The Guilford County Board of Commissioners, which has had a Republican majority since 2012, kept that majority on Tuesday, Nov. 8, but not without a great deal of nail-biting excitement first.
The Board of Commissioners, which had five Republicans and four Democrats going into the election, will continue to have five Republicans and four Democrats. That is thanks to voters in District 4 who reelected Commissioner Alan Branson rather than electing former Guilford County Commissioner Kirk Perkins, and voters in District 6 who chose Commissioner Hank Henning over attorney Rick Forrester. Branson and Henning were reelected despite the fact that, for much of Tuesday night, their Democratic challengers held the lead.
There’s never been a lot of love lost between Branson and Perkins, who served on the Board of Commissioners from 2004 until 2012 – the year Branson knocked Perkins out of that seat. This year, Branson won with 54 percent of the vote to Perkins’ 46 percent, increasing slightly his lead from four years ago when Perkins was able to make that race one percentage point closer.
Branson was understandably in excellent spirits late Tuesday night as he watched the final returns come in at the Greensboro Shine Club at 5010 High Point Road where he celebrated the victory with fellow Republicans.
The day before the election, Branson said, “I’m tired – tired. I’ve been putting out signs, going to dinners and working the polls.”
When asked Tuesday night after the results if he was still tired, he said, “I’m living on adrenaline.”
He said he wasn’t too worried throughout the night.
“I felt somewhat comforted when the early voting results came out,” Branson said of the first votes made public around 8 p.m. “I was only down a few hundred votes and I knew the Democrats had outnumbered the Republicans in early voting.”
The first batch of votes cast Tuesday, from 14 precincts, were posted around 8:40 p.m.
Like Branson, Henning also said he wasn’t shaken by the early votes that showed him behind. In the end, Henning pulled in 51 percent of the vote to Forrester’s 49 percent.
“It wasn’t really a shock to me,” Henning said of being behind at first. “I’d been tracking early voting and the Democrats were turning out but we weren’t.”
Henning said that, when the votes started coming in from precincts, there were some moments that gave him pause.
“What made it stressful was the order the precincts came in,” Henning said, adding that High Point precincts where he did well came in toward the end of the night.
When Henning was asked on Election Day afternoon what he was doing, he said, “I’ve been sitting on my couch watching movies” – but of course he was actually out working the polls.
In the week leading up to the election, Branson was also working hard in a final vote-seeking sprint in which he hit church functions, barbecues, get-togethers, polling places and anywhere else he could find voters.
Branson said this week that, while on the campaign trail, he didn’t run into Perkins very often.
“I did not see Kirk,” he said. “He was kind of MIA.”
Branson said he thinks one thing that voters like about his record and the record of his fellow Republicans on the board is that they have worked to bring down property taxes. Since 2012, when the Republicans took control of the board after 14 years of a Democratic majority, the commissioners have reduced the tax rate by about 2 cents. That’s not a giant decrease; however, when Perkins was on the board and the Democrats were in charge, taxes sometimes went up 2, 3 or 4 cents a year. In the final weeks of the campaign, especially, Branson focused hard on the property tax issue.
Branson said another thing that may have helped his campaign is that the Republican Board of Commissioners provided more funding for the county’s schools each of the last four years, while the Democrats, when Perkins was on the board, held school funding steady some years.
“They froze a lot of things,” Branson said. “I don’t know how you can call yourself a supporter when funding has been frozen.”
The 2016 election battle between Branson and Perkins started on a bizarre coincidence last December, when Branson, Henning and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips went down to the Guilford County Board of Elections office at the Old Guilford County Court House to file together as a show of unity. At that time, the three were just finishing up their paperwork and Branson was wondering if he would face a challenger in his District 4 race – and, at that very moment, Perkins stunned everyone by strolling into the elections office to file to run.
In the District 6 race, Henning has maintained all year long that Forrester was someone the Democrats found to run against him when it became clear that none of the big Democratic guns in High Point would file in the District 6 commissioners race. Henning said that, when Forrester filed last December, he didn’t know who Forrester was.
To a surprising extent, the District 6 race focused around one issue that has been discussed and discussed and discussed in 2016: mountain biking at Rich Fork Preserve. Forrester, who was opposed to allowing mountain biking at the county-owned preserve, said during the campaign that he felt the issue would help him because, he said, Henning had really bungled the issue. Henning was chairman of the Board of Commissioners in 2015 when it became a big controversy. The commissioners ultimately voted to allow mountain biking at the preserve over the objections of many vocal citizens.
Henning said that, just as there were opponents to mountain biking in the preserve, there were proponents of the sport who were voters as well, and, he added, there were a large number of people in his district who didn’t know about the controversy.
Henning said he felt as though the voters liked a lot about the Republican leadership of the county in recent years.
“I think they appreciate the way we’ve conducted ourselves and the transparency we’ve brought,” Henning said.
He also said he just tried to be straight with people on the campaign trail.
“You go out there and plead your case to the voters,” Henning said.
Henning said that, in the weeks leading up to the election, he came across Forrester quite a bit.
“We talked a lot – he’s a nice guy,” Henning said.
On Tuesday night, Henning watched the returns come in at home with his family. He said that being out campaigning this year had meant he came home late on many nights and he wanted to stay home on election night and be with his family.
He said he doesn’t think Democrats on the board are happy to see the Republican majority continue.
“The frustration level is real high among the Democrats because they can’t implement all the wasteful spending they want,” Henning said.
Republican Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips, who represents District 5, and Democratic Commissioner Ray Trapp, who represents District 8, were also on the ballot Tuesday and they both gained voter approval for four more years in office – however, since neither of them had opponents, those races were much less exciting on election night.