BRUNSWICK — Eric Terashima is on a short list of Democrats competing for the state party’s highest office next month, and he wants to make some changes.
The retired Marine Colonel and Brunswick County Democratic Party chair told Port City Daily his 30 years of bureaucracy experience as a military officer turned him into an effective manager and strategist. The Brunswick County resident also wants to focus on flipping counties blue.
“My forte is bureaucratic reorganization and synchronization of that bureaucracy,” Terashima said. “That’s, in a nutshell, really what Marine Corps officers do at the bottom line. Having been in a lot of units over the years, when I look at the North Carolina Democratic Party, I see a lot of inefficiencies built into the system I’d like to address.”
Terashima said he sees a lack of smooth internal communication in the party and support for candidates.
He said he has seen frustration among county chairs and house candidates in text and email groups during the past year — some of whom thought it was difficult to communicate with the state party.
“Across these two groups I saw huge volumes of complaints about things people could not get out of the state, or it was like pulling teeth getting answers out of the state,” Terashima said.
Terashima ran for North Carolina House District 17 in November, in a bid to unseat longtime incumbent Republican Rep. Frank Iler. He didn’t get close. Iler walked away with 62.29% of the vote in a comfortable red county that solely elected Republicans last year.
Terashima acknowledged the campaign was a longshot, but he wouldn’t have run if he didn’t think he had a chance. He also bemoaned other issues.
“I got very little support from the state party, which I expected,” he said. “That’s traditionally what they’ve done. I knew to at least expect that, but the more strategic issue is that, if the Democratic Party is going to be effective in being a proponent of our agenda in the long run, then we can’t allow 88 counties across the state of 100 counties to go red.”
Evidence of lax support is apparent in the financing of local races. Terashima only received $750 from the state party, while, across the river, the state Democrats funneled more than $1.3 million to party mate Marcia Morgan, with record-breaking spending for her embattled North Carolina Senate District 7 race against Sen. Michael Lee. However, the race was tapped as high priority because of its placement in a swing district.
Lee won by 3.4 points, the largest margin of his career. Morgan did not win the Democratic primary but was substituted for Jason Minnicozzi after he was accused of predatory behavior. Morgan was previously defeated in a North Carolina House District 19 race against incumbent Charles Miller two years prior.
Terashima is correct North Carolina county politics are overwhelmingly dominated by Republicans. There are Democratic strongholds in the urban Triad, Triangle, Charlotte and Asheville areas, but almost every small county leans Republican.
In New Hanover’s case, it’s sometimes referred to as “purple.” Races are often coin flips between Democrats and Republicans, with representation from both parties at the state level and a mix of parties on local boards. This year New Hanover fell heavily to the Republicans. All the state Republican representatives held onto their seats, and every Democrat was shut out of the local school board race and the county board of commissioners swapped a Democratic seat for a Republican.
Terashima said his party should spend more time and energy on flipping counties, and its long-term goal should be to gain more power in the North Carolina General Assembly so the party can push back on gerrymandered districts. In the short term he said the party needs a grassroots revival.
“That’s Democrats, en masse, getting out and talking to other Democrats and unaffiliated voters who may split the ticket,” Terashima said, adding the party needs to draw in nonvoters to bolster its numbers. He pointed to Cheri Beasley’s sound defeat by Budd compared to the razor thin margin against Paul Newby that lost her Supreme Court seat as an example of continuing voter disenfranchisement.
He also noted he outperformed Beasley in his House race. She garnered 36.51% of the vote to his 37.71%
When pressed on if his politics align with what state-level Democrats are looking for, Terashima said he has to be pragmatic. Some positions fall to the left of the mainstream platform. He staunchly pushed for rent protection during his House campaign, though the term “rent” does not appear a single time in the state platform. In a candidate profile published by PCD ahead of the general election he characterized corporations as greedily raising rent out of line with the Consumer Price Index and supported incentives for low-income housing developments.
“Yes, I have pretty left-leaning ideals,” Terashima said. “But, by the same token, being a career Marine I’m also a pragmatist. First and foremost, I’m a pragmatist. What I mean by that is I make an assessment of what I can and can not do, even if I express aspirations to something further, beyond that.”
He pointed to rent control as an example of an aspirational policy, because the Republican-controlled General Assembly will never entertain those ideas, but he feels it is a morally correct position.
“I brought that up as an example on my campaign to really try to flesh out the moral turpitude of large corporations who are gouging lower-income folks, who are the traditional targets of the rich trying to fleece the poor,” Terashima said.
This directness, he said, was to his benefit on the campaign trail and something he wants to carry over into the party’s messaging. Terashima wants their communication to pass a three-prong test: simple, clear and repeatable.
“That’s the formula, time immemorial,” Terashima said.
Who is he up against?
Terashima is facing off against incumbent Bobbie Richardson and Anderson Clayton on Feb. 11. About 750 Democrats from the State Executive Committee, made up of a consortium of Democrats across the state in county party positions, will cast ballots.
He has something in common with his opponents: They are in red counties.
Both Richardson’s Franklin County and Clayton’s Person County favored Republicans and easily elected Ted Budd over Cheri Beasley in November’s federal Senate race with 55.35% and 59.6% of the vote, respectively.
Richardson is a retired public school administrator and a state party insider. She served as first vice chair for the Democratic Party and was later appointed to the North Carolina House District 7 seat in 2013 to fill a vacancy left by Angela Bryant, who in turn was appointed to finish the Senate term of the late Edward Jones.
Richardson served until 2019, when she was defeated by Republican Lia Stone Barnes. She announced her candidacy for state chair in November 2020 and succeeded Wayne Goodwin, another party mainstay who formerly served as state insurance commissioner and House member.
Clayton is the sitting association of county chairs president for the party and works as a broadband analyst. A 2019 Appalachian State University graduate, she served as student body president from 2017-2018. As an undergrad she served as communications director for College Democrats of North Carolina from 2016 to 2017 and has volunteered for a number of state and federal campaigns, including as a field organizer for Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaigns.
Terashima is complimentary of Clayton, telling PCD she represents changes he wants to see in the party, though he believes he has more experience.
“She’s super enthusiastic, an absolutely fantastic personality. I really like her a lot,” Terashima said. “But, she’s lacking the practical experience that I have as a Marine colonel with 30 years of leadership experience. The chairmanship position is largely a managerial position, and so to me that leadership experience is going to make a vast difference in how the party is going to be run.”
He also noted Clayton has to work for a living while he is fully retired and can devote as much time as necessary to the job.
Terashima characterized Richardson’s administration as the status quo he wants to change.
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