Political Notebook: Rowan Republicans send resolution to state lawmakers requesting partisan municipal, school board elections

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 1, 2022

SALISBURY — Rowan Republicans have submitted to the county’s state lawmakers a resolution requesting all municipal elections and the school board race become partisan.

All municipal elections in the county currently are nonpartisan, which includes Salisbury City Council and surrounding town boards. The Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education race is also nonpartisan.

The call for partisan elections comes after local Democrats and the Republican Women’s Group endorsed a number of candidates in the 2021 municipal races. While the Rowan County Republican Party didn’t endorse in 2021, the party’s leadership voted to follow the lead of Democrats and endorse candidates in municipal elections moving forward. Democratic Party Chairman Geoffrey Hoy told the Post making endorsements for candidates became official about four years ago.

Elaine Hewitt, chair of the Rowan County Republican Party, said the GOP resolution was signed by the executive committee Jan. 13 and that state lawmakers were aware of such discussions. But Hewitt added the party didn’t ask for lawmakers’ input or a commitment of support prior to approving the resolution.

“Members have observed that nonpartisan races have become increasingly partisan, though partisanship has existed for many years,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt said the addition of an “R” or “D” next to a candidate’s name on the ballot provides clarity, particularly since it’s already public information.

The resolution states that the county’s “political parties and related special interest group organizations are increasingly involved in these elections” and that “clarity to the electorate is of significant importance.”

Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican representing Rowan County in District 76, told the Post local Republicans’ reasoning “makes sense,” though he hasn’t been approached by other local lawmakers about the issue. Additionally, he doesn’t anticipate the filing of any legislation to make such changes before the start of the 2023-24 legislative session, which has a date that’s yet to be determined.

Warren was the only state lawmaker representing Rowan County to return a request for comment by the time of publication.

Warren said he’s willing to talk with local Democrats about the effort. Hewitt told the Post she anticipates lawmakers will have a variety of constituents and groups to consider in making their decision to support this endeavor.

“Their reasoning makes sense, as Democrats and Republicans alike support their preferred candidates in our current non-partisan municipal and school board races,” Warren said. “Making the elections partisan would make the political leanings of the candidates more transparent for the electorate, and perhaps result in more balance and diversity in those outcomes.”

Hoy said he hasn’t discussed this issue with Hewitt or Republicans and that the Democratic party has never discussed such an effort. He added it’s important to distinguish that an “endorsement is not the same as having a partisan election.” While a partisan election results in an “R” or “D” next to a candidate’s name on the ballot, endorsements can be used to mobilize voters and encourage their turnout and provide “additional guidance” as to where candidates stand on various policies, he said. He added that endorsements are also largely based on local voters’ attitudes toward policy rather than partisanship.

The drawback, he added, is the potential burden it places on “very fine people who truly want to be unaffiliated with either party.” In counties with partisan municipal elections, unaffiliated candidates must garner enough signatures from voters before petitioning for candidacy from the state Board of Elections.

“If our nonpartisan races become partisan, the candidates’ character and experience will continue to be extremely important to local voters,” Hewitt said. “How each candidate is registered is public information. Making the race partisan provides clarity for the voter.”

For the Salisbury mayoral and council race in 2021, Democrats endorsed former Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins, Rev. Anthony Smith and incumbent Tamara Sheffield. Meanwhile, the women’s group associated with the Rowan County Republican Party endorsed Mayor Karen Alexander along with council candidates Nalini Joseph and Jessica Cloward. Additionally, only Republican candidates were present this summer during a “Patriot’s Rally” held at Sloan Park.

No second attempt to push back 2022 primary election to June, Rep. Warren says

RALEIGH — Following a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper last week to push back the primary election to June, Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican from Rowan County, said there have been no discussions of a veto override or alternate legislation.

Cooper vetoed House Bill 605 seeking to push back the 2022 primary election date to June 7 instead of its currently scheduled date of May 17. March 8 was the original date scheduled for the primary before the North Carolina Supreme Court halted candidate filing in December and the primary date was pushed back to May 17. The changes are attributed to ongoing lawsuits alleging partisan gerrymandering with the newly adopted district boundaries.

Warren was among the co-sponsors of the bill. He told the Post there has been no discussion of a veto override or additional legislation.

On behalf of Senate Republicans, Warren Daniel of Burke County called Cooper’s veto a “pure political power play.”

“This commonsense legislation alleviated an unnecessarily constricted timeline for candidate filing and initiating the election process,” Daniel said. “It also made necessary changes to the municipal election timeline requested by the State Board of Elections. The party-line vote on House Bill 605 and Gov. Cooper’s veto lay bare what redistricting litigation really is — nothing more than a pure political power play.”

Earlier this month, Cooper and fellow Democrat Attorney General Josh Stein filed an amicus brief in the two cases currently before the North Carolina Supreme Court regarding the adopted district boundaries to ensure that “state elections are conducted under fair maps that are free from partisan gerrymandering.”

A three-judge panel earlier this month noted in its ruling that the enacted districts “are a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting,” but did not deem the districts unconstitutional.

“The trial court recognized what has been obvious all along, that the legislative and congressional maps were intentionally gerrymandered,” Cooper said. “That’s wrong and unconstitutional because it strips voters of their voice and power in our democracy.”

Stein said he is hopeful the court will “return the power to the people” by clarifying that the state constitution prohibits gerrymandering.

“Partisan gerrymandering distorts our democracy and violates our constitution. North Carolina’s constitution guarantees that people are sovereign and our elections are free,” Stein said. “That’s why voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

U.S. Rep., U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd to visit Rowan during Republicans’ monthly breakfast

SALISBURY — U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who represents North Carolina’s 13th congressional district and is vying the open U.S. Senate seat in 2022, will visit Rowan County during local Republican’s monthly breakfast Saturday.

Rowan County Republicans will gather at Stringbeans BBQ in Landis, located at 1013 S. Main St., on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. North Carolina Appeals Court candidate Michael Stading, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, will be the featured speaker, followed by the opportunity to hear from Budd. Stading has served as judge of North Carolina’s 26th Judicial District since 2019.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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