Haywood commissioner field narrows
The primary for Haywood County commissioner showed clear and overwhelming support for a single front-runner from each party, and both are political newcomers.
On the Republican ticket, the top candidate came in 1,300 votes ahead of the second highest vote-getter. On the Democratic ticket, the top vote-getter also came in 1,300 votes ahead of the second-place finisher.
Two candidates from each party will advance to the general election in November, with two of the five seats on the county board up for election.
“I know I had a lot of supporters and people saying they would vote for me but I never imagined I would do as well as I did,” said Brandon Rogers, the owner of Rogers Express Lube and Tire in Canton, who led the Republican ticket. “I was real humbled by the support I received.”
Kevin Ensley, a Republican commissioner who’s served for 12 years, came in second behind Rogers.
Ensley said the reason Rogers did so well, first and foremost, is because he’s a solid candidate, a great guy and well-liked and respected in the community.
As for why Ensley trailed by such a wide margin, Ensley said several controversial issues on the commissioners’ plate over the past several months likely hurt his vote total. Rogers doesn’t have any of the baggage that sitting commissioners are saddled with simply by virtue of being in the hot seat, Ensley said. He also cited a national anti-incumbent climate right now trickling down from the presidential election.
Steve Brown, the top vote-getter in the Democratic primary, attributed his win in large part to his active community and civic involvement over the years.
“I was obviously humbled and honored to be selected as a finalist in the general election,” Brown said.
Robin Black, an accountant from the Canton area and former school board member, came in second behind Brown on the Democrat ticket, narrowly edging out the third-place candidate, Charles Boyd.
Black said she expected Brown to lead in the primary and knew it would be tooth and nail between her and Boyd for the second slot.
“I am very excited about moving on to the general,” Black said.
Mark Swanger, a long-time Democratic commissioner, did not run for re-election this year.
An interesting dynamic in the commissioner race was the large number of voters who cast a ballot for just one candidate, despite being able to chose two.
Over half those who voted in the Republican primary chose only one commissioner candidate, rather than picking their top two choices. Around one-third of those who voted in the Democratic primary voted only for one commissioner instead of two.
With the field narrowed to four candidates, the race is now considered wide open as it heads toward the general election in the fall. It’s widely considered a toss-up at this point.
The candidates all said the November election will be a close one and difficult to predict. That’s due in large part to a high level of cross-over voting, with Democrats and Republicans mixing and matching candidates, making the race a tough one to call.
“I’ve had a lot of Democrats saying ‘Hey I couldn’t vote for you in the primary, but we’ll get you in November,’” Rogers said.
Meanwhile, Brown said many Republicans have told him they couldn’t vote for him in the primary but plan to in the general election.
Ensley has a long track record of garnering support from Democratic voters during his 12 years in office. And Black, a self-described conservative Democrat, is also poised to pick up cross-over votes.
Black said she believes the independent voters — which account for around a quarter of all registered voters in the county — will be the deciding factor in the race.
“I hope they base it on the issues and vote for the people who share their beliefs,” Black said.
Black and Rogers, who are from the Canton area, are poised to do well in the east side of the county. Brown, meanwhile, is the only candidate from Waynesville, the county’s heaviest population center.
The candidates all agreed on one point: everyone who made it past the primary would be a good commissioner if they got in.
“In the fall we have four good candidates to chose from,” Ensley said. “That’s why I decided to run again, to make sure we have good candidates in the fall and we do. I think the county will be well served no matter who wins.”
“I think the citizens of Haywood County have four good candidates to chose from,” Brown agreed.
“The other three candidates are good ones and will be hard to beat,” Rogers concurred.
“I think we have some good candidates in this field,” Black added. “While everyone brings different opinions, they all would conduct themselves in a way that would make Haywood County proud and would want to do what’s best for Haywood County. I don’t believe it is anybody’s goal to divide Haywood County out of those running.”
Haywood commissioner primary
• The top two candidates from each party will advance to the fall election.
• Brandon Rogers 4,913
• Kevin Ensley 3,724
• Greg Burrell 2,240
• Steve Brown 4,702
• Robin Black 3,400
• Charles Boyd 3,201
• Terry Ramey2,235