ROY MAYNARD, email@example.com
Tyler real estate agent and businessman Michael Tolbert will be the new Smith County Democratic Party chairman. He’ll fill out the unexpired term of outgoing chair Shirley Falzone, who is stepping down for family reasons.
Tolbert will take the helm of a party that was disappointed by the Nov. 8 election results, but not dispirited.
“There’s a quote from Confucius I like,” he said in an interview on Friday. “If your timeframe is a year, plant rice. If it’s 10 years, plant a tree. If your timeframe is 100 years, educate children. Now, my term will expire in a year, but I’d like to lay the ground work for something more longterm for the Smith County Democratic Party.”
Tolbert said he hopes the party will focus on education and outreach.
“Our biggest challenge in Texas - and Smith County specifically - is to educate our citizens to make the best, and most informed decisions,” Tolbert said. “Texas has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country. I think as we address that, and as people become better educated, I think we will do a better job of electing our representatives.”
Tolbert grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, but has family roots in Tyler.
“We always came here for family reunions,” he said. “My family has been here for over 100 years.”
The 48-year-old moved to Tyler in 1999, after graduating from the University of Missouri–Rolla (now called the Missouri University of Science and Technology) with a degree in engineering management and a minor in communications.
He’s a self-employed real estate agent who also does real estate renovations. He also has a paralegal degree from Tyler Junior College.
“I’ve always voted, but my level of activism has varied,” Tolbert said. “I’ve been involved in the Smith County party for some time, and when this opportunity came up, I guess I was the right person for the job at the right time.”
The party is disappointed, he acknowledged.
“There’s disappointment that our candidate, who won by over 2 million in the popular vote, isn’t going to be our president,” he said. “But there’s also resolve in the party. We have to move forward.”
And the way to move forward is to look back to fundamental principles, he said.
“One of those guiding principles of the Democratic Party is that the United States does best when we have a strong middle class,” Tolbert said. “That’s something we’ve seen go into decline - nationally and locally - as the manufacturing jobs have left. I think that’s an important part of educating the public, is helping people to vote in their own best interests.”
He doesn’t believe that Hillary Clinton’s loss - despite winning the popular vote - is reason enough to scrap the Electoral College.
“Before we consider changing that, we need to look at all of the consequences,” he said. “I’m sure there have been situations where a candidate I would prefer won the Electoral College but didn’t win the popular vote.”
Tolbert said he’s worried that President-elect Donald Trump will undo much of the gains made for the middle class by President Barack Obama.
“I do have concerns,” he said. “I believe that President Obama was 100 percent sincere in what he did. He wanted to ensure that the decisions he made benefited everyone. But when you look at some of the proposals that the president-elect has vocalized, you wonder if any thought has been given to how it will affect the American people.”
He points to the announcement made last week that some Carrier jobs will stay in Indiana. According to the Indianapolis Star, Carrier will receive a $7 million incentive package from the state, in exchange for keeping 1,069 at its Indianapolis plant.
“I think that issue hits closer to home for us in Smith County, because Carrier left Tyler,” Tolbert said. “The jobs left. But in Indiana, it seems like a personal victory from Trump, but what’s (that precedent) going to cost the rest of the state? I’m happy for those people who get to keep their jobs, but at what cost?”
Though Texas has no Democrats elected to statewide office, Tolbert says the party still has an important role in state governance.
“We are here to hold our elected officials accountable,” he said. “The whole purpose of the political party is to influence government to best serve the people. And that’s what we want to do.”
In the short term, he added, he will focus on voter education.
“That’s what’s going to make us a stronger party,” he said.