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Local Campaigns Compete for Cash in WNC

BY MICHAEL GEBELEIN / Carolina Public Press

Candidates for local government seats in Western North Carolina have raised thousands of dollars in their election bids this year, leading to widespread advertising campaigns and signs along roadways across the region. Carolina Public Press analyzed campaign finance documents for candidates who reported raising more than $1,000, the amount that triggers state-mandated filing requirements.

Documents were only available for money raised from January 2015 through June, though some candidates only filed paperwork beginning in January 2016.

Filings for the months since June won’t be reported until Oct. 31.

Windfalls for Watauga candidates

Larry Turnbow, a Democrat running for the District 4 seat on the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, raised $3,000 in individual contributions during the second quarter, spent $942 on operating expenditures and had $3,000 on hand at the end of June.

Elizabeth Shukis, a Republican running for a commission seat, raised nearly $3,000 since 2015, including $1,800 in the second quarter. Her filings show she had $2,200 on hand at the end of June.

Diane Warman Blanks, a Democrat, raised $1,300 since January in her race for a commission seat, including $900 in the second quarter.

Barbara Kinsey, a Democrat running for the Board of Education, raised $4,000 since January and had $500 on hand at the end of June.

Big money in Buncombe

Buncombe County, WNC’s most populous county and home to Asheville, the region’s largest city, had more than $120,000 spent just on campaigns for the county Board of Commissioners.

Buncombe County’s most prolific fundraiser was Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who had raised almost $50,000 since 2013, according to her campaign finance filings. Beach-Ferrara, a Democrat, is running unopposed for the District 1 seat currently held by Brownie Newman, who is seeking a seat as chairman of the board. Beach-Ferrara faced a primary battle against Gordon Smith and Isaac Coleman, which she won by 1,100 votes. Records appear to show the bulk of her spending and fundraising took place prior to the primary.

Beach-Ferrara also raised more than $10,000 in the second quarter, from March through June, and records show she had a little more than $6,000 on hand as of June 30. The majority of Beach-Ferrara’s second-quarter contributions came in increments of $100 or less, but she did receive $5,100 from Illinois attorney Jeff Cooper and $2,400 from his wife, Francesca Cooper, on May 28.

Newman’s race against Republican real estate developer Chuck Archerd for commission chairman was the second-most expensive race in Buncombe County, even though Archerd hasn’t even filed campaign finance paperwork yet.

Archerd was nominated by the Buncombe County Republican Party to run for the chair seat in August after commissioner Miranda DeBruhl dropped out of the race. Filings show DeBruhl had almost $5,500 on hand at the end of June and had raised more than $11,000 since January.

Filings show Newman raised more than $22,000 since 2015 and brought in $15,000 during the second quarter. He had almost $16,500 on hand at the end of June and spent $1,700 in the second quarter. Almost all of Newman’s contributions came in amounts of $100. He did receive larger donations from state Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe), Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan and Weaverville councilman Doug Dearth.

Mike Fryar, a Republican candidate for county commission, raised almost $20,000 since January, but did not raise any money during the second quarter. Fryar had $15,000 on hand at the end of the filing period.

His general election opponent, Democrat Nancy Nehls Nelson, raised more than half of her $20,000 for the election cycle in the second quarter. Records show Nelson spent $6,300 in the second quarter and had almost $7,000 on hand at the end of June.

Haywood heats up

The three newcomers in the Haywood County Board of Commissioners race have collectively raised more than $15,000.

Democrat Steve Brown, executive director of The Arc of Haywood, an assisted living facility, raised more than $9,000 since 2015 and had more than $5,000 on hand at the end of June. Robin Black, a Democrat, raised $2,700 of her nearly $4,000 in the second quarter and had $900 on hand in June.

Black contributed $3,000 to her own campaign and, in addition to several small donations, received $500 from Canton resident Bobbie Greene.

Republican Brandon Rogers raised almost $2,400, including $470 in the second quarter. Filings show he had $500 on hand at the end of the second quarter.

Kevin Ensley, the only sitting commissioner running for re-election, did not file campaign finance paperwork.

Partisan jostling in Jackson

The race for two seats on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has two Republican challengers allied against two sitting Democrats. Three of the four candidates have raised more than $5,000.

Democrat Vicki Greene is leading the way with $7,000 in contributions in the second quarter and almost $10,000 raised during the election cycle. She had more than half of her second-quarter contributions on hand at the end of June. Records show she received $1,000 in June from Margaret Lewis, a Sylva gas station owner, and that she made a $4,000 contribution to her own campaign for the District 3 seat on March 10.

Greene’s opponent, Republican Ron Mau, raised $4,500 since January, including $3,800 in the second quarter. He had $400 on hand at the end of June.

Democrat Mark Jones, the incumbent in the District 4 seat, raised almost $6,000 during the second quarter and had $2,400 on hand at the end of the filing period. He gave $1,700 to his campaign during the second quarter and received a $1,000 contribution from Sylva residents Margaret Lewis and Tim Lewis. Commissioner Boyce Dietz gave $400 to Jones.

Mickey Luker, Jones’ Republican opponent, raised $5,000 during the second quarter, almost the entirety of his contributions throughout the election cycle. The vast majority of that total, $4,000, Luker gave to his own campaign.

Other WNC counties

CHEROKEE COUNTY: Unaffiliated candidate Jan Lukens, running for a District 5 commission seat against incumbent Republican Commissioner Roy Dickey, raised $8,400 during the second quarter, including an $8,000 contribution to his own campaign. Dickey reported having $2,390 in his campaign fund from earlier fundraising, but did not report any fundraising this year.

MACON COUNTY: Republican Karl Gillespie and Democrat Charlie Leatherman are running to replace Commissioner Kevin Corbin, who is seeking a seat in the state legislature. Gillespie raised $5,300 during 2016, and contributed all of it himself. Records show that his $1,700 in expenditures during the second quarter went toward advertising.

Bobby Kuppers, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican Commissioner Paul Higdon, raised $5,300 during the second quarter and had $3,300 on hand at the end of June.

Neither Higdon nor Leatherman reported meeting the $1,000 threshold for campaign reporting through June.

MCDOWELL COUNTY: Tonia Hampton, a Republican running unopposed for Register of Deeds, raised $2,200 during the second quarter and had $28 on hand at the end of June. She received a $1,000 contribution from Lena Baker, an employee of hers, and gave $450 to her own campaign.

POLK COUNTY: Rhonda Lewis, a Democrat seeking one of three at-large Board of Commissioners seats, raised $1,100 in the second quarter. Tommy Melton, a Republican also seeking an at-large seat, raised $2,500 in 2016, with $1,500 in the second quarter. The commission race in Polk County features no members of the current board.

Editor’s note: Other Western North Carolina counties not named in this report did not have any candidates who met the $1,000 reporting threshold. The exception was Burke, which did have some candidates meeting the threshold. Elections officials in Burke County, contacted Oct. 13 about obtaining copies of those reports, said they would need additional time to make copies of the requested records. Carolina Public Press will update this article with the Burke County records when those become available.