All over the map

David Young sums up his campaign for state treasurer in three words: “Driving, driving, driving.”

A Buncombe County commissioner for the past 16 years, he’s well-known in these parts. But North Carolina is a big state: 100 counties, 52,669 square miles, nearly 9 million people. And Young’s Democratic challengers in the May 6 primary—attorney Michael Weisel and N.C. Sen. Janet Cowell—both hail from the Triangle area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill)—the state’s population and political center.

Moving right along: Fourth-term Buncombe County Commissioner David Young is hoping to have a new job soon. He’s on the May 6 primary ballot as one of three Democratic candidates for state treasurer. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Still, Young thinks his chances of beating them are really good. “Number one,” he explains, “nobody [around the state] knows anybody. Definitely everywhere outside Raleigh, [there’s] been very limited information. … So it’s all by the networks, and I think I’ve got a good network of folks.”

As for No. 2, adds Young, “I’ve raised a good bit of money.” By the end of last year, that good bit stood at roughly $450,000. And with a statewide ad campaign gearing up for an April 14 launch, Young says he expects his total expenditures for the primary alone to reach three-quarters of a million dollars.

“That’s what it takes,” he says succinctly. “The only real winner in this is media.”

Meanwhile, Young drives his Lexus SUV all over the state working those all-important networks, cultivated during his years as a county commissioner, his current presidency of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and his three years on the UNC Board of Governors. And an endorsement by the N.C. Association of Educators has expanded his opportunity for face-to-face campaigning.

“Wednesday I’m speaking to the Wake County NCAE. Last week I was in Greenville on Thursday and Wilmington on Friday. Saturday I’m going to Williamston. Just drive everywhere,” he recounts.

Why is he doing it? A late-afternoon conversation in his office at Fugazy Travel (which Young and his wife, Leigh, purchased when moving to Asheville 22 years ago) revealed the candidate’s sense of evolving into a good fit with the treasurer’s job. It began, he says, with his studies in economics and industrial relations at UNC-Chapel Hill. Following graduation, he went to work for BB&T. After getting a taste of banking, he developed a successful small business here in Asheville, and shortly after that he launched a political career.

“I was president of the Buncombe County Schools Foundation board,” Young recalls, “and we were really struggling to raise money.” The board wanted to put computers in every classroom, and Young thought there had to be a better approach than piecemeal fund raising. So he ran for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners—winning his first primary by a mere 64 votes but going on to become the top vote-getter in the general election. And within two years, he says, a plan was in place for getting those computers.

Young still sees school improvements as one of the most significant accomplishments during his tenure as commissioner, along with revamping the entire county library system and the more recent investment of $3 million for land conservation and protecting mountain ridges.

His biggest disappointment? Failing to resolve the bitter water dispute with Asheville. “I’ve spent more time working on it, more time believing that a solution was right around the corner and being disappointed, than on any issue,” he reflects.

Young’s increasing involvement at the state level during his years as a county commissioner has fueled a growing sensitivity to Western North Carolina’s isolation from government power centers. “The west is so left out,” he laments. “We haven’t had anybody on the Council of State since Lacy Thornburg left in January 1993. So for over 15 years, we’ve been locked out of the mix in Raleigh. … If I bring nothing else to this position [i.e. treasurer], I bring a western viewpoint and a western way of life, and I can be the west’s representative in Raleigh to help us get our fair share.”

But Young says that awareness also helps propel his campaign in other parts of the state. “It translates in Greensboro, it translates in Charlotte, it translates to some extent in eastern North Carolina,” he observes.

As for his financial credentials, Young points to the $245 million budget he’s helped manage as a county commissioner, and the $7 billion budget he helps manage as vice chair of the Board of Governors’ Finance Committee. The treasurer, he notes, “manages the assets and the liabilities for the state, and that’s what I’ve essentially grown into over the past 20-year history—my business history plus my public history.”

What are some of the particulars he would like to accomplish as state treasurer?

“Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time working on economic development here and for the [region],” says Young. “The treasurer has a unique opportunity to help [provide] affordable housing, because he’s investing lots of money for this state—so why not invest it in something that helps the state and gives us some payback, too.” Young says he’d like to explore turning the downpayment-assistance model developed in Buncombe County into a statewide program. He would also consider building work-force housing and selling it to provide a return for the state while increasing the supply of such housing.

In addition, notes Young, “The treasurer sits on the State Board of Community Colleges [and] the state Board of Education, so you have a tremendous influence on those issues. We’ve got to jointly work on a health-care solution for our citizens, and I think North Carolina can be a leader in providing … at least a floor for health care.”

The treasurer is also a member of the Council of State (the nine executive officers, plus the governor as chair), and Young confesses to being “still old-school” concerning recent efforts to institute nonpartisan elections for those positions. “I like a two-party system,” he says. “I like to see them run for that office, prove [their] qualifications. What you have to go through in meetings, with debates, with forums—really, it makes you stronger.”

Ultimately, Young feels the treasurer’s job is “really perfect for me” because it offers a chance to help local governments finance their growth and community needs—something he has been involved with for years.

The candidate’s only other foray into higher-level politics was an unsuccessful bid for the congressional seat then held by Rep. Charles Taylor in 1998. So would winning the treasurer’s post be a steppingstone to some other elective office?

“Oh, I’d never tell you that,” he says, laughing. “Never, never, never. I want to be state treasurer. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road and a lot of time traveling, and it’s impossible to think about doing anything else.”

But if he were to lose, what’s next?

“Go back to work,” he says, declaring, “It’s never the end of the world to lose.”

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