September 27, 2012
And they're off.
The political pot shots are flying in the 2012 Guilford County Board of Commissioners races in what's turning out to be three very lively contests. Of course, these races might just seem lively because, in the last county commissioners election, two years ago, all five candidates ran uncontested in the general election for the five open seats that year.
So the county commissioners races are due for a little excitement – and that's what they've gotten.
This year, District 5 Republican candidate Jeff Phillips is coming hard after At-large Commissioner and District 5 candidate Paul Gibson. Phillips has been pointing at Gibson's record of past property hikes as well as Gibson's promise to – if elected to represent District 5 – push for a sales tax increase.
Phillips said he's highly opposed to property tax increases and sales tax increases.
That difference prompted the conservative Phillips to say this week: "Voters have a clear choice in District 5."
In the District 6 race, on the other hand, Democratic candidate Linda Kellerman is attacking her Republican opponent, Hank Henning, for opposing a tax increase: Kellerman recently posted on her campaign's Facebook page that it was irresponsible of Henning to sign a no-tax-hike pledge.
In District 4, Republican Alan Branson is banging heads with incumbent Democratic Commissioner Kirk Perkins for dominance in the district that spans much of eastern Guilford County. Perkins, like Gibson, has voted for multiple property tax increases during his eight years on the Board of Commissioners, and Branson wants everyone to be aware of that.
The six candidates have just now started campaigning at full speed, and county voters can expect things to get more heated between now and Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The first county commissioners candidate forum of the general election, put on by the League of Women Voters, was held on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Greensboro. Sometimes at these types of candidate forums there are only a few more spectators than there are candidates. However, the large gathering room at Holy Trinity was packed, even though it was a lunchtime forum on a Tuesday.
The large audience was engaged, erupting in applause at times for the liberal Democrats, and grimacing when the Republicans spoke. The strong interest in the commissioners races this year may partly be connected to the heated nature of the 2012 presidential election.
Henning was the only no-show at the forum. He said this week that he had a "business-related conflict."
After Monday, Dec. 3, there will be a total of nine Guilford County commissioners – eight from districts and one at-large commissioner – as opposed to the current board's makeup, with 11 commissioners, nine of them elected from districts and two elected at large.
The Districts 4 and 5 races have younger Republican challengers going up against older Democrats. In District 4, political newcomer Branson, 45, is running against Perkins, 60, a two-term Democratic commissioner. And in District 5, the conservative Phillips, a financial advisor who owns Phillips Wealth Management, is trying to beat Gibson, 65, a self-employed textile salesman. Gibson is running for a district seat for the first time.
Gibson was elected at-large to the Board of Commissioners in 2004, and he also served as an at-large commissioner from 1984 to 1988.
In District 6, there's no incumbent in the race. Kellerman, 59, is a retired computer-aided design designer for a trucking company, and she's the only woman running for commissioner this year. She's up against Henning, 37, a veteran of the Iraq War who has a Jamestown address and works for Brady Services, a distributor of heating and air-conditioning products.
At the League of Women Voters' forum, Gibson was unabashed in stating that he wants to see an increase in the sales tax in Guilford County. Gibson said loudly and proudly that he thinks the Board of Commissioners should vote to put the quarter-cent sales tax hike back on the ballot and then convince voters to pass it.
Guilford County voters have already voted down the sales tax increase three times, but that doesn't keep some commissioners – including Gibson – from continuing to push it.
"It would raise $14 million to $16 million and a large percentage would be paid by those who are from outside the county," Gibson said at the forum.
This week, defending that position, Gibson said Davidson County and other Republican counties have passed the quarter-cent sales tax increase, and he said doing so in Guilford County would take some pressure off the need to raise property taxes.
"I'm going to do what I think is best for Guilford County," Gibson said.
He said sometimes that means taxpayers have to pay more, and he added that his fellow commissioners often want to cut the most needed services to avoid a tax increase.
Gibson has been a big supporter of the Interactive Resource Center in Greensboro, which aids homeless people, and he's a staunch defender of keeping nurses and dentists in the school system to make sure that disadvantaged students get proper dental and medical care.
"It's a sin to let a child suffer for lack of dental care," Gibson said.
He said he often finds Phillips' message confusing.
"I don't understand what he's talking about when he says 'limited government.'" Gibson said. "I understand what smart government is, I understand accountable government, and I understand open government."
Phillips said this week that he feels as though Gibson is creating a straw man to run against because Gibson often makes it sounds like he, Phillips, doesn't want to help the disadvantaged, while that's simply not true.
At the debate, Phillips made it a point to say that he's all for helping the less fortunate, but Phillips said the county needs to make sure that those getting government assistance have met the proper eligibility requirements.
"We all have a responsibility," Phillips said of helping the poor.
He encouraged people to go to his campaign website and watch the video of a News 2 story that shows Phillips and others working for a program called Night Watch on one of the coldest nights of the year. That program provides blankets and other help to homeless people.
In another issue – the county's stance toward illegal immigrants – Phillips went after a statement Gibson made on welcoming all immigrants to the county. Gibson told those at the forum that he believed with all his heart and soul that Guilford County needed a big sign at every entrance to the county that said, "Welcome Everyone."
After Gibson made that statement at the forum, Phillips posted on his website: "Although Commissioner Gibson opened his arms up wide to embrace all immigrants legal and illegal, he did not answer the question in relation to the local economy. How does a 'sanctuary' nature for Guilford county effect the 17.5% unemployed black males in Guilford County? How do we afford more social services to these immigrants in a county where already, 38% of citizens receive county assistance? Who benefits from the encouragement of more immigrants into a county that already has the lowest household income of all urban counties in the State?" ...continued on page 2