GATESVILLE – With multiple races dotting the May Primary ballot, Gates County voters needed an avenue in which to learn more about local candidates.
They were granted that wish here last week.
With a crowd estimated at 160 nearly filling the courtroom, local voters seized the opportunity to learn more about the candidates for the Board of Education, Register of Deeds and Board of Commissioners during a Candidates Forum hosted April 19 by the Gates County Chamber of Commerce and the Gates County Index.
Jonathan Jones, Chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, presided over the 90-minute event. Robin Phillips, Coordinator of Communications and Public Relations with Roanoke Electric Cooperative, served as the moderator.
Two of the 11 local candidates will face no opposition in the May 8 Primary. School Board member Ray Felton and Register of Deeds Sharon Harrell did not have to answer questions, only giving an opening statement.
“Thank you for allowing me to serve you for these past few years,” said Felton. “It has been one of the greatest honors and pleasures I’ve had, to help shape the educational system for our children. I’ve taken a stand when one was needed and looking back I don’t regret any stand I’ve taken. I do what I feel is best for the good of our students and I hope you will support me for the coming term.”
“I appreciate the trust and support you have shown in me over the past four years; it’s been an honor to serve as your Register of Deeds,” Harrell stated. “I ask each of you for your continued support over the next four years. I’m always there to help you.”
Harrell reminded the audience that since she has no opposition in the May Primary, her name will not appear on that ballot. She advances straight to November’s General Election.
School Board race
In the lone Board of Education race on the Primary ballot, current Board Vice Chairman Dale Saunders, a five-term incumbent, faces a District 4 challenge from Claire Rountree Whitehurst, a retired school teacher.
“We’ve gone through some things in this county, changes in our schools,” Saunders said. “I feel we’ve allowed our citizens to have their say in those changes and we worked them out in a way that was equitable and fair. I’m excited about our new Superintendent and the great future of Gates County Schools. I’m asking you to consider reelecting me to the board.”
Whitehurst, a Gates County native and product of the local public school system, said she could bring a “teacher’s voice” to the School Board.
“I can speak as a teacher, someone with firsthand experience in the classroom,” she said. “I have seen firsthand what it takes to use every resource possible to make each of our students successful, not just as a learner, but as a contributing member of society. I know the challenges our teachers face and I know we have to do more with less every year due to a shrinking budget. If elected I plan to be a listener, an encourager and a supporter to our schools, administrators, students and parents.”
District 4 Commissioner
Three candidates are seeking the District 4 Commissioner’s seat – two Democrats, incumbent Henry Jordan, the board’s current vice-chairman, and challenger Chuck Brothers, a current member of the Gates County Planning Board, along with Republican candidate Thomas Hill.
“I have seen many challenges Gates County has faced during my time on the Planning Board,” Brothers said. “Some of these challenges have been very steep, others have been shallow, but by working together as a team we can all achieve what’s best for Gates County and that is to have a county that we’re proud to live in. Like my great grandfather, my grandfather and my mother who have been involved in Gates County in the Drum Hill and Union Branch area, I hope to carry that heritage forward and I humbly ask for your support on May 8.”
“It’s been my objective over the past three and one half years to accomplish three major goals that you elected me to do,” said Jordan. “First of all was keeping taxes relatively low; second to control spending and third to continue to provide the services our county citizens have come to expect from local government.”
As a county native, Jordan said he wants Gates County to be the best it can be.
“I’m asking you to give the Republicans a chance come the Nov. 6 election,” said Hill. “I’m asking you to give me a chance on Nov. 6.”
District 5 Commissioner
The Hobbsville (District 5) Commissioners race has drawn the most crowded field of candidates. There, three Democrats – incumbent Commission Chairman Graham Twine, Gates County Planning Board Chairperson Linda Hofler and challenger Ernest L. Jordan – will be on the May Primary ballot. The winner will advance to November’s General Election to face Republican Sidney Pierce III, a political newcomer.
“I’ve invested my life in Gates County through my family, my church, my work and my community activities,” said Hofler.
Hofler added that she had been a school teacher for over 30 years and has served on the Rural Health Board.
“People love Gates County for its peaceful and quite rural setting,” Hofler noted. “I understand that change will occur, but we need to preserve our heritage for smart growth. We need a vision, a plan of where we want to be, five, 10, 20 years from now. We need to plan for the future now. We face critical needs in education, technology resources and services for our senior population. We have to use our resources wisely and work for a common sense solution for our county’s needs. Our citizens want to heard and given a chance to help solve problems. They need the maximum benefit for the tax dollars they pay.”
Ernest Jordan also touted his deep roots in Gates County, saying he’s lived here all his life.
“I bring to you a fresh, young idea,” Jordan said. “I’m for you, the citizens of Gates County; a vote for me is a vote for you. My slogan is I won’t go along just to get along, I will stand for you because you are Gates County.
“We have some wonderful things already in place here in Gates County and I want to preserve what we have,” Jordan continued. “There needs to be a younger idea added to this. Once we involve the citizens more we can understand the direction we need to go. I want to help direct our future and ask for your vote.”
Despite the challenges of serving in an elected position, Twine said he has enjoyed every minute of representing the people of Gates County.
“Gates County is moving forward and we’re putting plans together to help it continue to move forward,” Twine stated. “It’s been said we (commissioners) do not allow input from the citizens on decisions we make. That’s not true. Over the past three years I’ve listened and I’ve talked to our citizens as well as to groups within the county. Citizen input is very important to me and I use it in the decisions I make for this county.
“I appreciate your support over the last three years and I’m asking for your support for the next four years,” Twine added. “I want to keep serving you.”
Pierce, the youngest candidate at age 24, is also a Gates County native. He is a graduate of Gates County High School and NC State University and has twice worked as an intern for Gates County local government.
“I’m asking for your vote in November,” Pierce said. “I can bring new ideas, new energy and solutions to the table….that’s what we need in this county.”
The candidates involved in contested races each fielded several questions that were developed from county citizens and Chamber members prior to the forum. Those questions were listed by a number placed in a bowl. Each candidate randomly selected a number and then was asked the corresponding question. Board of Commissioners candidates were asked five questions; the two seeking a contested seat on the School Board were each posed three questions.