Primary battles 2016: May the best candidates win

Traditionally, even-year elections in North Carolina have been held the first Tuesday in May (the primary) and the first Tuesday in November (the general). For the next cycle, however, new state law has moved the primary up six weeks to Tuesday, March 15. This change will mostly affect the presidential primaries, probably bringing more candidates to the state as the earlier voting makes North Carolina a more valuable prize in the national delegate race. But it has also caused local candidates to mobilize sooner. Five of the offices (not including statewide or federal offices) on the 2016 Buncombe County ballots require primary competitions this winter. All of these races are simple partisan primaries, from which one candidate will move on to the general.

Buncombe County Commissioner District 1 (Democrats)

Three well-known local Democrats have jumped into the competition for an open seat in this securely Democratic district. With no Republican opposition, the winner of this primary will almost certainly be elected in the fall. Holly Jones, who has served on the commission since 2008, has vacated the seat to run for lieutenant governor. She will have her own statewide primary contest with three other candidates.

The ramifications of this primary may go further than simply who wins. The runners-up would almost certainly be considered as potential successors to another open seat should the other current District 1 Commissioner, Brownie Newman, win his bid for the commission chairmanship.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. Photo courtesy of Ferrara
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. Photo courtesy of Ferrara

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (D)
Occupation: Director, Campaign for Southern Equality; ordained minister in United Church of Christ
Home and family: Lives in East end, Asheville with wife Meghann and their son
Why are you running?
“As a working mom and nonprofit leader, I know the issues many Buncombe County families are facing: childhood poverty, underfunded schools, soaring housing costs and low-wage jobs. We can come together to solve these problems. Ensuring that our public schools are excellent, supporting working families and making our community healthier for all will be top priorities for me. We need new voices in our local politics, a commitment to finding common ground and a County Commission that better reflects our community.”

Isaac Coleman. Photo courtesy of Coleman

Issac Coleman (D)
Retired Asheville city housing inspector and subsidized housing manager for the Asheville Housing Authority
Home and family: Lives in Woodfin
Why are you running?
“I am running because I will bring a different approach to the three crisis issues (affordable housing, living wages and education) that we face in Buncombe County and, for the first time, bring diversity to the Buncombe County Commission!”



Gordon Smith. Photo courtesy of Smith
Gordon Smith. Photo courtesy of Smith

Gordon Smith (D)
Occupation: Child and family therapist, Asheville City Council member
Home and family: Lives in West Asheville with his wife, Rachael
Why are you running?
“I am running to fight for the people. Our land, air and water must be protected as rampant growth threatens our environment. We must stand with teachers, students and families as they’re under attack by Raleigh Republicans. We need to support locally owned businesses, and we must fight for living wages, especially in the tourism sector. We’ve got to fight poverty to guarantee equal opportunity for everyone. I have spent my entire adult life in service to others, and I want to be your voice on County Commission.”

Buncombe County Commissioner District 2 (Both Parties)

If political candidates are likened to sharks, the area that consistently has blood in the water is Buncombe County Commission District 2 (this is also true of NC House 115, which has the same borders). Ever since county commissioners were mandated to be elected by district, rather than at-large, this district has hosted numerous close races. In 2012, Mike Fryar won his seat by just 89 votes, while the other District 2 representative, Ellen Frost, has been elected in the last two cycles with margins of 18 and 523 votes. This year, the vulnerable incumbent, Fryar, has a challenger from the right in the primary. The winner will then go on to compete with the top vote-getter among the four democrats.

Scott Bissinger. Photo courtesy of Bissinger
Scott Bissinger. Photo courtesy of Bissinger

Scott Bissinger (D)
Occupation: Former Sheriff’s deputy, law enforcement instructor
Home and family: Lives in Fairview, with his wife, Tonya, they have 3 children
Why are you running?
“I am running for Buncombe County Commissioner to shape the future. Our county is facing many modern challenges involving growth, development, sustainable quality employment, protecting our citizens, protecting our resources, and the education and development [of] our young people. Only by establishing relationships and building partnerships can we address these issues without burdening the taxpayers of our county. I will work hard on these issues and others that arise to make our county the best place to live and grow.”

