November 08, 2012
For the first time this century, the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners will have a Republican majority after Republican candidates swept the three contested commissioners races on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
In District 4, Alan Branson defeated Commissioner Kirk Perkins, with 53 percent of the vote to Perkins' 47 percent; in District 5, Jeff Phillips beat Commissioner Paul Gibson, 51 percent to 49 percent, and, in District 6, Hank Henning defeated Linda Kellerman by a margin of 53 to 47 percent.
The real nail biter on election night – not to mention the huge shocker for many area political observers – was the Phillips-Gibson battle, with Phillips, who's never held elected office, taking down one of the most well-liked and well-known political leaders in the county.
As an at-large commissioner, Gibson was the top vote-getter in Guilford County
commissioners races in the last two elections, and he's been a player in county politics since 1984 when he served his first term as commissioner. Also, the name Paul Gibson was known years before that, since his father – Paul Gibson Sr. – was sheriff of Guilford County
But Phillips – playing either the dragon slayer or David depending on which metaphor you prefer – knocked Gibson off the Board of Commissioners in grand style and, on Tuesday night, Phillips was celebrating accordingly.
Phillips said that, during the entire campaign, he was aware that he was up against a very formidable political foe.
"He's a good man; he's very well liked," Phillips said of Gibson.
Phillips added that his victory over Gibson made a big impression on him.
"I was humbled, frankly," said Phillips, who also said that he had a whole lot of people to thank in the wake of the victory.
"I'm thankful for my wife, Lori, for her support for the eight months we've been campaigning," he said.
He also thanked the voters in District 5, along with Larry Holmquist, his volunteer coordinator, and Mark Hinkle, his campaign director. In addition, Phillips said he wanted to thank the many volunteers who worked hard this year to make his election possible.
Phillips even thanked his opponent.
"I want to thank Paul Gibson for his 12 years of service," Phillips said. "And I want to congratulate Alan and Hank and Raymond Trapp."
Trapp, the only new Democrat taking a seat on the Board of Commissioners next month, won with 100 percent of the vote in the District 8 race Tuesday night. Trapp, the hand-picked successor of Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, ran unopposed in both the primary and the general election.
Phillips said he's eager to take on his duties as a commissioner and start to reverse the trends of higher taxes and wasteful spending that he said have plagued Guilford County
in recent years.
"New leadership was really needed for this county," Phillips said.
Another happy Republican Tuesday night was Branson, who, like Phillips, took down a long-time county commissioner with very high name recognition.
Branson said he'd been working hard and he knew his race would be neck and neck.
"I felt like this would be close," Branson said late Tuesday night while at Republican headquarters on West Market Street.
Branson said his first order of business as a commissioner would be to reign in out-of-control county spending, to "cut the fat" from county departments, and to work with school officials to bring down the cost of school construction.
He said there were plenty of other things he wanted to accomplish as a commissioner, however, for the time being, he said, he just wanted to celebrate and catch his breath.
"Right now I am going to rest and get some sleep, and then there are a lot of things to talk about," Branson said.
Henning's victory wasn't a surprise – but the closeness of that race did surprise many. Kellerman pulled out of the race just before the primary elections in May, however her name remained on the ballot and, after she won that primary despite having pulled out, she attempted to mount a campaign.
Henning said he never took the race for granted, and, he added, he has a lot of people to thank. He said he had worked closely with the local Republican Party to get his supporters to vote early.
When Henning talks about his priorities as a commissioner, he touts the same theme as the other two Republican victors in the commissioners races.
"I'd like to jump into the budget and find the details in it," he said. "The voters are strapped financially and we need to find ways to save."
Henning also benefited from strong backing by prominent Republicans such as Commissioner Billy Yow, who will be stepping down as a Guilford County
commissioner on Monday, Dec. 3, the same day the other commissioners are sworn in.
An elated Yow, watching the election returns from home Tuesday night, said he was surprised at the slim margin in this race.
"It was a little closer than I thought it would be," Yow said.
Yow also said Kellerman didn't offer Henning much in terms of opposition and he said he suspected the fact that Kellerman was a woman helped her cause – just not enough to overcome Henning's strengths.
Henning, a Marine Corps veteran who served two tours in Iraq, campaigned hard all year and had a lot of support from the local and state Republican Party.
Yow said another factor that played a role in these three races is that the state party poured money into defeating their Democratic opponents.
Phillips said he was surprised to see that the party was sending out flyers on his behalf without consulting him in any way.
"I didn't design them; they didn't talk to me about them," Phillips said of the mailers.
Alston said he was very surprised when he saw Gibson was in such a close race, one he eventually lost.
Gibson sounded a little shocked also Tuesday night after the last precinct came in, but he was also stoic about the final result.
"I'm fine as wine," said Gibson. "If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me then I'm a lucky man."
Gibson, who was able to win at will in the at-large races, said that clearly the redistricting by Republicans in Raleigh had hurt his chances of remaining on the board.
"This district was not drawn for any Democrat to win," Gibson said.
The redistricting of the county seats were a matter of contentious debate last year and early this year. The districts were drawn by President Pro-tem of the NC Senate Phil Berger after Alston had drawn up district lines that favored the Democrats. When it looked like Berger was going to allow the county's Democratic majority on the board to draw lines favoring Democrats, Berger got a lot of criticism from county Republicans, and Berger then stepped in and took control and gave the county the current district lines – which were expected to even the playing field somewhat after 20 years of a Democratic advantage. The results on election night seem to indicate that that plan worked.
Yow made the same point. Yow said it was due to Gibson's name and ability to campaign that he even kept it close in the first place....continued on page 2