There was a minor rush the first day of election filing three weeks ago, with five commissioner candidates crossing paths in the election office to fill out registration paperwork. Then a long lull ensued with no new names coming along until the last two days.
Two of the five seats on the county board are up for election in 2016. Four Democrats and three Republicans have thrown their hats in the ring.
Only two candidates from each party will advance past the primary election on March 15, an earlier date than in years past following a decision by state lawmakers to move the primary up.
Here’s how the two primary ballots for Haywood commissioner have shaped up.
Long-time commissioner Kevin Ensley is running for re-election, along with two challengers, Greg Burrell and Brandon Rogers.
The primary will pit two camps of the local Republican Party, which has splintered over the past two years, against each other. A conservative branch with ideological ties to the Tea Party movement has taken control of the local party apparatus, ousting the more mainstream and moderate Republicans.
Ensley hails from the moderate camp of mainstream Republicans. He has been criticized by more right-wing members of the party for not being conservative enough during his time on the county board.
Burrell falls squarely in the ideological camp and was part of a movement to take over the party. Burrell believes the county is on the wrong track and sees Ensley as part of the problem, pointing out that he almost always votes in line with the Democratic majority on the board of commissioners and thus can’t possibly be Republican enough if he is voting with the Democrats.
Rogers, meanwhile, comes from neither camp of the party. He is a newcomer to politics and decided to run by his own volition. While neither camp recruited him, both are eager to claim him.
Rogers actually met with representatives from both camps before making his final decision to run.
“I have both groups’ support at this time,” Rogers said.
Indeed, both Ensley and Burrell spoke positively of Rogers.
“He has contributed to the community and he is well thought of in the community,” Ensley said. “I think he will be a great candidate for the Republican Party.”
Burrell said he supports Rogers, too.
As for Rogers, he is staying neutral.
“I want to work with all the ones who are elected, no matter who it is, in a positive manner,” Rogers said.
Rogers said he doesn’t mind working with members of the opposite party either.
“Yeah, I am registered Republican, but I have a whole lot of Democratic friends and supporters,” said Rogers, who said he hopes people consider him as a person rather than someone from a particular party.
Here’s a snapshot of the candidates:
• Greg Burrell, 44, owner of Burrell Construction from Canton.
Burrell said the current county commissioners have lost the support of average people and become too insular.
“They have been in there way too long. I hate to use the term ‘the buddy system,’ but they keep it tight-knit,” Burrell said. “You need the common man up there, the working man, to understand what we are going through.”
Burrell said the county is prone to wasteful spending and taxes are “way too high.”
“There is going to have to be some penny-pinching done to get this county back on track,” Burrell said, adding that America is on the wrong track as well.
• Kevin Ensley, land surveyor
Ensley said he wasn’t sure whether to run again after 12 years as a commissioner, but an outpouring of people asking him to stay with it four more years appealed to his sense of civic duty.
“I think we have done a good job, and that’s what I am hearing from the public. I think it has been a stable, common sense government,” said Ensley, who prayed for weeks about what to do before deciding it was the right thing.
Ensley believes in a conservative budget without resorting to severe austerity measures, pointing to how the county has weathered the great recession during his time on the board.
“We have had a stable, calm government throughout this financial turmoil,” Ensley said, citing a lean, efficient budget.
Despite criticisms of being buddy-buddy with Democratic commissioners, Ensley said the board tries to function as a team — “which is what a board does, so we can move Haywood County in a positive direction.”
• Brandon Rogers, 44, owner of Rogers Express Lube and Tire in Canton.
“I will be honest with you, I never imagined in a million years I would be doing something like this,” Rogers said.
Rogers isn’t running because of a particular agenda, nor does he think the current commissioners are running the county into the ground.
But people in the community kept telling him he should run, so he finally considered it, and after much prayer realized if he could help the county, it was his responsibility to step up.
“I feel like I could be an asset to help with the decisions that are made,” Rogers said.
Rogers is active in the community — from coaching youth sports to serving as a church deacon to working as a fill-in deputy for the sheriff’s office.
Rogers worked for Day International in Arden 14 years but gave up his job security and steady paycheck to open a lube and tire shop with his father in his hometown.
Rogers believes in striking a balance when it comes to county spending.
“We can run efficiently while providing the services we need to for the people in our county,” Rogers said. “The health and safety of the people in Haywood County are important to me, especially our children and elderly. I have kids in the school system and my grandparents are elderly and I believe in taking care of them.”
Four candidates are running on the Democratic ballot.
All signed up the first day of candidate registration three weeks ago and were highlighted in their own article the week election filing kicked off.
Get caught up at smokymountainnews.com — type “Haywood primary” in the search box.
Meanwhile, here’s the quick list of the four Democratic candidates. Note that Commissioner Mark Swanger, a Democrat whose seat is up for election, is not running again, bringing four newcomers to the race.
• Robin Black, 53, a certified public accountant who owns her own accounting firm.
• Charles Boyd, 67, owns WNC Landscaping.
• Steve Brown, 62, director of the non-profit Arc of Haywood County.
• Terry Ramey, 61, retired from the towing and mechanic business.