New Hanover County LP Chair
This month, the Tar Heel caught up with New Hanover Chair Bob Drach. New Hanover is the second smallest county in North Carolina by size, but top ten in population, trailing only Wake and Mecklenburg and their surrounding counties. It is the second most densely populated county, after Mecklenburg.
New Hanover also has a fickle voter base, where loyalty shifts between duopoly candidates each election. More than 40 percent of the nearly quarter million population is unaffiliated, and there are more than 2,000 registered Libertarians and growing.
With the Atlantic Ocean forming its eastern border, New Hanover boasts some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Wilmington as its centerpiece cultural hub, solid economic opportunity, and a thriving community of traditional Carolinians and transplants alike. With this as the backdrop, the Tar Heel asked Bob about his journey to Libertarianism, what the affiliate is doing now, and where he sees New Hanover going in the future.
Tar Heel: Bob, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I want to start off by asking a little about your history. I understand you are a sailor, and completed an intense journey from Cali to Hawaii. Can you tell me more about that?
Bob Drach: I was the cook and a deckhand on the SV Lureline, a Tripp 47 sloop out of Kaneohe, HW. The race started in Victoria, BC and finished off in Lahaina, on Maui. That is a "downhill" route where we fly spinnakers and surf ocean swells the whole way. Twenty-one days of just wind, waves, sun, chill, work, and sleep. Blissful.
Tar Heel: That sounds incredible. What attracted you to sailing? And, to tie it in, how does the feeling of freedom combined with personal responsibility you get on the water parallel with your Libertarian philosophy?
Drach: I blame Melville, Dana, Chichester, and other writers who have romanticized sailing as a test of mettle against the sea. The community of sailors is built on hard work and respect for each other and for nature. Not all sailors are Libertarians, but most have that deep streak of personal responsibility, respect for others, nature, and teamwork.
Tar Heel: So, what originally attracted you to the Libertarian party? How long have you been active, and what other roles have you had?
Drach: When I turned 18 in 1979, I wrote on my draft card that I was a conscientious objector, and I registered to vote as a Libertarian. After college and two years in industry, I joined the Peace Corps and taught Physics in secondary schools in Tanzania. I believe in public service but also believe that the best public service is to provide excellent products and service to customers and to maximize value for investors and all constituents. My only government role outside of the Peace Corps was a stint on the New Hanover County Board of Equalization and Review.
Tar Heel: New Hanover is such an interesting place. There is a dichotomy with the city and the surrounding rural areas, and then the ocean obviously has a major influence. You have farming and shipping right next to a robust arts community. Broadly speaking, where does politics fit into all this?
Drach: The college, UNCW, plays an outsized role in local politics. Also note that this area has grown faster than North Carolina as a whole, and N.C. is itself a growth state. A lot of the new people coming in are from the Northeast, and many from the Midwest. The dichotomy that emerges is a large block of voters who have escaped and another block of strong personalities - both "left" and "right." Unfortunately, the overall trend has been for more government involvement in real estate, zoning, building infrastructure, and funding special interests.
Tar Heel: It really is similar to other North Carolina counties in that regard. Knowing all that, where can the Libertarian Party make inroads? What messaging is resonating with people in New Hanover?
Drach: New Hanover County has a rich history of Libertarians running for office and working to impact local politics. The current leadership team, including Michele Sundstrom and Justin Hinckley, are focused on membership development, and building infrastructure to support future candidates. Our messaging includes defending Second Amendment rights and representing Libertarian values through the city and county budget processes. Do you know that at last year's New Hanover County budget public comments session there were 20 people who showed up, and all of them supported the budget or even requested additional spending? This is what our elected officials have been hearing. We will send a different message.
Tar Heel: What are the biggest challenges you see in getting that messaging out in a way that attracts people?
Drach: We are in a pickle because people are addicted to government promises and government money. Both the Rs and the Ds have corrupted the discourse in this way. C.S. Lewis once said that the safest road to hell is the gently sloping one. Our challenge is to look for the opportunities to turn people around. The mask and vaccine mandates were one such opportunity for some people. There will be others and we need to exploit them when they happen.
Tar Heel: New Hanover is doing relatively well economically, especially against other N.C. counties. What are some of the biggest problems you see in the county, and what solutions can the Libertarian Party provide?
Drach: Tyler Yaw, one of our LP-NHC members who hosts the Whiskey and Wisdom podcast, believes strongly in finding the local issues where the Libertarian view is compelling. One such issue is building a new bridge across the Cape Fear River – I know, who will build the roads? We should be working through the DOT and planning boards to make it a toll bridge, so the users pay at a minimum and it gives the project a chance to attract infrastructure investors. A different problem is the legacy of racism in the City of Wilmington that in some ways has trapped multiple generations in a cycle of poverty and gang affiliation. I think the most effective actors on this problem have been the downtown churches and NGOs. We should affiliate with these and support their missions.
Tar Heel: Along those lines, what is your vision for the New Hanover LP in the next year, the next five years, and after that? Are there any specific changes you want to affect, and where do you see candidate success coming through?
Drach: Our urgency is to build critical mass in membership, community involvement, and fundraising. I'm stoked about the people who have joined our meet ups and we have some more outreach planned this year. My goal is to field a full slate of Libertarian candidates for state and local offices in New Hanover County. Not just field them but support their campaigns and deliver a consistent compelling message to the more than 150,000 voters in our county.
Tar Heel: What about you, what does the future have in store for Bob Drach?
Drach: I suffer from that dichotomy we discussed earlier – 80 percent of my time I’m sailing across the Pacific or trekking in Patagonia, while I’m advocating Liberty only a small part of time. I feel like the advocacy is not enough, but ultimately, we want government and politics to be just a small and harmonious part of our lives. I think that if we build a good team in NHC then I can help others who are ready to give a chunk of their lives to public service or be in a better position to do more myself when I’m ready to hang up my foul weather gear.
Tar Heel: Thank you again, so much, for your time today. Fascinating discussion, and I appreciate it. One final question, what are some things about New Hanover County that other affiliates might not know at all, but that could help them as they spread the message of Liberty, grow their respective local parties, or try to get candidates elected?
Drach: I mentioned Tyler Yaw who hosts the Whiskey and Wisdom podcast with a libertarian bent. He is a potential resource for developing content. Our Justin Hinckley has worked on a brochure for Second Amendment issues and has handled several issues as our Treasurer with grace – he would be happy to talk through either of these topics with folks. I'm an advocate for attending county and city council meetings and exercising our responsibility to make public comments.
*Editor's note: Justin Hinckley, mentioned in the interview, is our 2A issues coordinator, and the Tar Heel 2A Editor who writes the monthly 2A Talk column. Tyler Yaw hosts the Whiskey and Wisdom podcast, which can be found here on Apple podcasts.
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