Two of the five seats on the Haywood board of commissioners are up for election in 2016. A primary election in March will narrow down the field, with two candidates from each party advancing to the general election in November.
One of the seats up for election is held by Democrat Mark Swanger, who’s not running again after a 12-year reign, much of it as chairman. Swanger stepping down opens the door for at least one newcomer on the county board, but it hasn’t triggered a tidal wave of candidates so far.
To the contrary, the ballot for commissioner was looking rather spartan until now. This time last week — with mere days to go before candidate sign-up got underway on Dec. 1 — no Democratic candidates had publicly announced that they would run, despite a recruiting committee courting and vetting prospective candidates.
Two candidates who decided to run said they did so in part because they saw a need for quality leadership that didn’t appear to be getting filled.
“I saw a need in the community and saw there was nobody stepping back and said it’s my time,” said Charles Boyd, who owns a landscaping business and serves on the Haywood Community College board.
Boyd said he got several phone calls from what you’d call “high-ranking Democrats” in the county asking him to consider a run.
“I got drafted, you might say, but now that I’ve decided to run we are going to give it 150 percent,” Boyd said.
Steve Brown also answered the call for Democratic commissioner candidates.
“At certain times you have to make a decision to step up and get involved. We need people that are willing to step up,” said Brown, a nonprofit director.
A third candidate to emerge wasn’t motivated by the idea of a leadership void. It was something she wanted to do regardless of whether there were 100 other candidates or none at all.
“I have been thinking about this for two years,” said Robin Black, an accountant with a past stint on the school board.
Black hadn’t let on to party leaders that she was considering a run until this week, right before the filing period began.
“I didn’t want anyone to know my plan. I felt like it was me and my family’s decision and when we made it I told everybody,” Black said.
Black said she is a lifelong Democrat — her grandfather was a Haywood County commissioner and he would roll over in his grave if she was anything but — however she describes herself as an “extremely” fiscally conservative Democrat who believes in limited government.
A fourth candidate jumping into the Democratic primary is an anti-establishment candidate who has been just as likely to side local Republican party activists as his own Democratic party leaders in recent years.
“I don’t want people to be look at me as a Democrat, I don’t want people to be looking at me as a Republican, I don’t want people looking at me as an independent,” said Terry Ramey, who ran a wrecker business for years. “I am a Democrat all the way, but I’ve got friends who are Republicans and a lot of Democrats get mad about it, but I stand on my own two feet. I believe in doing what’s right for all the people.”
Ramey said he sees himself as just as much of a Democrat as any of the other candidates in the mixed-up world of party politics these days.
Party affiliations are no longer tidy lines to define candidates along, especially in local politics, with a wide spectrum of beliefs in each party and crossover where moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats meet.
“There is no real true Democrats like there used to be. You can’t find them anymore,” Ramey said. “People are voting for the person now.”
More candidates could emerge before the sign-up period concludes on Dec. 21.
Regardless, the lineup even as it stands so far gives primary voters distinct options to choose which flavor of Democrat they more closely identify with, and whose leadership style or philosophy they want to put forward on the party’s ballot in the general election.
“I think there is going to be a wide variety of candidates,” Ramey said.
Meanwhile, Republicans running for commissioner have kept their cards close to their vest. So far, only Commissioner Kevin Ensley has announced that he will run as a Republican, vying for his fourth term on the county board.
More are sure to come, however. A schism in the local Republican Party promises to make for a competitive primary — with candidates representing a spectrum of views.
A wildcard in the race could come in the form of an independent candidate not affiliated with either party, but it could be months before such a candidate is known. Unaffiliated candidates have until June 24 to register, but to get on the ballot, they would need to collect around 1,700 petition signatures, equivalent to 4 percent of the registered voters in the county.
Here’s who is running on the Democratic ticket of the Haywood Commissioner’s race so far:
• Robin Black, 53, is a certified public accountant and owns her own accounting firm, making her highly knowledgeable about the government accounting and budget process. She also served on the school board for four years, and was chair of the school finance committee during that time.
“I believe we need a fiscally responsible, budgeted-minded female on the board that has years of experience dealing with government accounting, and running a business,” Black said.
Black points out there have been only two female commissioners in the history of Haywood County.
“I believe women have a different perspective. They are business owners, they are working women, they are housewives, they are mothers — they need a voice,” Black said.
• Charles Boyd, 67, owns WNC Landscaping and taught horticulture at the high school and community college level for three decades. Boyd has been an appointee on the Haywood Community College board for 12 years, along with involvement in numerous community causes.
Boyd said he wants to keep the county on the right track and moving forward.
“I’d like to make sure we preserve the inner structure of our county and keep it functioning at a high level,” Boyd said. “I have always had an aspiration to run for public office. I hope I can make a difference to the community.”
Boyd said protecting education will also be a priority of his.
• Steve Brown, 62, was co-owner of the hometown hardware store Cline-Bradley for 20 years, and has spent the past 20 as a nonprofit director for the Haywood County Schools Foundation, the Haywood hospital foundation and currently the Arc of Haywood County, which serves individuals and their families with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Brown said the second half of his career as a nonprofit director has given him experience working with boards and the many personalities involved to accomplish a vision.
“I feel like one of my strengths is building consensus to reach a goal,” Brown said.
Brown said he is running to preserve the positive qualities that have made Haywood County a good place to grow up, work and raise a family.
“I want to offer a vision for the county and use my past experience and expertise to lead Haywood County for the next generations coming along,” said Brown.
• Terry Ramey, 61, ran a towing business, service station and a mechanic shop catering to big-rigs, and also worked at Dayco. Ramey said the current board of commissioners isn’t all bad — he doesn’t disagree with them all the time, nor does he agree with them all the time — but said they have become out of touch with the people and have toed the party line too much.
“I’ve been going to commissioner meetings for years and all I see is people bickering back and forth, people saying stuff to commissioners and commissioners getting mad and saying stuff to the people. I think you can agree to disagree with people without saying stuff to try to degrade each other. I think I’ve got a strong enough voice to where I can bring unity between all of them.”