Longtime party activist Henry Mitchell narrowly edged out Chris Eck to succeed Chad Nesbitt as Buncombe County GOP chair. The president of the Oakley Neighborhood Association, Mitchell’s been a substitute teacher at A.C. Reynolds High School for the last 10 years. He previously worked as a horticulturist, salesman and as resource development director for Quality Forward.
The native Ashevillean says party leaders, impressed by his 2010 campaign for the Buncombe County School Board, encouraged him to seek the chairmanship. Despite losing the 2010 race, Mitchell says he learned things he'll use to help other GOP candidates. But with Buncombe's registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans nearly two to one, he faces a tough challenge.
Xpress spoke with Mitchell about his goals and more.
Mountain Xpress: What draws you to the Republican Party? What issues are most important to you?
Henry Mitchell: I think the Republican principles: standing strong on core social values, lower taxes, less government and more individual freedom and equal rights and equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of sex or age or disability. Free enterprise, encouraging individual initiative; for government to be more efficient.
Your opponent, Chris Eck, was very outspoken about wanting to get what he called the more "divisive" social issues out of the forefront to help attract conservative Democrats and independents to the party. Where do you stand on that?
I don't totally agree with him. I think sometimes they push that issue too much. But if a social issue comes up, or is questioned, I think we need to make sure we stand firm on our values. … Candidates need to make [it clear] where they stand on social issues. And as long as they're along party principles and our platform, we'll definitely back them on it.
How will you be different than your predecessor, Chad Nesbitt?
I like Chad personally, and I think he's … done a good job being a voice for the Republicans. … I might be more of a behind-the-scenes type of guy than out in the forefront all the time. I don't mind doing interviews … but my primary responsibility is to help build the Republican Party in Buncombe County and try to change [local] elections.
You've mentioned that there are splinters in the party. What are the biggest divisions right now?
Probably losing the old guard, people that have been involved for years just getting aggravated and frustrated with the leadership we've had. … Those are the ones I want to reach out to and bring back. … There's been a lot of just silly stuff going on. I'm not going to get in the middle of it. … I can work with all of them.
You've emphasized reaching out to the younger generation. Why is that important, and how will you do it?
That's the future of the party and the future of the country. … There's conservative young people out there. They might not be as conservative when they're young as they might be when they're older, but I think that as long as we stress our principles and show them … we're for lower taxes and less government and more individual freedom, then we can attract young people. … I'd like to regenerate the Young Republicans Club, because it hasn't been active the last few years.
How will you raise money? Your predecessor tried some new appproaches, such as a telethon and the controversial rappelling fundraiser on the anniversary of 9/11. But they didn't raise much money.
The first thing we're going to do is form a finance committee, which they didn't have in the past. … A lot of it's getting organized and reaching out to folks who’ve helped us in the past. I don't have a problem asking for it; we need to look at some creative ideas … maybe do some fun events. … One of the first things I'd like to do is send out a letter to all the Republicans in Buncombe County and some of the conservative Democrats, informing them of the change in party leadership and giving them our game plan and vision; maybe give them a pledge card and see what kind of response we get.
Do you have a game plan for this year's City Council races?
We're working on that. … We've got our first executive meeting coming up here, and that's going to be a topic of discussion — trying to come up with some good candidates.
Do you think a Republican could get elected to City Council?
It's going to be real tough. That's why we need to make sure we're going to have the right kind of person running. So I don't know; that's a good question.
In November, voters will face a referendum on a quarter-cent sales-tax increase that would go to A-B Tech. Where do you stand on that?
I don't totally agree with that. I think the taxpayers already support A-B Tech through our tax dollars. … I fully support A-B Tech. … My son attends A-B Tech, and I've taken some classes there. … But we're taxed enough. Maybe we need to look into some alternative funding.
What about Rep. Tim Moffitt’s proposal for district elections in Buncombe County?
I think that's a great idea. … And I think we also need to look at making the school board [elections] by district. We need to make sure we're providing equal and fair representation to all the taxpayers and residents in the county. They all deserve better representation from our local officials.
Critics say Moffitt's proposal is just a way to get more Republicans on the board of commissioners. What’s your response?
I don't agree with that. The Democrats have controlled that board for years. … You could very well get a Democrat elected out of the districts, the same as you could a Republican. It just depends on who comes forward and who runs.
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at email@example.com.