Just about everybody knows there’s a presidential election on Nov. 2 — and by this time, most folks probably know who they’re voting for in that race. They may be more hazy about the candidates in other races, but at least the offices that are up for grabs are, for the most part, readily comprehensible.
And then there’s the Buncombe County Register of Deeds race, in which 30-year incumbent Democrat Otto DeBruhl is facing a challenge from Republican Elizabeth H. Daniels. Many wonder why this is an elected position to begin with — after all, filing and safeguarding the county’s most important documents seems to be more a question of alphabetical order than of partisan ideology. Nonetheless, as both candidates will tell you, the position is very important, as is your vote.
DeBruhl, an icon in the local Democratic Party, makes it perfectly clear that his political affiliation is all donkey — his office walls are thick with photos of Democratic luminaries past and present. But DeBruhl is quick to assert that his job is “the least political of them all.” Daniels agrees: “Political party should have no bearing whatsoever.” It’s an elected position, DeBruhl explains, because of the position’s enormous responsibility. “We’re responsible for the birth records, marriage licenses, military records, property deeds — the most vital documents in the county. The person in charge needs to be accountable to the people.”
DeBruhl also notes that his office feeds about $2.7 million in assorted filing fees into county coffers each year. But he’s quick to add that the state Legislature, not the register of deeds, sets those fees.
For Daniels, a stained-glass artist, it all boils down to customer service, something she says she has “excellent experience” in from running her own retail business. She also notes that she wants to see the office provide more online information. DeBruhl counters by noting that in his 30-year tenure, his department has gone from “everything handwritten to everything computerized and on the Internet,” an accomplishment that he says gives him great pride.
And though Daniels downplays the role of politics in the job, she’s unabashedly political when she talks about the race to claim it: “There needs to be a change — he’s been in there for 30 years. No one ever runs against him, and I think that’s wrong — he’s a powerful good ol’ boy Democrat, but people deserve a choice.
DeBruhl refused to comment on what sets him apart from his opponent, noting, “I don’t know anything about her; I’ve never met her.” But, he added, “She’s my opponent, and I take her candidacy seriously.” As for whether he thinks he’ll move into his fourth decade at the helm, DeBruhl quipped, “I’m lucky to have the supporters I have, ‘cuz I’m not all that good lookin’, but I’m very proud of the job we’ve done here.”
Address: 425 Riverview Church Road, Asheville
Occupation: Register of Deeds
Years in Buncombe County: Entire life
Education: No formal college experience, but numerous courses through the Institue of Government (has also taught courses there)
Political party: Democrat
Political experience: Register of Deeds, “lifelong Democratic campaigner”
Elizabeth H. Daniels
Address: 31 Franklin Farm Road, Fletcher
Occupation: Stained-glass artist
Years in Buncombe County: 7.5 (used to live in Rutherfordton)
Education: B.S. in business and marketing, University of Northern Alabama
Political party: Republican
Political experience: Campaign volunteer, Kids Voting