Jefferson County Democratic chair, challengers meet public

Published 12:13 am Thursday, February 13, 2020

The three candidates for Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair each gave their own interpretation of what that position entails before the Port Arthur public during a candidate forum at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Ava Graves knows it firsthand as the incumbent. She’s the first African American and the second woman to hold that position in the county.

“We make sure we get our candidates filed and certified with the secretary of state, recruiting and retaining qualified candidates,” the Beaumont resident said. “My role is also to identify leaders within the community who reflect our community.”

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That’s what fellow Beaumonter Joseph Trahan would like to do if he beats Graves and Port Arthur native Paul Martin in the March 3 primary.

“If you look at our county races the last couple of cycles, while we’ve had Democratic victories, they haven’t been by a landslide,” Trahan said. “I think part of that has to do with our lack of broadening our base. We have got to engage with people in Port Arthur, places that are unincorporated like Hamshire and Fannett and also try to build a cross-section of support, not just among the African American community or the white community, but also the Hispanic community and be willing to engage with young voters as well. We have got to build a coalition if we want to keep the last blue county in Jefferson County in existence.”

Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair candidate Joseph Trahan speaks during Tuesday’s Democratic candidate forum.

Jefferson County nearly went blue in the 2016 presidential election, as 42,828 voted for Republican Donald Trump — 424 more than Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to Politico. Of Texas’ 254 counties, Clinton won the popular vote in 27 of them.

“Overall, we’re just looking to make sure Donald Trump is not re-elected in Jefferson County,” Trahan said. “In 2016, he was elected by 500 votes. We have 500 votes in Jefferson County.”

Martin said the party chair role includes “a huge amount of responsibilities,” including meeting monthly with precinct chairs and raising campaign funds.

“It would be my responsibility that the party is run transparently and as efficiently as possible,” Martin said.

Graves was elected to the position in September to fulfill the remaining term of Cade Bernsen, and all three spoke highly of him.

“Cade Bernsen did a wonderful job restructuring the Democratic Party,” Graves said. “He raised a quarter of a million dollars. I don’t know if I can meet or surpass his standards. I am a person who gets things done.”

Said Martin: “We have a good foundation in place to build upon to make the party even better.”

Trahan recalled Bernsen opening the campaign headquarters to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Graves touted her creation of a Texas Young Democrats chapter in the county and her ability to lead with kindness.

Martin said he had no bone to pick with Graves when asked what he could do better than her as party chair.

“Being a Democrat, for me, means fighting for all people, no matter who they are,” Martin said. “It means seeing the humanity in people and fighting for that.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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