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The Haywood partisan elections bill is dead, for now

The Haywood partisan elections bill is dead, for now

A bill advanced by Rep. Mark Pless (R-Haywood) to make school board and municipal elections in Haywood County partisan has fallen short, but could eventually be revived. 

“We were going to make some changes to it and then at the last minute, they didn’t give us the changes until 9 p.m. the night before it went into committee, so we had to pull it back out of committee,” Pless told The Smoky Mountain News on July 6. 

Those changes, according to Pless, were largely technical and wouldn’t have affected his desire that mayors and aldermen from Canton, Clyde, Maggie Valley and Waynesville run with party affiliations  attached to their names. The measure would have made the same change to Haywood’s nonpartisan school board elections. 

Pless thinks it’s a good idea, based on what he said were hot-button issues in the national headlines like Critical Race Theory, which is not taught in North Carolina public schools. 

When the bill  was filed, it prompted an immediate, bi-partisan backlash from Haywood municipalities, who by and large said they hadn’t been consulted about the change. 

Waynesville’s governing board, including lone Republican Julia Freeman, condemned the bill. 

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Alderman Chuck Dickson said at the time that there’s “not a Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole,” alluding to the differences in responsibility between small municipalities and more politicized state and federal governing bodies. 

Canton’s board did the same. A majority of Clyde’s board and Maggie Valley’s board — including two unaffiliated elected officials — followed suit. 

The Haywood School Board was a bit more mixed in opinion, including Chairman Chuck Francis, who vehemently opposed a similar resolution put forth by Pless’ predecessor Michele Presnell in 2017 and passed a resolution to that effect. 

Pless said that if the bill isn’t voted up before Dec. 31, it would have to be reintroduced in the General Assembly next year. However, there is a remote possibility that some action could be taken if and when legislators are called back to Raleigh in the interim. 

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