Frederic Poag grew up in a Republican household, but the reality of war, the study of history and a thorough philosophical re-examination of the world gradually moved him in line with the Democratic Party and the intentions and outcomes of liberalism.
Poag, 36, took over as the Washington County Democratic Party chairman in March, replacing Walter Buford.
He was born in Victoria, Texas. His father, a “Reagan Republican,” worked with the National Weather Service. His mother, a “Goldwater Republican,” worked with the National Forest Service before taking a job in Johnson City at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center.
He has been living here now for 25 years and has a bachelor’s degree from East Tennessee State University in history and philosophy, as well as a master’s degree in history. He recently stepped down as ETSU College Democrats president to take the position.
“I never really took an interest in politics until 9/11 — that’s where it started,” he said. “What really got me thinking was the Iraq War. I was U.S. Marine reservist, and I had an injury. I was very much against the war. On the one hand there was a conflict, which I’m usually against. But I was injured and not active. I felt a little guilty about that.”
He then began to focus whether there was any justification for the Iraq War, and that focus exposed him to all the political factors surrounding the issue. He said he remained an independent for some time until in 2004, when he decided to support John Kerry, the then-junior Senator from Massachusetts, in his unsuccessful run for president.
“It was in 2006 when I really starting identifying myself as a Democrat,” he said. “I don’t think having Head Start or welfare is antithetical with what America is about. When I see people trying to gain equal respect, and I see other people trying to stop it, that bothers me.”
Poag worked to help President Obama get elected. He also worked last year with the Nancy Fischman campaign. The Democrat lost to incumbent state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who won a fifth term in the 7th House District. However, she landed a surprising 34.2 percent of the vote.
ETSU’s student body is more conservative than liberal, but this is the case because most who attend come from families living in the southeastern United States, he said.
“But young conservatives don’t seem to be opposed to social issues, such as gay marriage and immigration,” he said. “They’re more open to it, and I encourage that. College is a place where you should be able to talk about things out in the open.”
Poag sang out with a definite “no” when he was asked about running for political office in the future, saying instead that he would rather help with campaigns. He said his goals include growing the Democratic Party and bringing political information to the public.
East Tennessee has long been a conservative stronghold, and he knows it. He said that in the end, “it’s a numbers game.”
“But it’s also about education, especially about what’s going on at the state level,” he said. “It’s a conversation; one block; one mind at a time. It’s an interpersonal process. Either you move with progress, or it passes you by.”
People interested in contacting the Washington County Democratic Party can visit the Northeast Tennessee Democrat Resource Center, 2250 N. Roan St., or call 282-2081.