County Commissioner faces electoral challenge from own party

by Jordan Green

Two Guilford County commissioners, Chairwoman Carolyn Coleman and her Democratic colleague Kay Cashion, face Republican challengers in the November general election. Bruce Davis faces a challenge from a fellow Democrat in his primary. Republican Steve Arnold is running unopposed.

None of them are going into as crowded a field of primary challengers as Linda Shaw, a Greensboro Republican who lives next door to Guilford College. District 3, which Shaw has represented since 1998, encompasses parts of northwest Greensboro, along with the increasingly assertive municipalities of Stokesdale, Summerfield and Oak Ridge.

The three Republicans challenging Shaw for her seat hail from those three exurban towns, and they expressed varying perspectives on whether the current commissioner understands the needs of her non-Greensboro constituents. What they agree on is that the commission is due for a shakeup to break it from a dysfunctional streak that has garnered more headlines for partisan warfare than for deliberation over the issues.

‘“I would love to get in there because I believe a new face with a new attitude, it could help,’” said Don Wendelkin, a 48-year-old Summerfield resident who runs a short-term housing business called Corporate Accommodations with his wife. ‘“I know I couldn’t change all the attitudes of the other parties, but you want to represent your community well. We need professionalism, credibility and respect, and that’s where there is none.’”

The 65-year-old Shaw, a seasoned politician with solid Republican bona fides ‘—’ she was elected to represent North Carolina on the Republican National Committee in 1992 and tapped by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to serve as secretary for the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia ‘— appears taken aback by the groundswell of interest in her seat.

‘“I really don’t know,’” she said. ‘“I’ve done everything I could to keep the landfill out. I’ve been very vocal in opposition to Fed Ex and what it’s done out in that area. I’ve been supportive of the schools. I serve on the Greensboro Economic Development Partnership and Heart of the Triad. I’m doing everything I can to be supportive of Greensboro.’”

Shaw said she was against the Federal Express sorting hub coming to Greensboro in 1998 because the company’s part-time jobs will pay only $8-10 per hour, the company will escape taxation as a tenant of Piedmont Triad International airport and will be able to pull up stakes and leave at any time.

Shaw said she has been mindful of concerns in the outlying towns about taxation as well.

‘“The state didn’t give our sales tax money back [to the municipalities],’” she said. ‘“My mayors know how I fought for them. I think they would be very supportive of me. If you asked them if they’re satisfied with my representation, I think they’d tell you they were. I’ve tried to work with them in terms of giving them some county services back to offset it.’”

Belying the claims of detractors, Shaw has reached across party lines and joined Democrat Skip Alston in support of a long-term drug and alcohol treatment center.

‘“It is long overdue here,’” she said. ‘“I think alcohol is really becoming predominant with our teenage group. We need something that’s more than just three days. You cannot just expect an alcoholic or an addict to spend three days in rehabilitation and be cured. I think it would cut down on the number of inmates we have in our jail.’”

Urban-exurban tensions are an active ingredient in the politics of constituents in Stokesdale, Summerfield and Oak Ridge, suggested Marcus Kindley, chairman of the Guilford County Republican Party.

‘“They have a strong streak of independence in that area,’” he said. ‘“The reason they organized those towns is they wanted to limit Greensboro from encroaching on them and telling them what to do and how to live their lives. They have a different outlook.

‘“Linda Shaw is a transplant here, but she lives in Greensboro,’” he continued. ‘“Many times the people in the city of Greensboro think the sun rises and sets within the city limits. We hear the people of Greensboro say, ‘You people who live outside the city limits should pay library fees.’ But what they fail to realize is that those of us who live out in the county, we pay the majority of sales taxes.’”

Kindley said the bylaws of the county Republican Party forbid it from endorsing candidates in primary races, with the rare exception of an extraordinary circumstance such as a felon filing for election.

Two of Shaw’s opponents have previously run for political office.

