RALEIGH, N.C. — Wayne Goodwin has been immersed in the North Carolina Democratic Party for most of his life, served in the Legislature for eight years and was elected state insurance commissioner in 2008.
When he narrowly lost the commissioner’s job to Republican Mike Causey in November, the Richmond County native turned to running for the open party chair position. With new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s endorsement, Goodwin was elected overwhelmingly by the party Executive Committee this month in a four-candidate race.
Goodwin, who turns 50 on Wednesday, sat with The Associated Press for an interview last week to discuss his vision for the job and the challenges for a party that made some electoral strides in 2016 after losing its long dominance in state politics earlier this decade. Questions and answers were edited for length.
Q: Why did you want this job?
A: I saw a great need for the Democratic Party to have a chairman with not only the grassroots experience and the experience as a party leader but also someone who’s been out in the communities across our state as a candidate and as a statewide elected official. I saw this as perhaps one door closing but another door opening where I could serve my state and our voters in a new way.
Q: A lot has been made in recent years about intraparty fighting between the party’s local grassroots activists and establishment. Where do you fit on that spectrum and what will you do to bring together those two components?
A: I have a unique situation in some respects in that I was born and raised in a rural community, attended the public schools in a rural community, had a small business in a rural community, but fit in very well in urban communities and have served in an elected office where I’ve tried to do my very best for communities no matter their size and no matter their economic successes or plight. What I bring to the party will be an ability to bridge those respective communities.
Q: There’s a perception that Democrats failed during the last election to attract rural, working class people. What will it take to bring them to the state’s Democratic base?
A: There’s message, there’s messenger and then there’s hard work. With our message, the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of not only reminding folks of what this party has stood for and has helped establish for the benefit of all of North Carolinians — public schools, our infrastructure, the programs that helped give opportunities to families all across the state. But also reminding folks that we did have success with electing a new governor … Gov. Cooper not only has the message but he is an outstanding messenger in reaching those communities. He hails from a rural county and represented a rural district when he was in the Legislature. And I will work with him … to reconnect with voters that have lost their support of or who have had a growing lack of faith in the Democratic Party or the political system as a whole.
Q: What initiatives and programs do you intend to promote as the chair?
A: More people aren’t engaged as much in political parties as they once were so we have to go meet them in their own communities, so one initiative is to increase the number of organized precincts (those where Democrats have permanent get-out-the-vote efforts). Second, have more direct contact between the … state party officers, state party leadership on the ground in counties and not have Raleigh dictating things. Third, recruiting candidates. There should be a Democratic candidate running in every partisan race that is on the ballot and that’s a goal. It won’t happen easily but recruiting more candidates will also engage these voters more.
Q: The Executive Committee elected a black woman, a gay man and a Muslim woman as the party’s three vice chairs. What kind of message does that send to the state party and the state?
A: The message … is that the Democratic Party is going to represent our great state. The Democratic Party officers I believe (are) the most diverse set of officers this party or any party in the state has ever had. And everyone should admit that we are a diverse state, and a political party that doesn’t represent the demographics and the wonderful diversity that we have in North Carolina is not one that’s going to be fighting for the interests of all North Carolinians.