The morning after Election Day 2019, Buncombe County’s political landscape remained exactly the same as it had been the morning before. With a turnout of just over 5%, incumbents were reelected in all four county races; in only one of those contests, that for the Woodfin Board of Aldermen, had the current office holders faced an opponent.
Things looked much different in Henderson County, Buncombe’s southern neighbor. Incumbents were vulnerable in all five of the races in which they were challenged, with Democrats ousting Republicans in the city governments of Hendersonville and Saluda (which also lies partially in Polk County). Turnout was 18.4%, with 4,766 of 25,897 eligible voters casting their ballots.
Republican Jennifer Hensley and Democrat Lyndsey Simpson were the top two vote-getters in the contest to govern Hendersonville, the county’s largest city; Republican incumbent Steven Caraker finished in last place, behind Democratic challenger Debbie Roundtree. Simpson will now become the only Democrat to serve on the Hendersonville City Council.
In Saluda, Democratic challenger Bob Ross and incumbent Republican Stanley Walker took the two available City Commission seats, defeating the other incumbent in the race, Republican Leon Morgan. Mills River Town Council member Wayne Carland, also a Republican, lost his seat with a third-place finish behind two other Republicans, fellow incumbent Roger Snyder and challenger Randy Austin.
Unaffiliated incumbent Ginger Brown lost her District 2 seat on the Flat Rock Village Council to unaffiliated challenger Anne Coletta, who had previously served on the body from 2013-17. Running on a slate with Republican Thomas Carpenter and unaffiliated David Dethero, Coletta’s primary issue was opposing the controversial North Highland Lake Road expansion.
And Preston Blakely, a first-time Democratic candidate and the grandson of Western North Carolina civil rights leader Oralene Simmons, repeated his primary success in the race for Fletcher Town Council District 3. Blakely earned nearly 72% of the vote in a landslide victory over unaffiliated incumbent Hugh Clark.
However, incumbents remained in control in Laurel Park, where unaffiliated Mayor J. Carey O’Cain and council members George Banta and Robert Vickery ran unopposed. In the only referendum taking place in Henderson County, Saluda voters approved the expanded sale of mixed alcoholic beverages by a margin of more than 55 percentage points.
Full election results for Buncombe County are available online through the N.C. State Board of Elections at avl.mx/6oz. Henderson County results are available at avl.mx/6p0. For a deeper look at the region’s 2019 municipal elections, see “Year Off Plenty,” Xpress, Oct. 30.