Editorial: County’s politics won’t be quiet for long

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 1, 2020

It wasn’t an especially surprising statement considering local politics at the time and the person who was making it — Craig Pierce, who’s made it known that he says what he speaks his mind without frills attached.

A still-new group of county commissioners — Greg Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman — voted to cancel contracts with a company set to do work at the West End Plaza for what would become office space for Veterans Services and the Rowan County Board of Elections. And Pierce, still with suspicions about what the new group might do at the former mall, wasn’t happy.

“All I can say is this is the best commission that the city council’s money can buy,” Pierce said. “And you know what I mean.”

It was a different time in local politics. The Rowan County Board of Commissioners didn’t get along with the Salisbury City Council, or much of anyone for that matter. Since then, the new board of commissioners, with Edds at the helm, has embarked on a yearslong redemption tour. They’ve improved relations with the Salisbury City Council, committed tens of millions in new funding to the Rowan-Salisbury School Board and paid money to create a website with articles promoting good things in the community.

And in what seems like an anomaly, politics on the county board are relatively quiet — with no major personality conflicts or controversial items of note.

Since Pierce unsuccessfully ran midterm in 2018 in an unmistakable attempt to oust Edds, Greene or Klusman, the board has settled in and gotten to work — most notably landing a fulfillment center that’s expected to create more than 1,200 jobs. Rowan County’s prayer lawsuit formally ended in 2018. Commissioners also seem to be moving in the same direction on West End Plaza, with plans to build an agricultural center. As for school funding, commissioners have agreed on a number and are mostly waiting on the Rowan-Salisbury School Board to make a decision.

With only two options, the 2020 commissioners primary is the most intriguing local election, but it mirrors what’s now a quiet political scene.

No major conflicts have emerged in the race. Candidates are simply campaigning on their ideas or, in incumbent Mike Caskey’s and Pierce’s case, their records.

In presidential elections years, local races tend to be void of the same excitement as during the midterms. But even in the 2016 Republican primary, challenger Johnny Love raised questions about incumbent commissioners’ negativity, saying things had changed but that there was “still lots of negativity on the board.” The entire board was not working toward the greater good, he said.

That candidates aren’t questioning one another’s ideas or accomplishments doesn’t mean an easy win for incumbents Pierce and Caskey, who’s limited in his ability to campaign because of an ongoing training assignment with the Army Reserves. Withers has a chance to win a spot on the board in turning out folks who like his ideas or are fundamentally opposed to Pierce’s way of doing business on the board.

As part of his campaign, Withers has publicized endorsements from community figures, including popular country artist Darrell Harwood, leaders of local towns and business owners.

Who wins the Republican primary is anyone’s guess, but Rowan County is likely to return to politics as usual after the primary ends.

Even though it will be a presidential year, there will be competitive local and state races on the ballot, including the 76th District state House campaign between Al Heggins and incumbent Rep. Harry Warren and the Rowan-Salisbury School Board race, where school closures or lack thereof will surely be a major point of contention. We may also see some local campaigning by candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and, if history is any guide, surrogates for presidential campaigns.

Things are quiet now in Rowan County, but it won’t be that way for long.