Wendelkin ran unsuccessfully for Summerfield Town Council in 2005. A prolific letter writer, he has opined in the editorial pages of the News & Record about environmental and transportation issues. In one letter, he called into question the existence of global warming. He has also said the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation, which shuttles people between the Triad’s three major cities, constitutes an unnecessary expenditure of federal tax money.

In one letter published by the newspaper in April 2005, Wendelkin wrote: ‘“Since vehicles are taxed and the money is used to maintain highways, bicycles should be taxed, and only those who pay the annual tax should be allowed to use the paths. Highways are for vehicles.’”

In an interview on March 10 he said he was merely being provocative with the proposal.

‘“That would be a very hard sell,’” he said. ‘“My point was to get the debate running. For people to want to pay to ride on bike trails, most people are going to say no.’”

He’s observed increased bicycle ridership in northwest Guilford County and sees a need for more trails because he looks upon cycling on highways as a safety hazard.

‘“When you get a whole line of [bicycles] one of them might stick out and there’s a good risk that someone is going to try to pass and you’re going to have a head-on collision,’” he said.

Samuel Spagnola, a 36-year-old lawyer from Stokesdale whose Greensboro firm handles divorce, bankruptcy and criminal cases, lost an NC House race in 2002 for the seat currently held by High Point Republican Laura Wiley.

Cutting taxes is one of his campaign issues, but he downplays differences between Greensboro and its outlying neighbors.

‘“That’s where most of the tax base comes from as far as residential properties because that’s the highest growth area,’” he said. ‘“We have the highest per capita housing prices in Stokesdale. I don’t know if the concerns are that different in Oak Ridge, Stokesdale or Summerfield than Greensboro. The demographics are pretty much the same.’”

Unlike Shaw, who voted in favor of using county money to offer RFMD, the company formerly known as RF Micro Devices, and Syngenta corporate incentives, Spagnola opposes the use of public money for private companies on principle.

‘“I don’t think it’s constitutionally permissible to give one property one tax rate and another a different tax rate,’” he said. ‘“I lived in Cabarrus County a couple years ago and they spent all that money paying Dow Corning to come, and they closed down two years later.

‘“Not only is it a question of fairness but it’s a question of communities not getting what they were promised,’” he added. ‘“I don’t think multi-billion dollar companies are credible when they say they can’t afford to operate without corporate incentives. I think it’s a fleece, and a lot of them would still go where they were going to go anyway.’”

The youngest candidate vying to represent District 3 is Michael K. Garrett, the 21-year old son of Guilford County School Board member Darlene Garrett. The candidate has a Greensboro address but claims close ties to Summerfield.

‘“A lot of the reason I decided to run is to get more young people involved in the county,’” he said. ‘“The other part of it is development issues and education. I don’t think the county has done enough to keep up with growth in the northwest, anything from schools to making sure the sheriff has the resources to make sure the areas in the northwest are safe.’”

Garrett said his mother will manage his campaign, and he has already recruited volunteers to knock on doors and wear political buttons. He said financing is likely to be the weak link in campaign.

‘“I won’t be raising much money because of my age and I don’t have much money,’” he said. ‘“I will knock on doors, go to grocery stores and go to town council meetings to get the word out. I’m going the old-fashioned campaign route here.’”

The Republican candidate who prevails in the primary election on May 2 will face the sole Democratic contender, Ray Riffe. An employee of the NC Association of Educators, a teachers union representing Guilford County Schools, Riffe is something of an ideological anomaly in his largely conservative, affluent district. The Democratic candidate previously worked for the NC AFL-CIO and served as president of the Communication Workers union Local 3607 in Greensboro.

The county Republican Party chairman said he does not expect Riffe to pose a serious challenge to the Republican candidate in the November general election.

‘“Bruce Davis, he’s got a Democrat running against him in his district,’” Kindley said. ‘“His challenge is not coming from the Republicans; it’s coming from a Democrat. [Linda Shaw] is in a heavily Republican district. Her challenge is going to be more Republicans.’”

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