Elizabeth Cook: Who will turn out for May primary?

Published 12:23 am Sunday, March 11, 2018

The title bout in this May’s primary in Rowan County will be the Republican race for three seats on the Board of Commissioners. The contest has some interesting twists.

It’ll be deja vu all over again in at least one way. Jim Sides, once the commission chairman, is making a run for his fourth term, though none of his terms have been consecutive.

Either voters can’t make up their minds about Sides or his fate rises and falls with the conservative tide. Probably the latter, because most everybody who knows Sides has a firm opinion.

Sides first rode into office in 1980 with the Reagan landslide, then stepped away for a few years. He was elected again in 2004, the year George W. Bush was re-elected president, but Sides lost a re-election bid four years later, when Obama ran for president.

Then came the candidacies in non-presidential years. Voters gave Sides a third term in 2010. They were less enthused in 2014 and turned him out in the primary.

Third time’s the charm, the saying goes. Fourth time? That’s just plain stubborn. 

Craig Pierce’s candidacy is another oddity. He won re-election two years ago and has two more years in his term, yet he has chosen to run again now. He wants four more years, not just two.

What’s the scheme here? Win a new seat and appoint his own replacement? Avoid running the same year President Trump is on the ballot? 

Pierce says he just wants to see some pet projects through to completion. A lot of people are not buying that.

Mike Julian is the only first-timer in the GOP primary for county commissioner. He ran for school board a couple of years ago, challenging Chairman Josh Wagner for the East Rowan seat. Wagner won with 52 percent of the vote.

Julian, Pierce and Sides appear to be running as a group against three commissioners who first won in 2014 and are running as a team this year — Chairman Greg Edds, Vice Chairman Jim Greene and Judy Klusman.

Edds seems to be the main target, probably because he has become the face of Rowan County’s push for growth. Edds has been  rallying the troops, rethinking strategies, preaching the Rowan message everywhere he goes.

Greene is right behind him but in a more laid-back way. Most people forget that Greene was actually the leading vote-getter in this race four years ago. Greene received 19,553 votes, Edds got 18,152 and Klusman came in third with 13,062.

Greene wasn’t interested in being chairman. Edds was. And still is.

Similarly, when Pierce and Mike Caskey won re-election two years ago, Caskey was the leading vote-getter. Thanks to the fact that he ran in a presidential year, Caskey has received the most votes of anyone on the board — 38,666 to Pierce’s 31,318. The quietest member of the commission is also, votewise, the most popular.

Without many races on the primary ballot in May, voter interest could be low, even if this is a battle for the soul of Rowan County — old guard-style conservatives trying to regain control of the county commission.

The new crew has stayed true to the other group’s convictions when it comes to the ACLU prayer lawsuit and not raising taxes. But they are friendlier to prospective industry and incentives, more willing to spend on economic development and marketing, more inclined to partner with Salisbury and other municipalities rather than poke a stick in their eye. The new crew is also less hostile to teachers and the school system. 

Other races on the Republicans’ May primary ballot in different parts of Rowan County will be these:

N.C. Senate District 33: Current Rep. Carl Ford will be running against popular Stanly County educator Bill Sorenson. The district includes Stanly and Rowan.

N.C. House District 83: Photographer Michael A. Anderson is running against incumbent Rep. Larry Pittman. Both have Concord addresses. The district includes parts of China Grove, Landis, Kannapolis and Concord.

A new district map “doublebunked” Ford and Pittman in the 83rd House District, meaning they would have had to run against each other. Ford opted to seek the new 33rd Senate district seat instead.

Will these races and the commission race be enough to draw out a large number of people to vote in the Republican primary? No. Primaries are primaries — inside baseball to those with only passing interest in politics. So which contingent will turn out in the highest numbers — old guard or new guard? The answer is critical.

Democratic primaries affecting Rowan:

• U.S. House District 8: Frank McNeill, Scott Huffman and Marc Tiegel. The winner will face Rep. Richard Hudson in the fall.

• U.S. House District 13: Kathy Manning and Adam Coker are vying for the chance to run against Republican Rep. Ted Budd.

• N.C. House District 83: Gail Young and Senah Andrews

Democrats are swimming against the tide in Rowan, a county dominated by Republicans.  But you never know. Anything can happen.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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