Swansboro voters of all parties and affiliations will head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 5, to elect four town commissioners. But a recent meet-and-greet only for the candidates who are registered Republicans has some thinking that the traditionally nonpartisan election could be turning.
In an online post from Oct. 5, first-term Commissioner Frank Tursi, one of two unaffiliated candidates in this year’s election, decried the move as introducing a divisive tactic into the race.
The eight Republican candidates were invited to the event on Oct. 7 at the Swansboro Conference Center. Neither Tursi nor Laurent Meilleur, the other unaffiliated candidate, received an invitation.
Lee Barrows, chairman of the Onslow County Republican Party, said the county party scheduled the event. The idea may have come from one of the candidates or someone in Swansboro, although she added, “I can’t say for sure.”
It was advertised on the county party’s website as being open to all voters, Barrows said. And she said, “We still have the right as the Republican Party to support the Republican candidates.”
In his post, Tursi said partisan politics threatens the nature of local government.
“Clearly the county party is trying to rally local Republicans to vote for its candidates,” he writes. “This injection of partisan politics into our elections is sad and unfortunate. It threatens to make our elections like all others, divisive and often bitter and focused on things that have little to do with how we run our town or how you live your lives.”
Tursi’s post makes the point that town issues are not about party affiliation.
“I suppose the county GOP leaders will argue with my assessment, claiming that their motives are pure,” he writes. “They simply want to introduce voters to ‘conservative’ candidates. Someone should ask them, then, what’s the conservative position on a rezoning or a permit for a pizza joint? Are you a liberal or conservative if you favor buying more police cars? What’s the party’s position on one-way streets downtown, feather flag signs or Thursday garbage pickup? Do conservatives fix potholes and liberals allow them to get bigger? Or is it the other way around?”
In reaching out to the candidates, the Tideland News found that not all Republicans attended as the meet-and-greet fell at the same time as what turned out to be a popular Swansboro Historical Association program, “The History of Deer Island.”
Meilleur confirmed that he did not receive an invitation to the GOP event. Nor did he attend.
“I don’t think national party alliance applies to Swansboro Board of Commissioners,” he said. “Town decisions have very little to do with national party platforms.
“I believe this was the first time any political party actively engaged in Swansboro’s town elections, and I don’t expect it to continue,” he added. “We have enough challenges with our elected town officials without introducing political party affiliation.”
Jennifer Steele said she was invited and did attend, as did seven of the 10 candidates. (Though not invited, Tursi attended briefly.)
“I was invited, as were all Swansboro residents eligible to vote in the upcoming … election,” she said. Steele went on to say, “I do not feel that the Swansboro town commissioner race is being treated in a politically partisan manner,” as all residents were invited. And, she added, “I believe that political parties are irrelevant in my ability … as commissioner.”
Larry Philpott said he was invited, and accepted, but decided instead to attend the SHA event.
“This is my sixth election cycle since moving to Swansboro,” Philpott said. “To my knowledge, every election has been about local issues. I think they should continue to be the main focus.”
Jerry Seddon, who attended, said the meet and greet turned out to be more of a “round-table” discussion.
“I do not feel that (the election) is being treated in a partisan manner,” Seddon said. “It was a pleasure getting to know my opponents.”
Roy Herrick said he attended. He also listed reasons why he believes the municipal election is nonpartisan.
“The election is nonpartisan for a number of reasons, including avoiding primaries and thus allowing anyone and everyone the opportunity to be on the ballot. It also reduces the potential for PACs to get involved financially in municipal elections,” he explained.
However, he believes the GOP-only event allowed citizens “who believe in conservative values” to identify candidates who have similar beliefs.
“I simply don’t understand why it is a problem for a political party to get together and discuss an upcoming election with candidates from its party,” Herrick said.
Jeff Conaway, though invited, did not attend. Instead, he chose to attend “The History of Deer Island” program.
He simply said, “Until it is changed, our town elections are nonpartisan.”
Dusty Rhodes said Barrows invited him and he attended.
“I thought it would a good opportunity to meet voters, however the attendance was very underwhelming,” he said.
With adequate research, Rhodes said voters will know which candidates are “running for the right reasons and … that is what matters.”
Brad Buckley attended. He said, “I feel the public has the right to know someone’s political values, regardless of party.”
He also said, “This wasn’t some grand strategic plan to take the town. It was a meet and greet at best.”
Harry “P.J.” Pugliese said he did attend and that he viewed the meet-and-greet as an opportunity to meet the voting public and with fellow candidates.
“It would have been a disservice to voters to not be as accessible as possible,” he said.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.
For more extensive coverage on the Tuesday, Nov. 5, election purchase a copy of the Oct. 30, 2019, Tideland News.