District elections came along, three Republicans were elected to an expanded board of seven, and nothing changed. A plot tried to thicken when photos surfaced of Republican Commissioners David King and Joe Belcher at a fundraiser for Ellen Frost; the Democrat who beat out Republican candidate Christina Kelly G. Merrill in a close, contested, and challenged contest settled with an 18-vote margin. But local high-ranking Republicans looked the other way.
So when it came time for those getting the short end of the initial staggering of terms to run again, a call went out from a loose coalition of local conservatives for “somebody to run against King.” Ads ran complaining against King voting to increase taxes while giving himself a pay raise and taking a trip to France.
In 2013, the commissioners raised the property tax rate from 52.5 to 56.9 cents. The Culture and Recreation Authority, with the power to levy an additional seven-cent property tax, was also created. But King’s personal benefits were small. The commissioners’ pay raise amounted to only about $500 each out of an operating budget well in excess of $337 million. The trip to France was paid by the Economic Development Commission, which gets its funds from local governments and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. The trip was to commemorate Project X coming out of the closet as multinational corporate giant General Electric. The corporation had just received millions in state and local dollars for an expansion phase in North Carolina, even though a division of GE is one of the world’s largest financing agencies – with $8.3 billion in net income in 2013, $514 billion in assets, operations in over fifty countries, and over 60 million customers.
For a long time, it appeared King would waltz right back into office; no Democrats had filed. But as the eleventh hour approached, relative unknown Miranda DeBruhl threw her hat into the ring. It was just assumed DeBruhl had been recruited by MACPAC (Mountain Area Citizens’ Political Action Committee), the Asheville Tea Party, and others But DeBruhl denies this.
In a press release, she stated, “I am a lifelong Republican, and I am running for my party’s nomination because I don’t feel that Mr. King has fairly represented our district with his votes. I was not recruited by any group.”
King ran on a platform of compromise, brandishing his support for education and awards of millions to corporations like GE Aviation, Jacob Holm, and Plasticard-Locktech. Mild mannered, he worked for peace, even appearing to be duped into arranging the meeting between Tim Moffitt and his challenger, Brian Turner, from which considerable dirty politicking has since precipitated.
And he lost. DeBruhl won with 2054 votes to King’s 1295. Another candidate, Lewis Clay, dropped out but still received 128 votes. The Asheville Tea Party did not endorse Clay, but they certainly attacked the local daily for digging and digging for dirt on him while giving all other candidates a pass.
Then, just as it appeared DeBruhl would waltz right in, King’s wife, Nancy Waldrop, announced she would run against her. The filing deadline had long since passed, but Waldrop could still run as an Unaffiliated candidate.
To get her name on the ballot, Waldrop had to collect 2300 signatures from District 3. She also had to quit the Republican Party, which meant she also had to give up her position of second vice chair of the Buncombe County Republican Party and secretary of the 11th District GOP. Waldrop, who had held other high positions in the local Republican Party through the years, does not see her decision as being turncoat.
Speaking of her past affiliations with the GOP, she explains, “I was a willing worker. My decision to become active in the political process stemmed from a childhood background in a politically-active family (Republican), a lifelong interest in politics and government, and a strong desire to work for positive outcomes for citizens.”
She continued, “Initially, I felt the Republican Party was a natural avenue for me to work to achieve these goals. Over time, especially in the last two years, it has become more and more apparent to me if positive outcomes are to be achieved, it will be through individuals working to solve problems and find solutions rather than through political parties. . . . Being an independent is now the path where I feel I can be the most effective.”
Announcing the signature drive, Waldrop referred to DeBruhl as “ultraconservative.” She wanted to give voters “the option to be represented by a commissioner who cares more about the community than about a political party.” As her husband before her, she emphasized “working together . . . rather than playing politics with our future.”
Asked to distinguish her stance from her opponent’s, DeBruhl remarked, “Frankly, I’m not certain what my opponent stands for. She is the wife of David King. The voters in the primary clearly rejected him. I must assume she holds very similar positions to her husband. However, much of her petition effort was funded by people even further to the left than him. [Democrat Commissioner] Holly Jones and other downtown liberal extremists proudly worked for her petition drive.”
Waldrop responds to concerns that her husband, now deposed, is seeking office through her. “Those thoughts would not come from anyone who knows either David or me. Anyone who does know David and me knows we are each very much our own person. We are extremely supportive of each other, but we are also very independent of each other . . . David has goals outside of, and prior to, the commission and politics. He is already moving on in pursuit of those. David had very little input on my decision to run.”
