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Candidate Statements for Three Races for Watauga County Board of Commissioners

By Jesse Wood

High Country Press reached out to candidates for Watauga County Board of Commissioners. Since candidates are running for particular districts, there are three races pertaining to the commission: Perry Yates (R) v. Diane Blanks (D) for District 1; Elizabeth Shukis (R) v. John Welch (D) for District 2; and David Blust (R) v. Larry Turnbow (D) for District 4.

Early voting has already begun and is currently taking place at the Watauga County Administration Building on King Street until it moves out into other parts of the county in the coming days. Check out sites, times and see sample ballots here. 

District 2: (Blust v. Turnbow)

blust-2016-1David Blust, Republican (Incumbent)


-Present County Commissioner

-40 year resident of Watauga County

-22 year member Harvest House Church

-Married to wife Cindy 35 years, 3 wonderful boys

-Serving on many community Boards for years

Statement: It is an honor to serve you as a County Commissioner. I am proud of my record of service. I have always tried to make every decision based upon integrity, common sense and with conservative values in mind.

David.blust@watgov.org, 828-963-6440


Larry Turnbow, Democrat



Larry Turnbow is retired from a career in air quality testing, and water and wastewater management.  A U.S. Army veteran, he has worked for both local government and private industry, and has experience in budgeting and instituting cost-saving efficiency. He and his wife, Marjory, have been married 32 years and moved to Watauga County 18 years ago because of our excellent schools, and to raise their children in this close-knit mountain community.


I believe Watauga County needs stronger leadership.  We are losing ground on our quality of life, and we all know it.  We are losing our small-town community spirit to heavy traffic and the sprawl of high-density development out into the county.  We run the risk of killing our tourism industry by allowing polluting industries, like the proposed asphalt plant on the Doc and Merle Watson Scenic Byway. We are losing our best teachers to better paying jobs in surrounding states.  And too many Watauga families subsist on low-wage and seasonal service jobs.

I believe it will take vision and leadership – actual action, not just words – to preserve what’s best about our county, plan for our future needs in education and recreation, pay our teachers competitively, and forge the coalitions that will find and attract the good-paying jobs in low-impact businesses that Watauga families need.

Facebook: Larry Turnbow for Watauga County Commission

District 1 Race (Yates v. Blanks)

Perry Yates, Republican (Incumbent)


  • Native of Watauga County
  • Graduate of Valle Crucis Elementary, WHS and ASU
  • Small Farmer
  • Active member of Greenway Baptist Church
  • President of New River Building Supply 1993-present
  • Watauga County Commissioner 2012-present
  • Contact info: 828-264-5650-W / 828-266-1565-C

For Yates’ statement, Yates attached questionnaires he filled out for Watauga County Association of Educators and the Watauga Democrat:


1) I would like to continue my efforts to keep Watauga the best place to live and work in North Carolina. Plans need to quickly be put in place to address our aging school buildings. Improvement in fire and ambulance services for every community not only make our community safe but also lower insurance rates paid by individuals.

I would like to improve communication and efforts between county, municipalities, Appalachian State University and App Regional Healthcare. Working together we can offer better jobs, healthcare and education for everyone. Improve economic development working with businesses to encourage investment and location in Watauga.

2) Our current industrial park is at capacity. We must revisit building a new facility to put us in a better position to compete with other counties making Watauga the best choice for businesses to operate.

Recreation is an integral part of life for young professionals. Businesses seek out communities with facilities to attract the best employees. We provide a sustainable, educated work force, one of the lowest tax rates in the state and a beautiful area with multiple outdoor activities, so why not complete this perfect package with a recreation center?

On the income side, facilities attract sporting events that infuse our economy with thousands and maybe millions of dollars for hotels, restaurants and other businesses. The funding method for the recreation facility MUST be decided by county citizens.

3) I was honored to work on the revised High Impact Land Use Ordinance enacted in 2015, the strongest county ordinance controlling high impact to date. I feel there is more work to be done. Time limits must be enforced and revisit Categories 2 and 3. Working together, with citizen input, we will strengthen the ordinance in a comprehensive way. Adherence to a strong HILU will eliminate the need for countywide zoning.

Thank you for the opportunity to address our local Association of Educators with my priorities. Having been educated from 1st – 12th grade and attending Appalachian State University all in Watauga County, along with my wife and children,

I understand the pressures, and achievements of our wonderful teachers in the WCS system.