Larry Dodson. Photo courtesy of Dodson
Larry Dodson. Photo courtesy of Dodson

Larry Dodson (D)
Occupation: Firefighter, firefighting instructor
Home and family: Lives in the Reems Creek community of Weaverville with his wife, Alice; they have two sons
Why are you running?
“As a firefighter captain, my job is to respond to the needs of the people. I am ready to respond to the needs of Buncombe County. I will talk ​with ​and listen to people — business owners, workers, job seekers and community leaders — to come up with good, common-sense ​solutions. I will work to bring all sides together to solve our most pressing issues and support working class families. ​I’ll fight to make Buncombe County a better place for all of us.”

Matt Kern. Photo courtesy of Kern
Matt Kern. Photo courtesy of Kern

Matt Kern (D)
Occupation: Home builder, organizer of French broad River Festival
Home and family: Lives in Riceville Community with his wife, Kirsten, and two sons
Why are you running?
“As a home builder specializing in green building, I understand builders and developers and the principles of smart growth and affordable housing. I have the education and real-world experience dealing with many other issues as well: the importance of early childhood education, connectivity issues like expanded bus service and greenways to alleviate traffic problems, as well as a knowledge of how county governments actually function. I am the most experienced person for the job. That’s why I’m running.”

Nancy Nehls (pronounced kneels) Nelson. Photo courtesy of Nelson
Nancy Nehls (pronounced kneels) Nelson. Photo courtesy of Nelson

Nancy Nehls Nelson (D)
Occupation: Retired AT&T Bell Labs project manager
Home and family: Lives in Weaverville with her husband, Curtis, and their rescue dogs
Why are you running?
“This is a great county. It’s a great place to live and county government has done a good job of keeping the economy strong, even through the recession. I’ve worked closely with county departments over the last several years, including the Register of Deeds office, the Tax Office, the Planning Department and the Board of Elections. I know how county government works. I want to use that knowledge to make it even better.”


Jordan Burchette. Photo courtesy of Brochette
Jordan Burchette. Photo courtesy of Burchette

Jordan Burchette (R)
Occupation: Assistant Branch Manager of Best Buy Metals; licensed Baptist preacher (not active)
Home and family: Lives in Fairview with his wife, Hannah, son, daughter and “one on the way”
Why are you running?
“I know the challenges our citizens face, because I’ve lived here my whole life. The crony capitalists, funneling our tax dollars to their corporate welfare programs, have damaged our local economy, accumulated irresponsible debt and cost us jobs. I’m a full-spectrum conservative and I’ll focus on creating living wage jobs, reducing our debt, advocating for school choice and defending religious freedom. I’m running for the hard-working people of Buncombe County who are ready to bring Buncombe back.”

Mike Fryar. Photo on file
Mike Fryar. Photo on file

Mike Fryar (R)(incumbent)
Occupation: Buncombe County Commissioner, retired race engine builder
Home and family: Lives in Fairview with his wife, Brenda; he has two daughters and one grandson
Why are you running?
“I am running for District 2 Commission to continue working for the citizens of Buncombe County, being mindful that their tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently. Many retired people have limited incomes and are unable to remain in their homes due to the continued increase in property taxes and the cost of living. This has a big effect on young families also.”

Buncombe County Commission Chair (Republicans)

The race to replace retiring chairman, David Gantt (D)  looked to be established between sitting District 1 Commissioner Brownie Newman and sitting District 3 Commissioner, Miranda DeBruhl. But in the final hours of the filing period, a primary contest was created when the former chairman of the Buncombe County Republican Party, Chad Nesbitt, joined the fray.

Miranda DeBruhl. Photo courtesy of DeBruhl
Miranda DeBruhl. Photo courtesy of DeBruhl

Miranda DeBruhl (R)
Occupation: County Commissioner; Registered Nurse
Home and family: Lives in Leicester with her husband, Kelly, and their two children
Why are you running?
No statement was made available by press time. (From previous campaign)

Chad Nesbitt. Photo courtesy of Nesbitt
Chad Nesbitt. Photo courtesy of Nesbitt

Chad Nesbitt (R)
Occupation: General Manager and Vice President of WNC Parking Lot Services
Home and family: Lives in Leicester with his wife, Nancy; they have a daughter
Why are you running?
“The liberal leadership of Asheville is trying to take over Buncombe County. The high taxes and fees are bad for business, and that’s why we don’t have high paying jobs. When elected, I’ll repeal the Democrats’ zoning laws that have made housing unaffordable. We will protect communities and housing will be affordable. As chairman, I’ll set the tone of the meetings and the liberal stupidity will be handled.”

