In a bizarre case of life imitating life, former Guilford County Commissioner Kirk Perkins is running for a seat on the Guilford County Soil and Water Conservation District board. That’s quite an interesting twist because, 10 years ago – in a story that went viral – a homeless man with mental issues, Kirk Newell, ran for the seat and won it by falsely using Kirk Perkins’ name.
Thanks to nothing other than Perkins’ name, the homeless former mental patient won that race; however, when it was discovered he’d done so under a false name, he fled the state rather than step up to claim his seat.
In 2008, the real Kirk Perkins was chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and he joked at that time about the fact that someone of the same name was running for the seat officially known as “soil and water conservation district supervisor.”
The Jan. 15, 2009, The Rhinoceros Times reported that the man who ran in, and won, the Guilford County Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor race in the November 2008 election did so under the fake name, and that “‘Kirk Perkins,’ the winning candidate, is actually a transient whose real name is Kirk Newell.”
The article states, “Newell, who is 51 years old, may have spent time in a mental institution before running for the office under the assumed name. A background check by The Rhinoceros Times found that Kirk Perkins and Kirk Newell share more than a first name – they also share a Social Security number.”
One source said at the time that Newell (running as Perkins) claimed to a be a veteran and spoke to a group of veterans as part of his campaign, but, once the candidate began talking to the group, many of those veterans questioned if he had actually served.
Regardless, Newell/Perkins won the election, and the story of his victory was recounted in news outlets and blogs. It was used to demonstrate how little voters know about the people they vote for in some races.
Though the soil and water district race is often lost in the shuffle of the high-profile races on the ballot, and many citizens don’t know much about the position, the work of those elected to seats on the five-member county board is critical to the environmental health of the area. That board, for instance, takes actions that help preserve the quantity and quality of the county’s drinking water, prevent soil erosion and make sure animal waste areas and old wells are closed off properly.
Perkins, a Democrat who lives in McLeansville and who lost his Board of Commissioners seat in the 2012 election to Republican Commissioner Alan Branson, now chairman of the board, said this week that he has a strong interest in soil and water conservation and he hopes he gets a chance to serve in the new position.
Perkins will be going up against quite a crowd. Also in the race are Anna Amoriello of Gibsonville, Michael Washington of High Point, Mike Faucette of Brown Summit and Greensboro residents Lewis Brandon, Andy Courts, Dave Crawford, Gay Dillard and Josh Myers
. The candidates are seeking to fill two seats on the commission.
Perkins said that during his time as a county commissioner, the board’s business included oversight of soil and water conservation issues.
“I’m living in the country and I’m a beekeeper, so these issues are important to me,” Perkins said, adding that he’d always been interested in county agriculture extension projects.
He said he had thought about running for the seat a couple of times and when his friend, Dick Phillips, decided not to run again for his seat on the soil and water conservation board this year, Perkins decided to take a shot.
The former county commissioner said this would be a chance to “dip his toe in the water” when it comes to running for elected office again, and he said one of the things he likes about the soil and water conservation race is that its not as political as county commissioner races.
“It’s a little more of a civic vote than a political one,” Perkins said.
He said he feels that, like himself, the other candidates are running for the seat because they believe they can enhance the county’s environment and help make Guilford County a better place to live.
The former commissioner said he hadn’t thought much about county politics in recent years.
“I’ve been too busy to think much about political things,” he said.
Perkins said the bizarre 2008 incident had nothing to do with his running for the soil and water position this year – but it was quite an event a decade ago when it all went down.
“I didn’t like him using my name,” Perkins said.
He said the fact that someone could run using a fake name revealed a hole in the process of vetting candidates.
“I was kind of surprised someone could do something like that,” Perkins said.
In that election, Perkins/Newell knocked then Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Herb Hendrickson off the board, but Hendrickson, a long-time soil and water juggernaut, was reinstated to his seat on the board after Perkins/Newell fled to Idaho, perhaps to prevent prosecution for election fraud. In that situation, the soil and water board got to fill the seat with a new member of its choice, and it chose Hendrickson even though Hendrickson hadn’t come in second in the race that year.
This week, Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said he could verify that the man who came down to the office recently and filed to run is in fact the real Kirk Perkins. Collicutt said he met him at the office and chatted with him and it is undeniably the real Perkins.
Collicutt said that the 2008 incident did not result in any changes in the law as to the way people file, and therefore it’s possible something like that could happen again. Collicutt said that, while Newell was able to file under Perkins’ name in 2008, he wouldn’t have been able to vote for himself since there are checks in place for voters.
Branson joked that he will be supporting Perkins for 2018 soil and water commissioner if it means Perkins will serve his term and not run against him in 2020.
Perkins did not count out running for county commissioner again.
“I may run for commissioner sometime,” Perkins said when asked about the possibility. “It was an honor and a privilege to serve in that position for eight years.”
He also said he was surprised that former Commissioners Skip Alston left the board before being named again last year as a replacement for Democratic Commissioner Ray Trapp, who stepped down to take a job with NC A&T University.
“I was surprised he didn’t run again in 2012,” Perkins said of Alston.
Perkins added that he felt the Board of Commissioners did a lot to move the county forward during the time he was on the board.