Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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Voters defeat sales tax (for 4th time), set partisan line-ups for fall, decide new register of deeds

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The return of paper ballots to Alamance County went off without a hitch, according to the local elections office, as tens of thousands of areas residents went to the polls on Tuesday to choose the contenders from each major party who’ll duke it out in November’s general election.

Residents who took part in Tuesday’s primaries ultimately gravitated toward practiced politicians as they determined the slates in some of the county’s more competitive contests.

In the meantime, voters in the Republican primary have effectively reinstalled the former register of deeds David Barber in his old post at the deeds office. In the absence of any Democratic contender, Barber will run unopposed in the general election.

Equally final is the fate of a proposed 1/4-cent hike in the county’s sales tax rate, which was rejected by nearly 60 percent of the voters who turned out for the primaries.

The referendum on this sales tax increase had been the only item to grace all of the 31,518 ballots that the local elections office had tallied after the polls closed on Tuesday. The question had been tacked on to each ballot by the county’s all-Republican board of commissioners, who had said they would use the proceeds of the sales tax increase to reduce the county’s levy on property. According to the preliminary tally from the night of the election, some 12,428 voters, or about 40.60 percent of the referendum’s participants, accepted the board’s proposed tradeoff, which was nevertheless snubbed by another 18,183 voters, or about 59.40 percent of the total.

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This prospective sales tax increase was the fourth to be mauled by the county’s voters since 2010, when a disappointing property tax revaluation compelled the commissioners to hold a sales tax referendum in that year’s general election. This hike ultimately tanked with than 70 percent of the voters, while another referendum in 2012 was rejected just as roundly by the local electorate. The margin of defeat was less overwhelming in 2018, when 54.38 percent of the voters turned down a proposed sales tax hike that was supposed to offset the property tax impact of two education-related bond packages, which were overwhelmingly approved at the same time.

Board of Commissioners

Tuesday’s sales tax referendum had been something of a parting gift from the five present members of the county’s governing board – three of whom plan to step down when their current terms run out later this year. The mass retirement of these incumbent commissioners had touched off a scramble within both major parties to fill the board’s three available seats. By the time that the state cut off the registration period for candidates, five Democrats and seven Republicans had thrown their hats into the ring, forcing both parties to hold primaries to select their three nominees for the board.

Voters in the GOP’s primary identified their party’s three favorites as William “Bill” Lashley, John Paisley, Jr., and Pamela Tyler Thompson.

Lashley, whose father of the same name is one of the county’s three incumbent commissioners who will retire this fall, ultimately led the field with 7,324 votes, or 21.12 percent of the total, according the preliminary results from the night of the primary. Paisley, a local attorney who briefly served as a county commissioner in 2014 after he was tapped to fill a vacant seat on the dais, clinched 6,751 votes, or 19.46 percent of the total, in his bid to return to the county’s governing board. Meanwhile, Thompson, an outgoing member of the Alamance-Burlington school board, nabbed 5,827 votes, or 16.80 percent of those cast in this race.

A veteran of several campaigns for the nonpartisan school board, Thompson narrowly edged out political newcomer James Kirkpatrick to win the third slot on the GOP’s slate. With 5,675 votes, or 16.36 percent of the total, Kirkpatrick bested fellow first time candidates Blake E. Williams and Jim Johnson, who respectively received 3,668 and 3,341 votes, or 10.57 and 9.63 percent of those cast in this race. Another 2,100 votes, or 6.05 percent, went to David Michael Spruill, who currently holds a nonpartisan elected position as a water and soil conservation supervisor.

The top honors in the Democratic Party’s primary, likewise, went to would-be county commissioners with some previous knowledge of the campaign trail.

The first place finisher among the party’s five candidates was Kristen Powers, who made her political debut as a candidate for the board of commissioners in 2018. According to the preliminary results from Tuesday’s primary, Powers won 10,588 votes, or 27.08 percent of those cast in the opening round of her second campaign for the board. Powers finished slightly ahead of former county commissioner Bob Byrd, who lost his seat in 2018 when the Republican Party gained control of the county’s entire governing board. Byrd has nevertheless peddled back from the political wilderness with 10,058 votes, or 25.72 percent of the total. Meanwhile, the third-place finisher, and the only newcomer among the Democratic Party’s three nominees, is Dreama J. Caldwell, who garnered 7,098 votes, or 18.15 percent of the primary’s preliminary tally.

The first runner-up in the Democratic Party’s primary was Anthony Pierce, whose 6,131 votes account for 15.68 percent of those cast in the race. Another 5,226 votes, or 13.37 percent of the total, went to Henry Vines, a veteran of several previous bids for the board of commissioners.

Other races

In addition to narrowing the field for board of commissioners, voters in the Republican primary also selected nominees with some previous political experience for three other posts that will appear on November’s ballot.

In the race for North Carolina’s 64th state house district, the party’s voters anointed incumbent state legislator Dennis Riddell over challenger Peter McClelland to compete in the general election. Riddell won the contest with 6,225 votes, or 83.32 percent, to McClelland’s 1,246 votes, which constitute 16.68 percent of the total. Riddell will go on to face Democrat Eric Henry in November’s election.

Meanwhile, in its attempt to hold onto a district court judgeship that currently belongs to Republican Steve Messick, the GOP has pinned its hopes on assistant district attorney Rick Champion, who has previously waged an unsuccessful campaign to become Alamance County’s D.A. According to the primary’s preliminary results, Champion nabbed 7,561 votes, or 58.16 percent of the total, over attorney Julian M. Doby, who finished with 5,440 votes and 41.84 percent of those cast. Champion will now square off against fellow assistant D.A. Doug Green, the Democratic Party’s contender for Messick’s seat on the bench.

The Democratic Party has failed to field any candidates for the office of register of deeds, a position that presently belongs to Republican Hugh Webster, who had previously announced he would retire this fall. Webster’s impending departure has nevertheless attracted two would-be successors from the ranks of the local Republican Party.

Voters in the GOP’s primary ultimately awarded this post to David Barber, who had served as the county’s register of deeds prior to Webster. Barber gave up his post in the deeds office after a successful campaign to become the county’s clerk of superior court in 2010. He went on to lose the clerk’s office in 2018 after a third place finish in that year’s Republican primary.

Even so, the party’s voters have rewarded Barber with his old job as register of deeds, which he secured over political newcomer Cheryl Halacheff Marley. A current staff member in the county’s deeds office, Marley received 5,919 votes, or 46.56 percent of those cast in the primary, in contrast to Barber’s 6,793 votes, or 53.44 percent of the total.

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