Election could be interesting

Published 10:24 am Monday, October 15, 2012

An interesting election is coming up for Bertie County in just a few weeks. It is true on several levels, but mostly it concerns the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.

The long-term effects could be huge as the county has the opportunity to make several monumental shifts in areas such as party, sex, ethnicity and general belief in how the county should be run.

Depending on the outcome of the two races for Commissioner, Bertie County could elect its first Republican Commissioner, as well as an unaffiliated candidate, and could return to a majority white board for the first time in two decades, and perhaps elect a female for the first time in 10 years.

In the District 1 race, Democratic nominee Ronald D. Wesson will be pitted against Republican challenger Angela Simmons Bridges. The other race – in District 4 – pits incumbent Democrat Norman M. Cherry Sr. against unaffiliated candidate John Trent.

No matter what happens, the board will remain majority Democrat. Incumbents Rick Harrell, J. Wallace Perry and Charles Smith are still in the midst of terms they were elected to in 2010, so the party shift would be major, but not majority.

The change would come in having a two-party system at work within the board. While counties close by – such as Martin, Chowan and Beaufort – have had Republican representatives on the board, Bertie has not. The board has also not had an unaffiliated candidate in long enough that no one can remember one if there ever has been such a commissioner.

The board also made a change in majority in the 1992 election which saw black commissioners outnumber white commissioners for the first time. That has not changed since that election, but could easily in the upcoming election.

Two of the three commissioners that will return are white males and one black male. Both Bridges and Trent – the two opposing the Democratic nominees – are white, while both Democratic candidates are black males. That means it would take victory by either one of the non-Democrats to change the majority ethnicity on the board. If both win, the majority would swing 4-1 in favor of whites.

Also, Bridges has the opportunity to become the first female on the board since Patricia Ferguson declined to seek reelection a decade ago. She would have the dual ability to become the board’s only Republican member.

Now, that’s what could happen.

Here are some facts for you to consider as you contemplate those possibilities:

  1. Democrats make up 77 percent of the county’s registered voters. There are 11,196 registered Democrats while 1,467 are registered as Republicans. Unaffiliated voters make up roughly 10 percent (1,846) and there are an additional 10 registered Libertarians.
  2. Black voters comprise almost 60 percent of the county’s electorate. As of Thursday, the county had 8,683 registered voters who designated themselves as black and 5,317 who said they are white. There were 49 multiracial voters, 17 American Indians and 11 Asians. Another 43 declined to offer their ethnicity. (For the record, I am one of the latter.)
  3. Ronald Wesson proved to be one of the stronger Democratic candidates in the last few years. In the primaries for the last three elections, only three candidates met his vote total from this May. They were Bertie County Sheriff John Holley, Judicial District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell and current Bertie County Commissioner L.C. Hoggard III.

What will happen? I’m not sure. I think it depends on whose voters turn out. Honestly, the presidential election could have an effect on the commissioner races. If President Barack Obama’s voters turn out as they did four years ago and vote straight party, the two Democrats are locks.

If, however, Governor Mitt Romney causes a large turnout and the president’s supporters stay home, we could see at least one non-Democrat win. If that happens, I think it will be Trent winning. I don’t think anyone can beat Wesson if his support is as strong as it was six months ago.

Either way, I think it should be interesting to see what the voters of Bertie County decide early next month.


Thadd White is Managing Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached via email at thadd.white@r-cnews.com or by telephone at 332-7211.