One is a former Democrat, and the other is a former Republican. Today, they’re both running for office in the N.C. House as Libertarian candidates.
In an election so focused on whether Republicans will maintain control of the General Assembly, Robyn Pegram of Apex and Erik Raudsep of Durham are part of the effort to further establish third parties in North Carolina’s political landscape.
Robyn Pegram is running to represent District 36 against Republican incumbent Nelson Dollar and Democratic Julie Von Haefen. Pegram was a registered Democrat until the controversy around HB2 — a state law that required transgender people in government facilities to use the bathroom matching their birth certificate. Pegram is 25 years old and works at a bank. She is engaged to a woman.
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The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed HB2 over opposition from most Democrats, and later partially repealed it. Still, she didn’t feel Democrats did enough for LGBT people.
“I felt marginalized, especially with the Democratic Party. They would champion the LGBT community as being a focal point of the party,” Pegram said, “that they were important and that they have a voice within the party. It quickly became apparent that wasn’t the case.”
Pegram, a first-time political candidate, said she’s always considered herself a Libertarian. She said she’s running because “government has failed its citizens.”
People have had mixed reactions to a Libertarian knocking on their door, Pegram said. Some people said they preferred voting along party lines and didn’t give her much of a chance to talk about the Libertarian platform. Others were excited at the prospect of a new choice, outside of Democrats and Republicans.
Pegram says quite a few people operate on the assumption the Libertarian Party is “a whole bunch of white, middle-aged males that hate taxes.” She says that’s not the case.
The platform of the Libertarian Party focuses on limiting government involvement in all aspects of citizens’ lives, economically and socially.
Erik Raudsep, a former Republican, crossed over to the Libertarian Party after moving to Durham 10 years ago from New York. Raudsep is running to represent District 31 in the N.C. House against Democrat Zack Hawkins and Republican Torian Webson. Democrat Mickey Michaux is the current representative and is retiring.
Raudsep is 39 years old and owns a home inspection company.
Raudsep said he has seen problems in Durham centered around affordable housing and good wages. He says the Libertarian Party offers solutions to many of these problems, and wants to be at the forefront.
“I’ve been politically active all these years. I’ve worked behind the scenes all these years. Why don’t I run?” Raudsep said.
Raudsep’s experience campaigning this election is similar to Pegram’s.
“Whenever I encounter an individual, I take it as an education opportunity,” Raudsep said. That’s what he says is the first step in building the foundation for third parties like the Libertarian Party.
“The education foundation has already been laid, and now we are working on building the credibility,” Raudsep said. “That’s why we have such strong candidates in North Carolina.”
At times, however, the Libertarian Party had difficulty even getting on the ballot.
“We would spend a large part of our effort and time and money and talking to people in getting signatures to actually get candidates on the ballot,” said Susan Hogarth, the chair of the party in North Carolina.
Hogarth says there were “these really ridiculous requirements” they had to meet for ballot access, which involved gathering petition signatures. She says it wasn’t until Libertarian candidates for governor started meeting a minimum threshold of votes that they were able to consistently get candidates on the ballot.
A Republican supermajority in the legislature didn’t hurt either. “[The Republicans] found it very politically expedient to lower that threshold so that basically the Green Party could come on board and handicap the Democrats,” Hogarth said. “That’s a poor way of thinking, but it worked for the Greens and lowered the threshold for all of us.”
The Green Party attained ballot access in the spring, according to Michael Trudeau, vice chairman of the Green Party. This election, they have four candidates running for office on all levels across North Carolina.
One of those candidates is Robert Corriher, 36 years old and a community organizer for the Green Party, who lives in Greensboro. Corriher is in arguably one of the most heated congressional races in the state. He is facing incumbent Republican Ted Budd and Democrat Kathy Manning for congressional district 13.
“I’ve heard this several times in the last couple of days: [People] probably wouldn’t be voting if there wasn’t a candidate like me in the races,” Corriher said, in a phone interview. “That’s what we are trying to say to people who say voting for the Green Party is a wasted vote.”
Corriher is well aware he probably won’t win this election. The district, he said, is “gerrymandered in a way that makes it easy for Ted Budd to win.”
“Our goal is to put ourselves in a great position for the future. We are going to get brand new congressional races soon. The next time we run these elections, we are going to have much fairer districts,” Corriher said. “We want to get experience running campaigns on all levels.”
The Green Party focuses predominantly on environmental and social issues, and they say they support a democratically run economy.
Corriher said people listen to the Green Party because they talk about topics Democrats shy away from, such as mass incarceration, private prisons and some foreign policy topics.
“The Democratic Party sets out every year, and assumes everyone who isn’t a Republican is going to vote for them,” Corriher said. “We offer a full-throated message of going on the offense against the far right.”