It’s August in North Carolina, so we can’t think of anyone better to talk to than Jennifer Bias, Chair of the Brunswick County affiliate, an area defined by its proximity to our beautiful shoreline and beaches, an economy centered around tourism, and several unique characteristics that arise in this context.
With popular calabash-style restaurants, a robust film industry, and nuclear power as a primary energy source, the relaxed free-market spirit of Brusnwick County is an ideal place for Libertarian ideals to spread. And, with a low median income and too much poverty, a failing education system, and a demographic that is growing younger, Libertarian solutions have a fertile ground in which to grow.
Against this backdrop, the Tar Heel asked Jennifer about her background and the LP in Brunswick in another interview where we are happy to introduce you to the affiliate Liberty warriors out there doing the work.
Tar Heel: Jennifer, first of all, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Looking forward to getting into the work you are doing in Brunswick, but first let’s get to know you, the person. Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where are you from originally, and what led you to Brunswick?
Jennifer Bias: Sure. First, I'm a mom to my son and daughter, Logan (19) and Lana (14). I would consider both of them "liberty kids;” natural skeptics in a cookie-cutter world. I currently manage an oceanfront hotel but many moons ago I went to school to become an elementary school teacher. I originally went in with some hope of changing things from the inside. I became a "super volunteer," volunteering over 100 hours each year while I finished school. Higher level thinking was studied at the university level in great detail, but I noticed that the public school system practically demanded teachers avoid those higher level teaching methods. Instead of having children explore interests through student-centered curriculum and having them naturally group and collaborate, I saw principals insist on children sitting in their seats to quietly regurgitate information input/output style on a worksheet. It really killed that spark in me. Luckily I was working at a hotel while attending UNCW, and I learned that managing a hotel is not that different from managing a classroom, believe it or not. It ended up being more than just a job to get me through school. I’ve met some amazing people and have learned so much about our area. It doesn’t hurt that my office overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
Tar Heel: Many of us talk about moving to the beach, or dream of it, but I think we are probably romanticizing it a bit, especially comparing summer vacation experiences that we’ve had as our ideal against the very different reality of the offseason. What’s it like for you living there year-round? What parts do you love, and what could you do without?
Bias: Ha, it is definitely romanticized but for good reason. Look, this area is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the globe, considered a biodiversity hotspot. And there’s nothing like a Carolina sunset [editor's note: we second that]. I’m not in real estate so I’m not trying to sell you any property here when I say it's a beautiful place to live, but the secret is out. Most of the cars on the road are tourists and those looking to relocate to the area.
Because of that, most of the local area is based around tourism, which anyone from the Myrtle Beach area can tell you looks like feast or famine. I have been in this area since I was a five year old and I can’t begin to tell you how much it’s changed. It is no longer a sleepy beach community. Twenty thousand new jobs have been added to this area in the last 10 years, but seemingly very few plans for growth, if any. As soon as schools get out for summer, I know I need to add about 15 minutes to my commute to work. At some point, many stores and restaurants went from quality to quantity.
Sometimes I read on NextDoor newcomers who suggest the same heavy-handed government solutions to problems they experience, and I think to myself, why would you vote for the same thing you just moved away from? Apps like NextDoor are fantastic for allowing market solutions to stay community-based.
Tar Heel: How does that dichotomy affect running an affiliate? Is it pretty much business as usual but with more crowds sometimes, or do you strategize differently to adjust for the season?
Bias: I think it only affects affiliate growth. You see more growth in the winter time, when there are less festivals and outdoor activities to attend. People suddenly have more free time on their hands and want to get involved again.
Tar Heel: Brunswick has some other idiosyncrasies. It’s the southernmost county in our state, and, until just recently, it was considered part of the Myrtle Beach [South Carolina] metropolitan area. Were you involved in that debate at all, and how has it affected affiliate activity, if at all?
Bias: I was not involved in that debate but we haven’t been affected by that change at all.
