High Point Republicans scramble to fill vacant seats

by Jordan Green

While most members of the Guilford delegation to the NC General Assembly face little or no competition in this year’s election, a Republican retirement in a House district covering High Point has created a scramble by GOP hopefuls and two African-American House Democrats face primary challengers.

Rep. Laura Wiley is retiring from the House 61 seat after serving for three terms. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district, which includes High Point, Colfax Jamestown and parts of Greensboro, although Democrats see voter registration gradually trending in their favor over the coming years. This time around, the contest is an all-Republican affair: High Point City Councilman John Faircloth may be the most well known property. Paul Norcross, a charter school founder, and mortgage broker Gerald T. Grubb have also joined the fray. Georgia Nixon- Roney, a lawyer and Jamestown Town Council member, rounded out the quartet by filing for election on Monday.

Whichever candidate wins the May 4 primary is virtually assured of winning the seat.

Democrat Alma Adams, who has represented District 58 in eastern Greensboro and Guilford County in the NC House since 1994, faces a primary challenge this year from Ralph C. Johnson, a leader of the Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro. An art professor at Bennett College and a former Greensboro City Council member, Adams is a voting member of the Simkins PAC, which distributes its endorsements to black voters. Johnson has been active over the past two years with Guilford County Unity Effort, a nonpartisan voter education project funded by Democracy North Carolina. (Disclosure: I have asked questions during candidate forums and distributed voter guides in east Greensboro for the group.)

Republican Olga Morgan Wright, a paralegal, has also filed. She has run unsuccessfully against Adams in the past three elections.

Democrat Earl Jones, like Adams a Simkins PAC member, also faces a rare primary challenge. Jones was first elected to the NC House in District 60 in 2002, after losing his Greensboro City Council seat a year earlier. Marcus Brandon Jr., a political newcomer, said he will emphasize putting federal dollars for light rail to use in North Carolina in his challenge to Jones, who staked out positions in favor of medical marijuana, video poker and the payday lending industry.

Greensboro Democrat Maggie Jeffus faces a challenge from Republican

Theresa Yon in District 59. Greensboro incumbents Pricey Harrison and John Blust face nominal competition. Democrat Harrison has a Republican challenger, Jon Hardister. Republican Blust will face Libertarian Jeffery Simon in the general election.

As is usual, Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, a Republican, has attracted a couple Democratic challengers. Harlon E. Costner, a retired US marshal from Greensboro, has been introducing himself to voters at political events since last fall. Phil Wadsworth of Pleasant Garden is also on the ballot.

Barnes, who remains one of the most popular Republican politicians across Guilford County, engaged in active campaign fundraising last year, and goes into the contest with $42,079 in cash on hand.

Barring the entry of viable challengers before filing closes on Feb. 26, Guilford county commission and school board races promise to be predictable affairs, with one notable exception.

High Point Republican Steve Arnold’s announcement earlier this month that he will retire from the District 2 seat on the Guilford County Commission has prompted two entries into the contest for his replacement so far. A proud conservative, Arnold was first elected to the county commission in 1990, having earlier served on the High Point City Council and in the NC House. Arnold’s land development company has run into economic difficulty in recent years, and his avoidance of creditors has caused legal troubles.

The better known of the two Republican contenders for Arnold’s seat is High Point Mayor Pro Tem Bill Bencini. He faces Myrene Stanley in the primary.

On the Guilford County School Board, at-large incumbent Nancy R. Routh of Pleasant Garden faces a challenge from Lisa Ingle Clapp of Greensboro.

Four county commissioners up for reelection this year — Democrat Bruce Davis in District 1, Republican Linda O. Shaw in District 3, Democrat Kay Cashion in District 6 and Democrat Carolyn Q. Coleman — as yet face no challengers. Likewise, four incumbent school board members — Garth Hebert in District 2, Chairman Alan W. Duncan in District 4, Jeff Lee Belton in District 6 and Deena Hayes in District 8 — are poised to sail through without contest.

Faircloth and Bencini’s aspirations to higher office mean that at least two seats on High Point City Council — those representing wards 4 and 6 — are up for grabs this year. Filing for city council races opens July 2.