Given Orange County’s history, it’s no surprise that all candidates for the three County Commissioner openings, but one, are Democrats. Out of the three available seats, Districts 1, 2 and the Commissioner-at-Large, the only vacancy with an actual race is that between Republican Greg Andrews and Democrat Earl McKee for District 2. The two remaining seats will go to unopposed Democrats, Barry Jacobs and Alice Gordon. As of April 2010, the county was reporting 34,911 voters registered in District 2 with only 9,431 designated as Republicans. This means that if every Republican who was registered in April votes for Mr. Andrews, he’ll only have 27% of the vote—hardly a majority. You might remember that in 2008, Republican Kevin Wolff threw his hat into the ring for a Commissioner’s seat and got 30.52% of the votes. It’s hardly worth noting that in a state where only 31% of registered voters are Republican, there are only 7 Republicans listed on the whole 2010 ballot.
Greg Andrews has a tough race ahead of him, not only because of the minority of Republicans in his district but also because voter enthusiasm is waning in North Carolina. While the rest of the country appears to be gearing up for a Republican win in 2010, those feelings are not manifest in North Carolina. In July, Public Policy Polling found that while 66% of Republicans nationwide were ‘very excited’ about voting, in North Carolina that number was closer to 56%. Public Policy Polling attributes these decreased numbers to Richard Burr’s low approval ratings within the Republican Party. The good news for Burr, Andrews and other Republican candidates is that Independents are leaning more towards the Right than the Left.
It’s unclear how Andrews and others like him will gain support from Independents within their districts. At a recent UNC-Chapel Hill College Republicans meeting, Andrews spoke out about the need to decrease taxes and increase the appeal for businesses to move into Orange County. Records obtained from the Orange County Economic Development Commission support Andrews’ claims. According to the Commissions Five-Year Plan the County’s tax base is primarily composed of residential property. Another challenge noted in the report is an abundance of government workers- 2 out of every 5 workers (44.7% of all jobs are in the government sector). In a recent interview Andrews stated that a key point of his platform calls for decreasing government intervention. He went on to explain how he had been approached by an Orange County citizen, who wanted to know what he would do about a real estate development the citizen did not like. Andrews said that he told the man he would not do anything about it. “If you legally have the right to do something, it’s your right. The county should not have so much control over what you do on your property that you’ve bought and paid for and pay taxes on.”
Andrews may try to sway independent voters and even Democrats with his focus on budget issues. Recall that in June the County Board of Commissioners decided to include on this year’s ballot a referendum to increase the sales tax to 8%. It is important to note that Orange County residents pay the fifth highest property taxes in North Carolina at $.8580 for each $100 of value.
Democratic Candidate Earl McKee is also running on a platform focused on taxes. In April, at the Northern Orange Black Voters Alliance candidate forum, McKee indicated he wanted to lower the tax burden from residential properties by attracting new business. He suggested this be done by providing infrastructural support to businesses. McKee also stated that he favored incentive packages for new businesses. The message sent out from both candidates is similar.
To win the election Andrews will need to do differentiate his platform from that of his opponent and get his name out there. Andrews points to his years in the community and his business, THC Construction, Inc., which is a green builder. He also stated that he’s standing for who he is. “I was born a Republican,” states Andrews, “I didn’t want to change just to get elected.” Still, Andrews acknowledges that as far back as anyone has been able to find in records, there hasn’t been a Republican County Commissioner. If Andrews gets his way that will change in just a few weeks.