Democratic women full of optimism

By Julie Fann
star staff

  Rain didn't stop the local Democratic women from holding their scheduled picnic before the Aug. 5 primary election. The meeting, held yesterday at 6 p.m., was moved from Civitan Park to the fellowship hall at St. Thomas Episcopal Church due to the weather.
  Janet Hyder, president of the Elizabethton/Carter County Democratic Women, said the party is extremely optimistic about this year's presidential election. "John Kerry is a very good candidate who has picked a very good running mate. It looks like a win-win situation. We feel it's time for a change in the White House. We're trying to figure out if George Bush has done anything for us," Hyder said.
   Pamela Harris, Democratic state executive committeewoman for the 3rd Senatorial District who is running unopposed in the upcoming election, attended the picnic. The Carter County Commission appointed Harris to replace Helen Tester who died nearly a year ago. She said it is important to encourage local residents to participate in early voting because it will ultimately determine the fate of the election.
  "The early voting period will make a huge difference in this particular election. We want to get people motivated to get out and vote early," Harris said.
  Approximately 60 people packed into the small fellowship hall at the church which is located behind the courthouse. After eating typical American picnic fare like ham and baked beans, attendees listened to candidates or their representatives speak and answer questions from voters.
  Three candidates - William Malcolm Earp, Jr. of Bristol; Lewis Hopkins of Sneedville; and Graham Leonard of Kingsport - are vying for the Democratic nomination to face Republican Bill Jenkins in the U.S. House in November.
  A small, organized crowd supporting Graham Leonard showed up at the picnic. Leonard seems to be the most popular Democratic candidate running against Jenkins and was the only candidate present at the picnic at the onset.
  Wearing Johnny Cash-style black attire with Charlton Heston-coiffed white hair, Leonard cheerfully greeted voters and handed out cards. Charismatic and charming, he also has an impressive resume that includes a Ph.D. in Education from Harvard.
  A professor, pastor and writer, Leonard was a consultant on higher education for the Coalition for Rebuilding Iraq during the summer, 2003. He is fluent in Arabic and French. A Quaker, he will be going back to Iraq with a Christian peacemaking team in November.
  Leonard is a self-described fiscal conservative opposed to big business. "Today, as I came into Elizabethton, I couldn't help reflecting on the symbolism of the Wal-Mart being built among the ruins of the Bemberg and North American Rayon plants. A service economy is replacing the production of wealth. Lower-paid service jobs are displacing higher-paid factory jobs. Where, then, is the money going to be generated for people to be able to buy at Wal-Mart?," a printout of Leonard's speech to local Democratic women reads.
  "We need new industries, but the present regime encourages big business and consolidations, penalizing or causing the migration of the small businesses the 1st District depends on."
  As well as the state and federal primaries, the local election slate on the Aug. 5 ballot includes the County Assessor of Property's office, four County School Board seats, one City Council seat and two seats in the city of Watauga.