What are your top 3-5 priorities for public education in Watauga County and why?

1) We have many schools in decline that make for an uncomfortable learning and working environment. The current county commissioners have been proactive in developing a capital improvement plan (CIP) for long-term capital needs. Securing property and building new schools for communities is a major reason why I am seeking re-election.

2) Our children deserve the best and making sure they have the most up-to-date age appropriate learning tools is a way to help them become successful in todays fast changing society.

3) Another way to ensure success is the retention and recruitment of top teaching professionals by offering incentives and facilities toward the goal of having the best school system in the state of North Carolina.

4) I would like to continue to improve relationships and communication between the Board of Education, Superintendent Elliott and the Commissioners. This can be achieved by workshops focused on long range planning that address the future needs of our school system rather than our reactive approach. I would like to see more private/public cooperation that will help strengthen our system as well.

I have always been a strong supporter of our local school system and look forward to the opportunity to give back to our community.


Diane Blanks, Democrat


Bio: My name is Diane Warman Blanks. I’m a native of Watauga County and a graduate of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism. I spent my career in public relations, marketing and fundraising.

I’m a member of the Junaluska Heritage Association, the Endowment Board of the Watauga County Library, and Boone United Methodist Church and past vice chairman of the Boone Historic Preservation Commission.

Retired from Emory University’s Health Sciences Development Office, I currently work part-time as Grants Manager for Lees-McRae College.

Statement: I’m running for County Commissioner because Watauga County is special, and I want to work to keep it that way. I want to help build a sustainable future for Watauga County.

We live in an absolutely beautiful place, with clean air and water, good people, countless opportunities for outdoor recreation, a low crime rate, an exceptional school system and a unique mountain culture and lifestyle.

I want to work to protect our unspoiled environment, our rural farmland and Watauga’s fast-vanishing mountain heritage. I want to help build a good future in this county for all of our people.

We need to take back Watauga County from special interests who have No interest in the quality of life here. For them, it’s just “all about the money.” The money they can make buying and selling land here and building all over it.

Watauga County stands at a crossroads where we have to make some very real decisions as to how we want to live in this county.

We should work together to shape a sustainable future that will make Watauga County a wonderful place for ALL of us to live–including working families, small farmers, seniors and job seekers looking for a living wage.

Following are some of the things I think the Watauga County Commission should be focusing on:

Working toward the establishment of a new Business Park or Small Business Park in Watauga County, in a sensible, accessible location

Point: We need jobs with career tracks here, so that our children can stay in Watauga County and build a career, if they want to, rather than having to sell family homes and land and go elsewhere to climb the career ladder.

Point: The small farm movement and Consumer Supported Agriculture here are a   wonderful rebirth of farming and small business. But we cannot totally build a bright   future on those. We need investment in business and light manufacturing here in     Watauga County if we are to grow in a thoughtful, sustainable manner.

Launching a well-thought-out, targeted and energetic public relations/marketing campaign promoting Watauga County as a family-friendly place to live and a great place to establish a business or small manufacturing facility

Point: We should actively promote our county so as to attract the people and businesses that will enhance our quality of life, not reduce it. We have     energy, brainpower and a        strong heritage of craftsmanship here. Watauga County is a place many Want to live.         Those are assets to Any county. We should market them. Outdoor recreation and tourism    are solid but seasonal, and too much of our economy depends on them.

Working toward expansion of the Watauga County Library–which is now operating beyond capacity while providing multiple services for thousands–and working toward the establishment of a branch library in the Deep Gap area and expansion of the existing Western Branch. The present Library opened its doors in 1997 and needs more space today.

Point: In addition to providing access to literature, movies and many other resources for    education and enjoyment, modern libraries have become technology hubs. For many of            the working poor and job seekers in Watauga County, the Library provides some of the    only Free access to the Internet in this county. And if you don’t know how to use it, the    Library will teach you…for free. All Watauga County citizens Must become tech savvy if          we are to compete in today’s rapidly changing marketplace.

Working to protect our rural farmland and mountain culture against inappropriate development. We should actively work to attract families, low-impact industry and small businesses that will have minimal negative impact on our land and will help provide a bright future for Watauga County.

Point: We should not sell our wonderful heritage for a mess of pottage…or a quick buck.

