Guilford County Commissioner James Upchurch is a Democrat, but – even though he’s a freshman on the board, Upchurch is already showing that he’s thinking for himself rather than toeing the Democratic party line.
When the Democrats won a 7 to 3 majority on the Board of Commissioners in the November 2020 election, a lot of people assumed that the new Democratic commissioners would follow in lockstep with Alston. However, in recent months, Upchurch has clearly shown that he’s willing to break from the pack.
When the new, Democratic-controlled board first took charge of the county late last year, the seven Democrats voted together nearly all the time.
On Thursday, Aug. 26, Upchurch broke with Alston and his fellow Democrats on the board when he was the only Democrat out of seven to vote against a mask mandate for county residents in indoor spaces.
Before Upchurch cast his no vote, he gave an impassioned speech and called out county health officials.
He asked staff the survival rate of children in the county since the start of the pandemic.
The response from staff? Roughly 23 percent of COVID-19 cases in Guilford County have been in those age 0 to 18, and, in that group, there had been no deaths.
Upchurch also asked staff, “Would you agree that the vaccine is currently available to everyone who wants a vaccine?”
Of course, it’s extremely easy to get vaccinated right now.
Upchurch said he found it “really surprising” that county staff was placing such a huge focus on masking while seemingly ignoring other less invasive strategies.
“We’re not talking about social distancing; we’re not talking about capacity limits; we’re not giving the public guidance on which mask to wear,” the Democratic commissioner said to the surprise of many on the Zoom call.
Upchurch’s no vote at the meeting came on the heels of another breakaway vote that found him voting with the two Republican commissioners on the board. Earlier this summer, the Board of Commissioners approved a costly – $2 million – very ill-defined and nebulas “call center” to take the calls of those who wanted COVID-19 vaccinations. It was a strange request because at that point practically no one was calling the county to arrange shots.
At the meeting in question, county staff turned on a dime and said that “call center” was a bad thing to call the program and said it was really much more of a community outreach program than a “call center.”
Six Democratic commissioners approved the “call center,” but Upchurch joined the two Republicans in his no vote for the project that, frankly, none of the commissioners understood well when they voted to approve it.
Alston said after the meeting that, while he obviously favored the mask mandate, he also thought it was a good thing for the Democrats – and the Republicans – on the board to think for themselves.