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Endorsements in school board race draw ire from those left out

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Voters won’t see party affiliation next to the names of Rowan-Salisbury School Board candidates, but local political parties already have their favorite candidates picked out.

On the GOP side, the school board’s three incumbents have received the backing of the Rowan County Republican Party. Alisha Byrd, running for the 5th District seat, and Rob “Dr. Rob” Robertson, running for the 7th District seat, have secured the support of the Rowan County Democratic Party.

Local party support means candidates’ names will appear on fliers and material passed out at polling locations. The fliers may tell voters which candidates most line up with the local parties’ values. In 2014, Republicans promoted Dean Hunter, the board’s current vice chairman; Travis Allen, who also won a seat on the board; and Phil Hardin, who was unsuccessful in his bid for school board.

Republicans formally endorsed their three favorite candidates this week. The endorsement, however, leaves out an equal number of registered Republicans — Michael Julian, Gene Miller and Andrew Poston. In one case, the Republican Party chose to endorse a candidate — School Board Chairman Josh Wagner — when the only other candidate running is a Republican — Julian.

“Why continue to drive a wedge in between people by endorsing one candidate over the other?” Julian said in an interview with the Salisbury Post. “I think the party should stay out of it and let the people decide who they want.”

It’s understandable for the local party to endorse a candidate when there’s a Republican and Democrat running for the same seat, Julian said. Even if  two Republicans and one Democrat are running for the same seat, Julian said it is OK for the local party to endorse a candidate.

“But in my case, there’s no Democrat running,” he said. “It’s just two Republicans.”

There are only two Democrats running for the Rowan-Salisbury School Board. Byrd and Robertson are both registered Democrats, according to the State Board of Elections. As a result, Democrats have chosen to support all of the Democrats running.

This year isn’t the first time local parties have picked their favorite candidates. It’s also not the first time candidates have been left without an endorsement from their own party. However, candidates last week immediately drew public attention to the matter after the local Republican Party gave endorsements.

For his part, Poston equated the local Republican Party’s decision to an endorsement of school consolidation — something incumbents considered and publicly discussed this year before dropping the idea.

“The county party should have stayed out of my race and Mike’s race,” Poston wrote in a Facebook past. “But that’s okay, tonight they made it starkly clear that they do not care what is right for our school children. They chose politics over principle and if they want a political race, well, I’ll just show them politics.”

When asked about the party’s decision to endorse candidates, Rowan Republican Chairman Stephen Kidd provided an emailed statement saying the local party “cares greatly” about the children of Rowan County.

“The Republican Party has endorsed candidates in nonpartisan races for years, such as judges, city council, etc,” Kidd said in his emailed statement. “We gave 10 days written and verbal notice to all 6 candidates of our intent and their opportunity to address the Party prior to our decision. It is the party’s intent to guide the Republicans in Rowan County on what we believe are the right choices for these vital positions.”

Kidd said the three incumbents have served in their roles admirably.

Involvement in the local party may be one difference between the candidates who received an endorsement and those who didn’t. Wagner, Hughes and Cox have been more frequently present at events associated with the Republican Party than Julian, Miller and Poston.

State Board of Elections records show all six Republican candidates as Republicans with an active registration. State Board of Elections records show school Board Member Chuck Hughes is the only one of the six who has voted in a Democratic Party primary. Other differences are relatively negligible. Between Julian and Wagner, for example, the only difference is that Wagner has voted more frequently than Julian. Wagner, for example, has cast ballots in more Republican Party primaries and second primaries than Julian.

Despite the ire that endorsements have drawn from those left out, last week’s decision wasn’t unanimous.

Republicans who participated in the endorsement told the Salisbury Post that the party’s central committee met to endorse the incumbents. Later, the party called its executive committee — a larger group of people than the central committee — to decide on whether to endorse and who should receive support.

The executive committee includes people who hold positions within the local party, are precinct chairs, or hold publicly elected positions.

Candidates were given an opportunity to speak during the executive committee meeting. Local Republicans then held a voice vote to decide whether to endorse. Ballots were then used to decide which individual candidates would receive an endorsement.

When asked about this week’s endorsement, local attorney Todd Paris, who sits on the executive committee, said he argued against the decision to endorse. Paris also helped organize a movement against school consolidation, from which Poston and Julian emerged as school board candidates.

“I just think it is an issue and I think it was always an issue,” Paris said about endorsements in nonpartisan races. “They’ve done this to a lot of different people … you basically end up with some people deciding to leave the party and they feel betrayed.”

Paris said he’d prefer for the school board races to be explicitly partisan, with party affiliation on the ballot. However, it’s unclear whether party labels would make much of a difference in races, he said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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