Tar Heel: Brunswick is also subject to the Cape Fear Council of Governments. While all of North Carolina is organized under Councils of Government, Cape Fear is known for being more active than many. Has that impacted your ability to act as an affiliate in any way, or does it contribute to diminution in Liberty in the area.
Bias: Has that impacted our ability to act as an affiliate? Not really, but of course we want to see growth that doesn’t include a kickback to Mr. Real Estate guy here and Ms. Land Developer lady over there. We want to see real plans for growth that benefit the community.
Tar Heel: More specifically, Brusnwick politics are pretty reliably Republican, but not by a wide margin. Further, it has shown in the past that people are not afraid to vote outside of the uniparty. What opportunities do you see for growth, and how are you trying to implement that?
Bias: I think the real opportunities for growth are going to be in the younger demographics. We have done some tabling at UNCW before and that was extremely successful.
Tar Heel: Brunswick is also starting to skew younger, but jobs are scarce, especially non-seasonal jobs, and average income is low, especially for NC. How can we effectively message to his demographic, one that we should find as an eager backer of Liberty but that seems to be moving further in the wrong direction, and show them that we have real solutions to the real problems they face?
Bias: I’m not sure we’re starting to skew younger. The average age here is 56. The secret is out: this is a cool place to live affordably. Brunswick County consistently is ranked the fastest growing county in the state, and a few times has been one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. This is where the retirees finally settle and buy their McMansion or beach condo. Income is low because its largely retirees. Those who are working age are usually in the service or medical industry or commute to work.
I think the best way to reach people, and this goes for any demographic, is through laughter. People lean in and want to listen to what you have to say when they’re having a good time. Memes are king these days. I would argue most people don’t watch the news anymore and mostly get their information from social media. If you meme it, they will come. Oscar Wilde said that if you're going to tell people the truth, you had better make them laugh or they will kill you.
Tar Heel: What do you think are the biggest issues for people living in Brunswick, and how can the Libertarian Party help alleviate those burdens?
Bias: I think one of the biggest issues is lack of "smart" growth. Growth that benefits the community and not the ones making the backroom deals. I think innovation attracts a lot of smart growth. Free markets allow competition to create better products and better services.
Tar Heel: What one thing have you, as Chair, or your affiliate, accomplished that makes you the most proud?
Bias: There’s no prouder accomplishment than being on the side of liberty and being beside others who feel as passionately as I do.
Tar Heel: Following up on that, what did you try that you wish you could get a mulligan?
Bias: We planned a “Let Her Speak” Jorgensen protest convoy right before a massive summer thunderstorm. All of the chalk markers on our windows and posters and pictures we created were ruined in a matter of seconds. I chuckle every time I think back to it. Hey, we tried!
Tar Heel: So what’s next for Brunswick? What are your plans and goals for the next several months into 2024?
Bias: The main goal for Brunswick County is growing the affiliate. With additional growth, our reach can make a difference but the numbers have to be there.
Tar Heel: And what about Jennifer, what do you see in your immediate, and not-so-immediate, future?
Bias: I just stay in a position that’s ready to pivot and try to help others to do the same. Be ready for rapid change.
Tar Heel: Finally, something we like to ask everyone, what message would you like to send to other Libertarians, Liberty warriors, and even those who are Liberty curious around the state of North Carlina?
Bias: Sometimes the fight for Liberty can look so dark and overwhelming. “Who am I to make a difference? Can a difference even be made at this point?” And to that I say, you are a drop of water in the ocean. Every word you speak, smile you smile, action you take can help another. As each day passes, the “two” parties get more and more extreme, alienating their own bases. In these dystopian times, a message of true Liberty has never sounded sweeter to those looking for new answers! Never give up. Never ever ever.
Tar Heel: Jennifer, what a beautiful message to close with. Thank you so much for your time today. Fascinating conversation, and we appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing what you have in store.
Check out Jennifer as a panel member on the Liberty iNC podcast, Season 3, Episode 5, as well.