Election results in 2020 from Brevard, the county seat of Transylvania County in North Carolina, made the national news.
The New Yorker magazine dispatched journalist Peter Slevin from Chicago to report from the Transylvania County courthouse on the race for county commissioner seats.
The contrast is quite compelling. Some 35,000 people reside in Transylvania County, while there are about 1.2 million weekly readers of the New Yorker.
Transylvania County is mountainous and forested. It is situated near the southwestern tip of North Carolina just above South Carolina. (About 430 highway miles of winding road separate Morehead City from Brevard.)
Slevin managed to find his way from Chicago and revealed to his readers that the 2020 election did not go well for two incumbent county commissioners – Mike Hawkins and Page Lemel.
Hawkins and Lemel have been solid pillars within the local community and well-respected public servants.
Hawkins is president of Pisgah Enterprises, a commercial and residential real estate development company, and operates the Pisgah Fish Camp restaurant in Pisgah Forest. He earned bachelor’s and MBA degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Page Lemel, a graduate of Duke University in Durham, is owner and executive director of Keystone Camp in Brevard, a summer retreat for girls. It’s a four-generation family business, considered to be the oldest private summer camp in the Southeast.
Hawkins and Lemel made front page news in 2019 when they opted to shed their Republican party cloaks of identity and give it a go in 2020, running under the “Unaffiliated” banner.
The national news media zoomed in and spun it as a local “defection from the party of President Donald Trump.”
It was a risky maneuver, but Hawkins and Lemel figured it was a way “to test the waters” in a sense. The largest voting bloc in the county is “Unaffiliated” voters.
The state says there are 10,989 people registered as Unaffiliated in Transylvania County, compared to 8,352 Republicans and 6,059 Democrats.
Hawkins and Lemel had the numbers on their side...had Unaffiliated voters been unified under that umbrella. It didn’t happen. Hawkins and Lemel got thumped. Voters elected a new GOP slate to the county board.
Max Millington of Durham writes for Cardinal & Pine, a digital news media outlet that supports policies advanced by Democrats. He interviewed Hawkins and Lemel.
The intent of their campaign was to “rise above” partisanship in local government.
Hawkins said: “My opinion is that many county commissioners across the state see themselves not in an administrative role, but rather they think of themselves as miniature Lindsey Grahams or miniature Mitch McConnells or miniature Nancy Pelosis.
“They misuse the office of county commissioners to fight partisan political battles. Your role locally should be to bring people together, not pit them against each other,” Hawkins said.
Lemel said that she believes partisanship has no place in local government. “County commissioners have little control over the primary issues that rile people up. Our work is around public health, trash and social services. Our work is around making sure the schools are funded and around parks and recreation. There’s so many services that really impact a quality of life, regardless of your party affiliation.”
Lemel told Slevin of the New Yorker that she has no regrets “You have to live true to who you are. You get to the pearly gates by yourself.”
The term of county commissioner David Guice, who “vacated” the Republican party along with Hawkins and Lemel, expires in 2022. Just saying.