Three County Commissioners Leave GOP – Transylvania County, NC
Last updated 12/5/2019 at 9:49am
In an announcement, (see statement below) the three said they were changing their political affiliation from Republican to Unaffiliated.
"This is not an action we do happily, and it is not a choice we take lightly," the announcement said. "It comes after much prayer, reflection and discussion among us and with our loved ones. In leaving, we are ending a long association that is deeply personal. Between us, we have won 20 different elections as Republicans in Transylvania County."
The announcement noted three "broad areas" for their decision to leave the party: "First, we have clear notions of conservatism. To be conservative is to honor and preserve the fundamental institutions, processes, structures and rule of law, which have enabled the United States to be history's greatest success story. To be conservative is to be financially prudent while also investing in common ground works that support individual success for all citizens. To be conservative is to be welcoming and inclusive, understanding that all of us share the same human aspirations; conservative tenets of self-determination cannot be exclusive. To be conservative is to have a strong moral compass and the willingness to challenge wrong regardless of its source. We believe all of these are not merely conservative principles but American principles.
"Next, we believe elected officials have a special duty to conduct themselves beyond reproach and make genuine efforts to represent all their constituents. Elected officials must strive to conduct all public and private actions with honor and integrity. Elected officials must value objective truth and, in turn, be truthful in their own statements and interactions. And elected officials must continually work to hear the voices of all while making hard decisions on behalf of their fellow citizens.
"Finally, and importantly, we believe local government should not be partisan in nature. Good ideas come from across the spectrum of political thought. Our focus is local, our objective is problem-solving for Transylvania County and our experience is that partisanship is an obstacle to effective local governance. Governing is done best when done closest, and close governing is done best when removed from partisan encumbrances."
The announcement also highlighted some of the connections the three have with the Republican Party, including Guice serving two terms in the N.C. General Assembly and Lemel's father, Bill Ives, also serving as a Republican lawmaker in Raleigh.
The Transylvania Times contacted each of the three commissioners for further comment.
•How long have you been a Republican and why?
Guice: I registered as a Republican over 30 years ago because I supported the ideals the Republican Party stood for, things like fiscal responsibility and respect for individuals, as well as respect for structures and processes and rule of law. I have been a Republican elected official for parts of three decades and until recently have always felt comfortable that the party and I shared common perspectives.
Hawkins: I registered in the early 2000s. I honestly don't know the exact year. I remember doing it because at that time, of the people I worked with who I thought were devoted to moving Transylvania County forward in a positive way, most were prominent Republicans. I wanted to associate with those people and was proud to do so.
Lemel: I have been Republican since I first registered to vote in 1980. I grew up in a Republican household with a tremendous public servant in my father. Even before I could vote, I worked for the Republican Party. My dad chaired the Gerald Ford campaign in the region in 1976, and I stuffed so many envelopes for the cause. I believe in limited government. I believe in fiscal conservatism. I believe in the power of the individual. I believe that the United States is the greatest nation on Earth.
•Is your displeasure with the GOP based on what the GOP is doing at the county level, or the state level, or the national level, or a combination of these or none at all?
Guice: As a local elected official, I am surrounded by citizens on a daily basis who are Republican, Democrat and Unaffiliated voters. I am always able to sit down to talk and listen to all of these people. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree, but I listen to their concerns and opinions with respect an understanding, making my decisions on their voice, not the voice of any one party. It was voters of all of these parties who elected me. Our announcement today described what I strongly believe. There are certain core responsibilities that leaders at every level should be willing to assume. At the least, leaders at every level should preserve and protect our fundamental American institutions and the rule of law.
My life's profession has been in defense of this and it is something I feel strongly about. Leaders at every level should also operate with strict standards of honesty and integrity, both for themselves and others they work with. And leaders at every level should work to represent all citizens, regardless of the issue. I don't think it's particularly controversial to suggest that Republican leadership at the highest levels are no longer consistently maintaining those principles.
Hawkins: Our announcement described what the three of us strongly believe. Leaders should honor and defend fundamental American institutions, leaders should value truth and integrity, and leaders should strive to represent all citizens. It's not unreasonable to suggest that GOP leadership has strayed from those principles. That said, it's also important not to paint with too broad a brush. For example, I know our state Sen. Chuck Edwards is a person of integrity, a person who works to do the right thing, a person who works very hard and a person who sincerely wants to hear all voices. Unfortunately, he has to navigate within a state GOP leadership structure which doesn't always value those attributes.
Lemel: I am grateful for the work of the party for supporting me in the past. I no longer want to ascribe to partisanship. We are rapidly entering one of the most rancorous and divisive elections our nation has ever seen. I am a local elected official. National and state politics do not enter into my service as a county commissioner. My service is to Transylvania County.
History has seen us in challenging times before, and I specifically reference U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith's speech "Declaration of Conscience" from June 1, 1950. Her citation on the "Four Horsemen of Calumny (Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear)" and her discussion of "Irresponsible Sensationalism" truly resonated with my sense of integrity, honesty and morality. She called out both of our major parties for their role in confusing the citizens and threatening the security and stability of our country. I will not be a party to accusations, bitterness and selfishness on the part of our politicians and our political parties.
At this point in my career as a local elected official, I do not feel that local elections should be partisan. I have served as a county commissioner for seven years, and I can honestly tell you that no vote I have cast has been based on a partisanship position.
The decisions I make as a county commissioner are the decisions I feel best serve my entire community. At no point has my party registration figured into my decision-making process. We all want our community to thrive. We want our families and our children to have strong community support. We want a dynamic and productive economy. The rancor of national and state political rhetoric detracts from the good work occurring locally. We saw this in the past two elections in our county, where a high number of voters voted in the national races yet chose not to vote in races for county commission or school board. Most every decision made by the Board of County Commissioners impacts the daily life of each of our Transylvania County residents. Our Board of Education makes decisions that direct the education of our children. How are these two boards not the priority votes for our electorate?
