Former Republican Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson, who lost his District 4 seat in 2020, said this week that he is back in the hunt for another seat on the board.
In 2022, Branson will be seeking the board’s lone at-large seat, so he’ll have to aim his campaign at every voter in the county rather than solely at the largely rural voters in District 4.
Branson told the Rhino Times on Wednesday, Nov. 8, that he planned to file to run on Thursday, Dec. 9. However, soon after he said that, the North Carolina Supreme Court suspended filing for all offices and delayed the March primary until May.
So, Branson will have to wait a little longer before he files.
The former commissioner, known for his colorful language and sometimes brash stances, lost his commissioner’s seat by a very thin margin to Democratic Guilford County Commissioner Mary Beth Murphy – in part, Branson said, due to an unfair characterization of the Republicans on the board when it came to a school bond initiative in 2020.
Branson and other Republican commissioners were attacked for “only” approving putting $300 million in school bonds on the ballot in 2020. However, Branson points out that, when the commissioners were determining that amount, the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun, the world’s economy had, for the most part, shut down, and Guilford County commissioners had no idea what federal help would be forthcoming. The group literally didn’t know at that point if they would have enough money to keep the lights on in county buildings.
Murphy, a teacher and advocate for major school funding, won that seat, and now the Democratically controlled Board of Commissioners is putting another $1.7 billion school bond on the ballot next year. If that bond is approved by county voters, it will mean the schools get $2 billion for repairs and construction projects.
Branson said the board led by Republicans always intended to provide needed money to the schools once the county knew where it stood financially, and he added that the Republican commissioners who drew the ire of the school advocates had approved $300 million at a time of great financial uncertainty. (Former Guilford County Commissioner Hank Henning is fond of pointing out: “It’s $300 million – it’s not pocket change.)
Branson also said a joint study conducted by the county and the schools to determine school needs found about $1 billion in needs – and, he said, the schools went back and commissioned a new study that nearly doubled that amount. He said he has many questions about that process.
The former District 4 commissioner also said he wants to serve on the board again to be a check against Chairman of the Board Skip Alston. Branson said Alston talks about a need for unity, and for a “One Guilford” mindset, but really his primary concern is seeing that county projects come off in a way that benefits Alston and his friends.
When Branson served on the board, he was a constant thorn in Alston’s side and Alston will no doubt work hard next year to see that Branson doesn’t return to the board.
According to Branson, the Republican board that was in control for eight years, until a year ago, left the county in very good shape. The Republican board never raised taxes yet paid down the county’s debt and oversaw and funded a number of major projects like the Guilford County Family Justice Center, a new mental health center and a new animal shelter. Branson said that, as soon as the Alston-led Democrats got in power, they began raiding the county’s savings, planning a tax increase for next year by not reducing the tax rate when new property values are calculated, and putting a $1.7 billion school bond on the ballot.
A candidate in the at-large commissioners race who did filed before filing was suspended is Democratic Guilford County Commissioner Kay Cashion. Branson said he gets along very well with Cashion and said she had been instrumental in introducing him to key people in Washington and Raleigh who he otherwise would likely not have been able to meet. Branson said that Cashion had opened a lot of doors for him, and he added that, when it came to state and national commissioner activities, Cashion had been something of a “mentor” for him.
Branson also noted that the two had worked closely together on the Guilford County Family Justice Center and many other projects.
“I’m not in the race to be against Kay,” Branson said.