County races: Jackson

Jackson County 

Jackson Sheriff 

About the race:  This promises to be one of the most hotly contested elections in the region this year. Current Sheriff Jimmy Ashe will step down and that has thrown the floodgates wide open for contenders — nine in all.

Candidates were going public months before the official candidate sign-up period in February. And several had turned in their election finance paperwork far in advance so they could start their campaign wheels turning.

Ashe would have been a vulnerable candidate had he decided to run, due to lack of public visibility in recent years and a series of public relations stumbles and controversies.


•Steven Lillard, assistant police chief at Western Carolina University

•Chip Hall, chief deputy in the sheriff’s department

•Glen Biller, a Haywood sheriff’s deputy

•Robin Gunnells, who has a custom truck cover business and has worked in a variety of law enforcement positions

•Doug Farmer, a Sylva police officer

•Michael Gosnell, private security guard in Highlands, with a variety of law enforcement positions over his career 


• Curtis Lambert, a Sylva police office

• Jimmy Hodgins, a retired logger

• Mary Alice Rock, a bail bondsman 


Jackson Commissioner

What’s up for election? Three of the five seats on the board.

About the race: There was a major power shift in county politics four years, after an upset election ushered in a slate of conservative-leaning candidates. Three sitting commissioners, all Democrats, were ousted by three challengers.

It’s hard to say whether the election four years ago was an indictment of the progressive policies of the commisioners at the time, or whether it was trickle-down effect from a national Republican tide that election year.

This year, Democrats are trying to take back the seats they loss, and voters will have a chance to endorse or oust the new leadership that took over four years ago.

Do I vote in all the districts, or just mine? Every voter in Jackson County gets to vote for every commissioner seat, no matter where you live in the county. While the county is parceled up into four territories for the commissioners race, the geographic districts only apply to the candidates. Candidates must live in the district of the seat they are running for, but are elected by voters countywide.


Commissioner chairman

•Jack Debnam, the current commissioner chairman and a Realtor. As an unaffiliated candidate that belongs to neither party, Debnam must gather 1,200 signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot. He has until June. 

•Brian McMahan, a Democrat, previously served as commissioner chairman but lost to Debnam in 2010. The 39-year-old chief of security at Balsam Mountain Preserve is now seeking a rematch.

Jackson commissioner: district that spans from Dillsboro to Qualla 

•Charles Elders, a Republican and sitting commissioner, is the owner/operator of Elder’s Superette. 

•Joe Ward, a Democrat and farmer, is retired from CSX Transportation. 

Jackson commissioner: district that includes Sylva and Scotts Creek

•Doug Cody, a Republican and sitting commissioner, has worked in the insurance industry for 29 years. “I feel that we’ve done a good job and there’s still more to be done, and I want to be part of that.” 

•Boyce Deitz, a Democrat, is a retired teacher and football coach. He coached former U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler as a high school quarterback, and later went to work for the congressman. 

“I have a passion about where I live, our culture and the mountains. People back in the coves and hollers don’t have a voice and I feel that they need one.”

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