Gaston & Catawba

Caldwell County commissioner race puts GOP in driver's seat

Republicans appeared to win a narrow victory in the race to fill three Caldwell County commissioner seats last week. But because the margin was so close, the wins won't be certain until a canvass of provisional ballots is held Friday.

Regardless of the final totals, the board's makeup will change because challengers defeated incumbent Republican commissioners Faye Higgins and John Thuss in the spring primary, and a third GOP incumbent, Herb Greene, didn't seek re-election.

If Tuesday's results hold, Republicans will replace all three, joining Democratic commissioners Don Barrier and Ron Beane and maintaining a GOP majority.

Based on unofficial results, a GOP bloc consisting of political newcomers Clay Bollinger, Rob Bratcher and Ben Griffin edged out Democrats Randy Church, L.C. Coonse and Barbara Weiller.

Church and Weiller finished close enough to the winners that they could call for a recount, but Church said he didn't know if he would. “I was so heartbroken over it being so close that I hadn't even thought about it,” he said. Weiller couldn't be reached for comment.

If all three Republicans prevail in the end, Bollinger said, they will focus on cutting county spending, not partisan politics.

“We're not in there to work on those guys,” he said, referring to Barrier and Beane. “We're there to work for the county.”

Candidates in both parties promised to cut spending and to try to avoid property tax increases. Those issues had raised the ire of many residents, who decried a 22 percent tax increase last year in a county that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

As they left the polls, voters who supported Democratic and Republican commissioner candidates said they wanted change on the board. Some cited familiarity with their favored candidates or dislike of a particular competitor, but the tax increase influenced voters on both sides.

“I've worked hard all my life to have what I've got, and I feel like the government takes more and more all the time,” said Mitchell Hughes of Hudson, who supported the Republican bloc.

He said he usually splits his ticket but voted straight GOP this time because he prefers the Republican approach to economic issues. He's tired of seeing friends laid off and others struggle to make mortgage payments. “We're taxed to death,” he said.

Rob Howard of Granite Falls said he supported the Democrats because he wants change, and help for Caldwell's economy. “I think Democrats tend to be a little more growth friendly,” he said.

Bollinger said he hopes to hold down taxes and to work with the Democratic commissioners to do so. He said that's not a partisan issue because the Democratic incumbents voted for the tax increase.

“It's a pocketbook issue. That's how we won. They think we'll look better after their pocketbook, I think,” he said. “I'm looking forward to the challenge and hoping we can straighten it out. And it is in a mess.”