By Nathan Ham
The Watauga County Candidate’s Forum co-sponsored by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce gave local voters a chance to hear some of the ideas that each candidate has in mind for the High Country.
“We certainly wish you could have been with us tonight, but in accordance with North Carolina’s Safer at Home Order 2.5 which we are still in until Friday, we simply don’t have enough capacity here at the Appalachian Theatre to host you,” said Boone Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, David Jackson. “Instead, we have worked to make this event more accessible than it ever has been before.”
The forum was aired live on AppTV throughout western NC as well as on the chamber’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel. The forum was aired live on radio on WATA 96.5 FM and 1450 AM.
The questions were asked in a round-robin format and each candidate had the chance to answer all the questions.
“This is an opportunity for viewers and listeners to hear candidates’ platforms on a variety of different issues tonight. We have worked hard to keep the topics locally-driven and we want to make sure these topics being discussed tonight resonate with people here in Northwest North Carolina and Watauga County specifically,” said Jackson.
U.S. House of Representatives Democratic challenger David Wilson Brown was the first to speak. Incumbent Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx was unable to be in attendance due to Congress being in active session, but Foxx did send a video that can be viewed in the forum that has been archived on the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce YouTube Page.
The first countywide group of candidates to speak was the five Watauga County Commissioner candidates.
Democrat Carrington Pertalion is a certified nurse midwife at Harmony Center for Women. She is a 2002 graduate of Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing and has spent 25 years serving women and families in the High Country. She also owned her own small practice for seven years. She is facing off against Republican candidate Todd Castle. Castle is a Watauga County native and has worked at Appalachian State for 22 years. He currently serves as a Network Technician for App State’s IT Service and is a member of the Watauga County Planning Board.
Democratic incumbent John Welch is running unopposed for his commissioner seat. Welch is a Watauga County native and a 2001 graduate of Wingate University. He has served on the board of commissioners since 2012 and also spent time serving on the Watauga County Board of Education. He is an Associate Athletic Director for Internal Operations in the Appalachian State Athletics Department.
In the final commissioner race, Democratic Incumbent Charlie Wallin is running for his second term on the board of commissioners after winning his first race in 2018. Wallin graduated from App State in 1994 with a degree in Political science. He has lived in the High Country for 30 years and has worked at App State for 21 years as the Assistant Director of Campus Dining. His Republican challenger is Bart Keller, a Watauga County native that graduated from Watauga High School in 1995. He has worked for 24 years at Critcher Brothers Produce. Keller is a local cattle farmer and serves as a volunteer hose of Junior SRA Rodeo in Deep Gap.
The race for N.C. Senate District 45 will see incumbent Republican Deanna Ballard running for re-election. Ballard has been a member of the senate since 2016 and serves as the Director of Public Policy for Samaritan’s Purse. She is a graduate of Belmont University with a degree in Business Administration and served as special assistant to President George W. Bush and Director of Scheduling and Advance for First Lady Laura Bush. She will be challenged by Democrat Jeanne Supin, a 25-year resident of Watauga County who has operated a small consulting business for 22 years. Supin has helped mental health and addiction agencies in all 100 North Carolina counties and in all 50 states. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara.
Incumbent Democrat Ray Russell is running again for the N.C. House District 93 seat. Russell is the founder of Ray’s Weather and has operated the site for 20 years. He has also been a professor of Computer Science at Appalachian State since 1991. Russell holds a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech. He is being challenged by Republican Ray Pickett. Pickett is a former Blowing Rock Town Council member and served as a member of the Blowing Rock Planning Board. Pickett has managed the Blowing Rock Inn for the last 20 years and has called Watauga County home for several years.
The final Watauga County race in the 2020 Election is for the Watauga County School Board. Steve Combs is the only incumbent seeking re-election. He has served 14 years on the Watauga County Board of education and has been on the Boone ABC Board for 32 years. Combs has a long history in the local agriculture industry. Jason Cornett lost his school board seat in 2018 but is hoping to return to the board after serving from 2014 through 2018. Cornett has been in law enforcement for 21 years and is a native of the Bethel community as well as a graduate of Watauga High School. Marshall Ashcraft did not seek re-election in last year’s Boone Town Council seat, instead turning his aspirations to the board of education. Ashcraft worked on the staff for Watauga County Schools for 13 years and served as the Executive Director of The Children’s Council for four years. The final school board candidate is Ronny Holste. He is a faculty member at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute’s Watauga Campus and studied Criminal Justice at Appalachian State. His wife, Gina, was the 2013 Watauga County Schools Teacher of the Year.
The full candidate’s forum can be found on the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce YouTube Channel.