Working with community partners to build an affordable indoor recreation center for ALL Watauga County citizens

Supporting our exceptional local school system through needed renovation of buildings and gradually increasing teacher supplements and staff salaries


District 2: (Welch v. Shukis)

John Welch, Democrat (Incumbent)

Welch and family

BIO: John Welch is a Watauga County native. He earned degrees from Wingate University, the United States Sports Academy and Appalachian State University after graduating from Watauga High School in 1997. John has worked with ASU Athletics since 2001. John is married to Christy Welch and they are the parents of Madison (11) and Cameron (4). They serve on the Mabel School PTA, teach children’s Sunday School at 1st Presbyterian Church, volunteer with numerous local non-profits and are the founders of the Pioneer Prom Boutique which offers free prom dresses to local high school students in need.

In 2010 John was elected to the Watauga County School Board. He was appointed to the Recreation Commission, Finance Committee and the North Carolina School Boards Association Legislative Committee during his tenure. John was then elected to the Watauga County Commission in 2012 where he has had the privilege of serving ALL Watauga County citizens. He currently represents the County Commission on the Recreation Commission, the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and the Caldwell Community College Watauga Advisory Board. John would be honored to earn your vote this November to continue serving his home county.


Education — I take great pride in being an advocate for our students, parents and educators. I pushed for teacher supplement increases each year I was on the Commission.  In addition, I advocated for a fairer school calendar law, supported pre-K for all children, fought to keep critical staff in our schools, such as teacher assistants, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc…, and worked to address the needs of our aging elementary school buildings.

Public Safety — I will continue to support our law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders. I was happy to support the ambulance base in western Watauga and will continue to support plans to provide services to all parts of the county. I also made the recommendation that the county conduct a pay study to ensure that we are paying our county employees what they deserve. This will be the first pay study conducted in over 16 years.

Recreation – Watauga County is an area that draws people for its natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities. We must continue to develop our recreational infrastructure so that we can take advantage of the economic impact that other communities are receiving.

Economic Development – I will continue to support policies that empower small, local businesses and attract new businesses to the area. If we are serious about bringing good jobs to Watauga County we need strong schools and a thriving community college.   I was blessed to have a quality education and an opportunity to return home after college to live, work, and raise a family. This is my goal for all Watauga County residents.

Open and honest government — I have always served with the best interest of all of Watauga County at heart. I consult with folks from around the county from all political persuasions, to inform the decisions I make on the issues. I pray each day that I serve each county resident with the respect and diligence that they deserve.

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/JohnWelchForWataugaCountyCommission/

Contact: john.welch@watgov.org

Elizabeth Shukis, Republican


Elizabeth Shukis has called Watauga County home for more than 16 years. She was born and raised in Chapel Hill where she attended UNC.

She and her husband, Andrew, own multiple small businesses in the High Country; Diversified Building Solutions,Inc.  AS Construction, Inc.  and The White Glove, Inc. They have two children, Victoria (18) who attends NC State University and Phillip (16), who attends Watauga High School.

Elizabeth is well informed with our school district and its needs.  Having had 2 children attend Hardin Park and Watauga High School she has invested her time and energy into not only their education, but all students in Watauga County.  Shukis served on the PTA Board as President and today continues to support the teachers and staff.  Many of the activities and programs that are used today were implemented by her years ago.

As an active member of Boone United Methodist Church, she serves on numerous boards. Elizabeth has been an effective community advocate for the people of Watauga County by engaging in organizations such as Watauga County Meals on Wheels, Hope Pregnancy Center, Boone Service League, Women’s Republican Club, Christian Women’s Club, MOPS  (Mothers of Preschoolers), WAMY, Hospitality House, The Hunger Coalition and more. She continues to be the voice of those less fortunate by empowering them and leading them to the resources available.

Elizabeth Shukis is committed to supporting Watauga County Schools, as well as, Appalachian State University and Caldwell Community College.

Elizabeth Shukis will continue building on being fiscally responsible while not overlooking the real needs of each citizen.

Elizabeth Shukis is dedicated in her service to the people of Watauga County and will continue when elected as County Commissioner.

Her platform is

Supporting Education: Considering the infrastructure of our schools and budgeting for the immediate and future needs.

Quality Living :Focusing on the investment in recreational facilities and care of our beautiful mountain environment.

Economic Development:Strengthening our local businesses while attracting new business thru incentives which will provide more opportunities for student graduates



Facebook: lizforwatauga

Twitter: @shukis4_commiss

Instagram: #shukis4watauga