Why I am a Democrat

Jim Renfrew, Clarendon
Member, Orleans County Democratic Committee

When our Orleans Country Democratic Committee has the opportunity to interview potential candidates for political office, this is always my opening question: “why are you a Democrat?” It’s not meant to express doubt; it’s my attempt to get to the pulse of each candidate’s spirit and passion for what we do.

So now one of our committee members, as we develop our web site, has turned the question on me! It’s a fair question, and I’m happy to respond. I look forward to seeing the responses of others! So here goes …

I registered as a Democrat when I was an 18 year old high school student living in Maryland. It’s a little-known story that I actually began as a Republican, a reaction to the fact that what proved to be a majority of Democrats in my county were enthralled by the candidacy of segregationist George Wallace in the 1972 Democratic Presidential Primary. By the time of the 1972 general election I had re-registered as a Democrat and have been ever since.

I have voted in every election that has come my way, not only primary and general elections, but also high school and college class elections, school budgets, water districts and even corporate board elections. My philosophy is that if I don’t vote, I can’t complain! I’m not always happy with the candidates on the ballot, but I never stay home. I still vote for each office, sometimes writing in the names I prefer. I never want to be considered disinterested or apathetic.

While in high school my family moved to a community racially segregated not by law but by custom. When my parents were shown houses to buy I heard the real estate agent proudly report that “so far we’ve kept the blacks out of this neighborhood”. My first political act was to join a group of people in town who wanted to expose this ugly practice. Black and white adults were recruited to act as potential home buyers in order to document the exact ways that black home purchasers were steered away from white neighborhoods. I was too young to be purchasing a home, so my role was to develop a petition that was offered to the churches in town with the simple statement “We welcome people of all backgrounds into our neighborhoods”. It was surprising to me that only one or two of the churches in town were willing to circulate that petition, and that very few people were willing to sign. Eventually rules and laws were established to prevent racial bias, racial steering and red-lining in that county. I believe that our effort, while unsuccessful at first, put the changes in motion that we enjoy today.

Since that time I have supported many losing causes … but many winning efforts, too. I have been proud to vote many times to bring an end to unnecessary wars, to protect the environment, to promote equality and opportunity, and to keep pushing for honesty and reform in government. Being a Democrat gives me the encouragement to hang in with every issue, even if I am on the losing side at the start. Every time we engage in the process the circle of vision and involvement expands. Eventually, our ideas will prevail! Democratic victories sometimes seem hard to come by in Orleans County, but all the more reason for us to continue to work together on the things that really matter. I’m glad to be in it with all of you!