•Was there one thing that pushed you over the line to make this decision? When do you and the other commissioners specifically start talking about leaving?
Guice: I wouldn't point to any one particular thing. As I said earlier, I believe in being inclusive in decision-making. In fact, that approach is central to how I do my job. The extreme partisanship and volatile political climate we find ourselves in today simply don't represent the values I believe in.
Hawkins: Over the years, my experience has convinced me of the importance of nonpartisan approaches to local issues. Recently it occurred to me that if I truly believe that, I should walk the walk. I also respectfully disagree with the paths that GOP leadership and their enablers have taken, and I don't wish my name to be connected with it. One day my future grandchildren will read of these times in their history books, and I want them to know their grandfather opposed this and was not complicit through silence. That's extremely important to me.
Lemel: I have struggled with the neglect for local issues since the election results from 2016, when 6,000 voters did not cast votes for local offices after voting in the national races. Additionally, I do not want to be a part of the current climate of mistrust, hate and character assassinations being put forward by our two major political parties. I want to draw attention to the commonalities that exist locally. We want the same things for our county. When we work together to find common ground, we are able to do great things and address the real needs facing our citizens.
•Do you have any concerns about leaving the GOP when you were voted onto the board as Republicans? Should you step down and allow for a special election?
Guice: No, and that is kind of the point of my argument about local non partisanship. The people voted for me for many reasons. Yes, some votes were simply because I was a Republican, but many votes were cast by Unaffiliated and Democrat voters who supported me. No, I won't step down because, again, the voters elected me and I represent them all, regardless of their political affiliation.
Lemel: No, I don't. Your question gets to the heart of my position. If I was elected to serve as a county commissioner solely because of my party registration, our system is horribly broken. I feel I have served the county well in the past seven years. I have considered every issue from a balanced perspective. I will continue to serve out the remainder of my term.
•Do you plan to run again for the Board of Commissioners?
Guice: I still have three years left during my current term and in two years when it is time to file for the 2022 election, I will make a decision on whether or not I will run for another term.
Hawkins: I think there's a broader point. I want to be a catalyst in figuring out a workable roadmap through which any Transylvania citizen can become a non partisan county elected official if she or he wishes. Right now we have a structure, which effectively eliminates most of our population from even being considered, and I believe that's demonstrably harmful for Transylvania County.
Lemel: Unaffiliated voters comprise the largest group of registered voters in Transylvania County at over 10,000.
There is an obvious desire to occupy a neutral position between the two major parties.
If an unaffiliated voter wants to run for office, the petition process is daunting. We do not make it easy for those who find themselves occupying this middle ground, and that is where I now find my self.
Filing for the March 3, 2020, primary elections began Monday.
The following announcement is from Commissioners David Guice, Mike Hawkins and Page Lemel:
Today, we are announcing our departure from the Republican Party.
This is not an action we do happily, and it is not a choice we take lightly. It comes after much prayer, reflection and discussion among us and with our loved ones.
In leaving, we are ending a long association that is deeply personal. Between us, we have won 20 different elections as Republicans in Transylvania County.
One of us served two terms as a Republican in the North Carolina General Assembly, then served at the highest levels at the N.C. Department of Public Safety as chief deputy secretary under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Another of us had a father who was the first 20th century Republican to be elected Transylvania County Commissioner, and then went on to become one of the most distinguished Republican members of the N.C. General Assembly in the 1990s.
We have accomplished many things representing our county and our party, and we have been and continue to be leaders. Each of has served as chairman and/or vice chairman of our Board of Commissioners, and we are this year's chairman and vice chairman.
Our efforts are recognized beyond Transylvania County. This year alone, Transylvania County received the 2019 National Association of Counties award for the nation's best childhood and youth support program, a program, which was spearheaded by one of us. Another of us was named the 2019 North Carolina Rural Advocate of the Year by the North Carolina Rural Center.
Our purpose as elected officials is to serve with excellence and to do what we can to make Transylvania County the best place it can be. We have done that and will continue to do that.
Naturally, citizens may be curious about our choice to disassociate from the Republican Party. Our reasoning falls along three broad areas.
First, we have clear notions of conservatism. To be conservative is to honor and preserve the fundamental institutions, processes, structures and rule of law, which have enabled the United States to be history's greatest success story. To be conservative is to be financially prudent while also investing in common groundworks that support individual success for all citizens. To be conservative is to be welcoming and inclusive, understanding that all of us share the same human aspirations; conservative tenets of self-determination cannot be exclusive. To be conservative is to have a strong moral compass and the willingness to challenge wrong regardless of its source. We believe all of these are not merely conservative principles but American principles.
Next, we believe elected officials have a special duty to conduct themselves beyond reproach and make genuine efforts to represent all their constituents. Elected officials must strive to conduct all public and private actions with honor and integrity. Elected officials must value objective truth and, in turn, be truthful in their own statements and interactions. And elected officials must continually work to hear the voices of all while making hard decisions on behalf of their fellow citizens.
Finally, and importantly, we believe local government should not be partisan in nature. Good ideas come from across the spectrum of political thought. Our focus is local, our objective is problem-solving for Transylvania County and our experience is that partisanship is an obstacle to effective local governance. Governing is done best when done closest, and close governing is done best when removed from partisan encumbrances.
Therefore, we are changing our political affiliation from Republican to Unaffiliated.
We realize our decision might disappoint some people. We want to emphasize our hesitation in taking this step. However, we are firm in our knowledge that, for us, this is the correct action.
W. David Guice, Mike Hawkins and Page Lemel