Waldrop says it was her brother who decided the question when he said, “‘Opportunities come your way for a reason. If you don’t do this, you will always regret it.’”
There is also a rumor that DeBruhl’s husband, Kelly, was toying with the idea of running, but then made a last-minute decision not to, Miranda said she would. She did not confirm or deny the story, she only stated, “My husband and I share the same concerns for the county. We obviously had discussions centered on the idea of an average person coming forward to take a stand, and after careful consideration, I decided to run. My family fully supports that decision.”
Waldrop had about as much difficulty coming up with stances that distinguished her from her opponent. “In the primary, the only issues I heard my opponent reference were the ones she had with her opponent. Other than she intends to represent and vote in accordance with the views of her supporters in the local Republican Party, I have no idea what she values or where she stands on any issues.”
Whereas an important issue to those seeking somebody to run against King was Project X. The public hearings were held without education and outreach, and even with special meetings scheduled to coincide with city council meetings. All the public had to go on was that the county wanted to give money to some company that couldn’t give its name. Millions in public funding would be given to a private corporation. And there was some confusing stuff about acquiring, renting, and transferring Facilities A and B.
Although other local governments across the state and the state itself also contributed sums, the Buncombe County Commissioners were responsible for appropriating $2,680,000 in tax incentives over ten years. Costs of the real estate transactions were on top. It wasn’t the county’s first foray into the real estate business, either. By purchasing the old Volvo plant, they effectively held it off the market until one of Volvo’s suppliers, Linamar, was ready to buy it.
At the mockery of a public meeting, Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton explained the mysterious project would create 52 high-paying jobs. Even more mysteriously, the money spent by the county was supposed to have an ROI up in the jillions somewhere. Conservative critics didn’t even try to entertain the outrageous numbers. Even at reasonable sums, it was not a proper role of government to collect money from the working poor to give to favorite-son corporate conglomerates.
Back then, King told the Tribune, “We worked together to make that happen. . . . The Tea Party raised Cain because we gave GE incentives to locate here. They are ideologically opposed to incentives. They complained that we only created 50 jobs and they did their little formula that said it worked out to paying GE $300,000 per job. But that plant here in Buncombe County meant more than 1200 jobs statewide. That’s the big picture their ideology won’t allow them to look at.”
His challenger, DeBruhl, indicated it was the trip to Paris that weighed most heavily on her mind. “Economic development isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but care must be taken to ensure the taxpayers are protected when incentives are provided. Officials must keep in mind any ‘incentives’ given to a corporation were paid for by the citizens.”
Waldrop had a lot to say on the subject of government picking winners and losers. “The only winners picked in the GE Aviation Expansion were the citizens of this county. The losers would have been the 300 employees who would have lost their good paying jobs, as well as the citizens with the loss of a company which pays taxes, the commitment of future jobs, and the money from the employees who spend money in the county. I don’t know how any county commissioner could take that scenario lightly.”
She continued, “There is always competition to get companies to locate here. Generally, the competition includes incentives. It is an example of how the current system works. It is the free market system. As is often said, in a perfect world, incentives would not be needed. If given, they should be done case-by-case. But, as long as other states offer incentives, we have little choice but to offer incentives if we want good paying jobs to come here.”
So much for opportunity costs.
Asked what they were hearing from the people they wish to represent, Waldrop said she heard a lot going door-to-door. “Resoundingly, the thoughts expressed were people want choice in their leadership. They like the idea of having an independent on the ballot.” After noting that a lot of people expect the commissioners to exert more power over state- and federally-controlled items, she added, “My biggest takeaway was people want to feel heard and are not sure anyone really cares, as the focus seems to be on party agendas rather than solutions to problems.”
DeBruhl was hearing some of the same thing. “The county residents want to feel they are being fairly represented on the board of commissioners. How their tax dollars are spent will continue to be a prominent issue. Cutting waste, divesting unneeded assets, and deferring special projects until they can be afforded with current revenues will be my focus.”
She added that she had heard the arguments about zoning. “Most people in the county don’t want politicians telling them how to use their private property. I will resist government overreach at every opportunity.” She added, “Decisions should be made based on what is best for the people, as opposed to what is best for personal friendships among those on the board.”
DeBruhl expects her experience as a small business owner and a nurse have her in-tune with the needs of other business owners and healthcare professionals in the county. Waldrop says teaching thirty years in public schools was probably the best possible experience for learning “skills needed to get things done by working together.”