected leader of the county party last month, he stressed the need to heal “fractures” within the GOP. Tabor identified three distinct groups— fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and moderates— as fighting for power and influence and cited that infighting as one of the reasons for decisive losses last fall. “We are very passionate about our issues. The pro-lifer is pro-life. They’ll stand in the rain. They’ll protest; they’ll drive to Raleigh. They’ll do whatever it takes to educate people, and motivate people on their issue,” Tabor said. “The same thing with Freedom Works or Americans For

Prosperity. Very rarely will they work with each other. You don’t find a pro-gun, prolife, and a pro-family, anti-government and anti-tax [groups] working together. It does cause a fracture in the party in the unwillingness to help your brother out in what they’re trying to accomplish.” Forsyth County Commissioner Debra Conrad, a lifelong Republican, agreed with Tabor’s assessment. “I think the party forgot they were supposed to be the party of limited taxation and less spending,” Conrad said. “We have to win the confidence of Republicans and moderate Democrats.” The facts bear out Conrad’s assertion. In eight years, President Bush increased the federal budget by 104 percent and left office with a $1.7 trillion budget deficit, according to a study by the Mercatus Center at George Washington University. By contrast, President Clinton increased the federal budget by only 11 percent during his eight years in the White House and left office with a budget surplus. Improved organization and party unity is key, Tabor said. He cited the fact that the majority of Hillary Clinton supporters came out on Election Day and voted for Obama, but John McCain didn’t experience the same level of support from the members of his party. “My philosophy is, if we’re going to win, if we’re going to turn things around, we’re going to have to support the Republican platform, the Republican party as a whole. It might not be the individual you want, but do you believe the Republican platform is better than the Democrat platform? If it is, then you have to work to elect Republicans.” In addition to party unity, fresh ideas and innovation will be pivotal in recruiting new members to the party in 2009. Conrad said she believes Tabor can offer that kind of leadership. “Nathan’s youth is an advantage and his knowledge of technology is a big plus. This is exactly what we needed,” she said. “Certainly Obama used technology to his advantage to win the election last year.” Just hours after he was elected party chair, Tabor launched a Facebook page for the county GOP. As of press time, the site boasted more than 330 members.

“That’s something we didn’t have two and a half weeks ago. It took me two minutes and it didn’t cost me a penny,” Tabor said of the social networking site. “The Democratic side has already figured that out. It’s a great way to build a little volunteer activist army.”

Taborpointed to the fact that President Obama has 2.4 million Facebookfriends as compared to Sen. John McCain’s 600,000 Facebook friends asjust one example of how the Democrats have capitalized on technology tofurther their agenda, while Republicans have been left behind. Morethan party fractures, the lack of young people getting involved inRepublican campaigns last fall is what led to the Democrats’ victorieson Nov. 4, said Joyce Krawiec, a 20-year member of the ForsythRepublican Party. “I just don’t think we had the excitement,determination, drive and leadership we needed,” Krawiec said. “Nathan’sleadership is going to give us that — he’s technologically savvy andwe’re going to need that to communicate our platform.” Krawiecsaid she would support a younger group of Republican candidates runningfor the Winston-Salem City Council in the municipal elections. AlgenonCash, a member of the Forsyth GOP, said the Tax Day Tea Party atWinston Square Park highlighted the party’s struggles to recruit andretain young people in its ranks. “If you want the movement tosustain itself, you need the youth,” Cash said. “It adds energy andexcitement. It attracts older adults. Having the youth as part of amovement serves a purpose on a number of fronts. As Republicans we needto learn that and I’m not sure we’ve gotten it yet.” Until the partylearns how to effectively communicate the message that it supports theprinciples our nation was founded upon, it will continue to suffer,Cash said. Up to this point, the party’s been doing a “terrible” job,he added. Tabor cited the current situation with the ForsythDell plant refusing to release its employment numbers and the downtownballpark being a mere “shell” of itself as two examples of why themajority of

Republicansdon’t support economic incentives. Tabor added these are issuesRepublican challengers could make hay with during this year’s Winston-Salem City Council elections. Conrad, who has served on the ForsythCounty Commissioners since 1994, disagreed. She said shesupported the economic incentive packages for Dell and the downtownballpark. Conrad, a former president of Forsyth County Women’s Club,cited overregulation of small businesses as an area of vulnerabilityfor the seven Democrats on the council and Mayor Allen Joines. She alsocited the council’s inaction regarding Gov. Beverly Perdue’s proposed$1-a-pack tax increase on cigarettes. Conrad said the city councilshould have already passed a resolution stating its opposition to theproposed cigarette tax increase. “Economic incentives are nota hotbutton issue,” she said. “The tobacco tax is a hot-button issue.”Recruiting candidates to run in the 2009 municipal elections is one ofTabor’s new responsibilities, and one he takes very seriously. Taborsaid he’s already met with nearly 10 potential candidates who have aninterest in running for city council this year, and the party hasseveral social events planned in the weeks ahead to recruit even morehopefuls. Tabor said the Republicans are targeting the city councilseat held by Democrat Dan Besse and believe they will have a viablecandidate to run against Joines. “I like Mayor Joines, but hispolicies have hurt Winston-Salem,” Tabor said. Still, Tabor admits thecounty GOP faces long odds in the city council races, but he remainshopeful that through the effective use of technology, rebranding theparty and recruiting of young Republicans, the Forsyth GOP can beginanew in 2009. “It’s my job to keep that momentum going,” he said.