New South County Democrat officers are, from left, Kate Long, club secretary, Chad Van Lue, vice chairperson, Jeanne Arbanas, chairperson, and Betsy Vandeburg, treasurer. Leader photo/William Crandell

Archived Story

New leadership welcomed at county Democratic parties

Published 8:58am Friday, December 28, 2012

Special  to Leader Publications

Last month, the Berrien County Democratic Party and all of the local Democratic clubs held elections for new officers. Riding the crest of an election year that brought more votes to their Democratic candidates than they had received in many years, the county party has found itself experiencing a wave of new activism and membership.

“The GOP has become more extreme in their views, and more people are becoming involved in politics because they care about the direction this country is taking, they care about education and they care about the environment,” said the newly elected county chairperson Bob Miller. “These new people are bringing a lot of enthusiasm, new ideas and talents to the county party.”

Miller, a semi-retired lawyer from Three Oaks, has been involved with the Democratic Party since 2006 and has been the club chairman for the Harbor Country Progressives in Union Pier for the past four years. He has also served as the vice chairman of the Berrien County Democrats twice before but this is his first time as the county chairperson.

“Over the next two years, its important that we as a county party reach more people and build upon our recent accomplishments,” he said. “Many of the difficulties families are facing have become life and death issues, and it is important that we get as many people as possible involved in the political process so we can affect change in 2014 and do what’s right for this state and country.”

Miller also said some of the goals of the county party are more fundraising to help candidates and more social activism.

“I believe that one of the roles of the county party is to be active in the local community,” he said. “Aiding residents with food and clothing drives and letting the people of Berrien County know that we are out there and willing to help. The Harbor Country Progressives, for instance, along with Feed America, operate a mobile food pantry once a month and distribute food to up to 200 hundred families, and six mornings a year they take over The Soup Kitchen in Benton Harbor and serve the local community.”

One of the ways Miller also said he hopes to promote the County Democrats is through the use of social media outlets.

“During the 2012 elections, social media played a significant role in helping our local campaigns get organized. More of our members are utilizing social media than ever before, and we would like to bring more political awareness to the general public to promote more involvement and to keep people better informed.”

Berrien County Democratic meetings are open to the general public and are a good way to get in touch with the local Democratic clubs for people who wish to become more active. Check out the Berrien County Democrats website at or on Facebook for meeting times and locations.

South County Democratic Club

Another of the Berrien County Democratic clubs that is under newly elected leadership is the South County Democratic Club headquartered in Niles. The new chairperson is Jeanne Arbanas, of Buchanan, who is an elementary school teacher and former Buchanan councilperson. The Democratic Party of Berrien County has always been broken up into local clubs, and Arbanas said she would like to see more communication between the groups.

“One of my principal goals as a club chairperson is to establish more unity among the clubs, working together with our countywide candidates and becoming more involved with the Berrien County community as a whole,” she said.

“With new officers there is new blood in the party,” said newly elected club secretary Kate Long. “We have an opportunity for a fresh cohesiveness and to look at innovative ideas and opportunities to attract new members to all of the county clubs and the Democratic Party.”

The South County group also aims to increase membership by becoming more visible in its local area. One of itsprimary goals is to draw in more young people who would like to get involved and families with school-aged children that are worried about their future.

“I’m a stay-at home-mom and, in the past five years, I’ve become more interested and active in politics,” Long said. “I have seen firsthand how theories like trickle-down economics aren’t working and putting more of a financial burden on the middle class. The politicians running our country just don’t understand how some families are struggling just to buy milk or make a $30 co-pay when their child needs to go to the doctor. I felt that I needed to do something, I needed my voice to be heard so I became involved.”

Even though the new South County Democratic officers are still in the early stages of rebuilding their organization, they aim to have a new office open soon in the Niles area. They have also begun the process of looking at future election strategies and for new candidates for the 2014 election cycle.

“In the last election, we were closer than ever before,” Arbanas said. “If we start early and work hard, I see no reason why the Democratic Party can’t win more seats on the state and federal level in the next elections.”

The next South County Democratic Club meeting is at 6 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Bell Building in Niles.

Berrien County Democratic Women’s Group

Cindy Miller is the newly elected chairperson of the Berrien County Democratic Women’s Group. A retired teacher, Miller is also a longtime active member of the Michigan Education Association and was the president of the St. Joseph Education Association for five years.

Miller, an active political letter writer, has never hesitated to express her opinion to politicians in Lansing and Washington.

“One of the reasons that I’ve become involved with the Democratic Women’s Group is because I am appalled at how disengaged our local representatives and snators are in terms of the plight of the middle class,” Miller said. “They have no idea what families are going through, and I question how many of them even care. One of the main goals that we are setting for our group will be to get as many Democrats into office on all levels so that we can overturn some of this damaging legislation.”

According to Miller, one of the biggest issues the Democratic Party is facing is the ability to stay on message and make its collective voices  heard.

“I feel that the rhetoric that the GOP and the Tea Party delivers has distorted who we are as a country,” Miller said. “They act like the government can’t be trusted and are out to suppress the rights of the public. But the people are the government, we are this nation and we control our future.”

The Berrien County Democratic Women’s Group meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month in the basement of the St. Joseph public library at 6:30 pm. Each month, the group features a guest speaker and are open to the general public.

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  • Justine Trowbridge

    Wonderful article, terrific comments by all. As one of the former officials of South County Democratic Club I congratulate all the new officers. I’m so glad to see young people coming forward to carry the torch democracy, equality and caring for our fellow citizens. I’m looking forward to this next year of work, discussion and action.

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