“My father told me to never do this. But it’s so incredibly interesting…It’s fascinating to see five people come together to get things done. My father made it look easy. But now that I’m seeing the sausage being made, I know this job is really hard.” – Incoming county commissioner William T. Lashley on the advice he received from his father, outgoing commissioner William H. Lashley
As the son and namesake of one of Alamance County’s most prominent commissioners, Bill Lashley has a pedigree that may seem destined for a career on the county’s governing board.
This sense of familial legacy was reinforced in this month’s general election, when Lashley garnered enough votes to win a seat on the board just as his father and two other incumbent commissioners prepare to step down from the dais.
But this apparent pass of the baton was far from inevitable, according to the younger Bill Lashley, who insists that his decision to go into politics was never about some notion of inherited obligation. The 49-year-old commissioner-elect concedes that his father’s experience in politics has been as much a cautionary tale as an inspiration for his own electoral debut.
“When I was growing up, my dad was on the county commissioners, and my mom was a nervous wreck,” Lashley recalled in an interview. “She loved her family, and she didn’t enjoy the bad things that people were saying about my dad.”
The elder Lashley has certainly been no stranger to controversy in his two decades-plus on the county’s board of commissioners. An inveterate opponent of property taxes with a tendency not to mince words, the outspoken conservative was already making waves long before he joined the county’s governing board in 1996.
Perhaps his most contentious moment came over a decade earlier when the elder Lashley, who was then serving on Burlington’s city council, distributed an anonymous flyer to denounce the alleged left-wing sensibilities of two other council members. Although the Supreme Court has since upheld the right to disseminate such unsigned campaign materials, Lashley’s flyer gave his opponent’s a pretext to strip him of his council seat, which scotched his political career – at least for the time.
The younger Lashley still recalls the flap over this anonymous flyer, which became quite the cause célèbre while he was in high school. But the incoming commissioner also knows another side to his father as a devoted family man and a principled person of faith.
“He grew up in a really poor family,” the younger Lashley recalls. “I remember him talking about how he took money out of his own pocket when he was 16 to bury his father. He took care of his family, and that’s what he instilled in me.”
As a conscientious paterfamilias, the elder Lashley also has also tried to steer his son away from the pitfalls that he himself has encountered. The younger Lashley admits that, at one point, his father even discouraged him from running for political office.
“My father told me to never do this. But it’s so incredibly interesting,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see five people come together to get things done. My father made it look easy. But now that I’m seeing the sausage being made, I know this job is really hard.”
For a time, the outgoing commissioner’s son managed to heed his father’s advice to stay out of politics. During his 20s and 30s, the younger Lashley diverted his energies into financial markets, where his love of numbers and willingness to dig through the data proved to be a lucrative combination. Lashley initially resided as close to the action as possible while he plied his skills as a trader. His settings would ultimately include the bustling financial centers of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, until advances in e-trading allowed him to move back to Alamance County.
Lashley’s peripatetic career has exposed him to the rich tapestry of people and ideas beyond the small swath of North Carolina where he was born. But the incoming commissioner has also retained many of the values that were impressed on him by his parents.
Lashley admits that he breaks with his father on a number of key issues, such as the use of financial incentives to recruit business and industry. Whereas the elder Lashley has consistently supported publicly-funded incentives, his son is emphatic that the government shouldn’t be in the business of “picking winners and losers.”
The younger Lashley also embraces positions that may not seem out of place for his father, although he expresses his views in a way that contrasts sharply with his father’s rhetorical style. The difference is evident even when the incoming commissioner pays homage to the guiding principles that he has inherited.
“I’m conservative, and I believe in conservativism. I believe that conservativism works every time it’s tried,” the younger Lashley asserts. “That being said, my father raised me to be concerned for others and to realize that other people have feelings like I do.”
Nowhere is the distinction between father and son clearer than in their statements about the century-old Confederate monument that “guards” the north entrance to Alamance County’s courthouse. Although neither Lashley has any interest in removing the monument, the son studiously avoids any reference to Confederate hagiography when he expounds his position.
“I look at it as an inanimate object,” the younger Lashley explained in an interview. “It has no bearing on your life unless you give it the power to have an effect on your life.”
So, as he prepares to take his seat on the dais where his father has long been ensconced, the younger Lashley doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge the debt that he owes to his forbearer. At the same time, the incoming commissioner is eager to be judged on his own terms as he begins making his mark on the county’s governing board.
“I would like the people of Alamance County to give me a chance,” he added, “before they put me six feet under.”