NC House District 115 (Republicans)

Two Republicans are facing off for the opportunity to unseat the first-term representative of northern and eastern Buncombe County, John Ager. This district has become the swing district of the county (with the same borders as Buncombe Commission District 2), and it is no surprise that Ager has challengers, while Susan Fisher (in the safer District 114) has none. (Only one Republican, Kay Olson, is trying for the Republican-leaning 116th, formerly held by Tim Moffitt and now by Democrat Brian Turner.)

Chilmonik. Photo courtesy of Chilmonik
Bob Chilmonik. Photo courtesy of Chilmonik

Bob Chilmonik (R)
Occupation: Full time instructor of business and computer technology at Asheville High. Part-time instructor at A-B Tech. Formerly manager at Heinz/Nabisco/Kraft
Home and family: Lives in Black Mountain with his wife Cheryl; they have two daughters
Why are you running?
“The primary reason that I am running is to increase employment opportunities by attracting manufacturing companies with a low tax environment. High-paying jobs are directly linked to quality public schools that teach the latest leading-edge technology skills. Our teachers are key to that objective and need our support. My extensive corporate business and education experience will provide a positive voice in the State House to achieve these goals.”

Frank Moretz. Photo courtesy of Moretz
Frank Moretz. Photo courtesy of Moretz

Frank Moretz (R)
Occupation: Retired physician (anesthesiologist), part owner of Highland Brewing
Home and family: Fairview resident with two grown sons
Why are you running?
“Service is an important part of my life. I served my country by enlisting in the Air Force toward the end of the Vietnam War, and, for the past forty years, and I have served my patients in this community. I’m concerned that our community does not have an effective voice in Raleigh. I won’t limit my effectiveness by serving rigid ideology and partisanship over this community’s needs. I’ll focus on better classroom support, affordable health care and increasing income for WNC families.”

NC Senate District 48 (Republicans)

Retiring Tom Apodaca’s soon-to-be vacated seat will likely go to the winner of this primary. There is a Democrat running, Norman Bossert of Pisgah Forest, but Democrats have not fared well challenging Apodaca since he won the seat in 2002 in his first run for public office.

Lisa Baldwin. Photo courtesy of Baldwin
Lisa Baldwin. Photo courtesy of Baldwin

Lisa Baldwin (R)
Occupation: Asheville Tribune columnist, former USDA economist
Home and family: Lives in Fletcher with her husband, Richard; they have four children
Why are you running?
“As a native North Carolinian, economist and mother, I want a brighter future for the next generation. My experience as a school board member gives me a greater understanding of state governance and the budget process. I support fiscal responsibility and budget reform. I also support efforts to improve education standards in NC. I’m an advocate for more rigorous academic standards than the Common Core.”

Chuck Edwards. Photo courtesy of Edwards
Chuck Edwards. Photo courtesy of Edwards

Chuck Edwards (R)
Occupation: Owns seven McDonalds franchise locations; public director of Entegra Bank
Home and family: Lives in Flat Rock with his wife, Teresa; they have two children
Why are you running?
“I want to put my leadership and business experience to work for WNC. Our state deserves strong leadership to confront the issues we face. We all want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the freedoms and have the opportunities Americans have always enjoyed. These ideals are only achieved with a strong economy, fiscal responsibility, unparalleled educational opportunities and courageous leaders. I have a history of community service and a passion for doing the right thing for WNC.”



Dennis Justice. Photo courtesy of Justice
Dennis Justice. Photo courtesy of Justice

Dennis Justice (R)
Occupation: Welder at Thermo-Fisher in Weaverville
Home and family: Lives in Fletcher; he is a widower with two children
Why are you running?
“I seek to restore the Republican Party to the party of Abraham Lincoln, who said that those who would deny freedom to others do not deserve it for themselves. I opposed the ‘marriage amendment,’ and I believe it should be repealed. Romans 13:8 says we should owe no one anything but to love one another, for whoever loves one another has fulfilled the law. I oppose the statewide bond referendum and propose a path to debt-free government. I oppose ‘corporate welfare’ and reject special interest money.”

Able Allen and Virginia Daffron contributed to this article.


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13 thoughts on “Primary battles 2016: May the best candidates win

  1. bsummers

    I recognize that this is about the primary races, but I’m bothered by the fact that you didn’t give equal time to candidates of both parties, in all races.

    As for 116 District GOP challenger Kay Olsen,

    “There’s a rogue element of what I would consider folks who have moved to Asheville…” Rep. Tim Moffitt

    I don’t recall seeing Kay Olsen at any of the Rogue Elements™ bi-monthly meetings, but it’s never too late. Welcome to North Carolina.

  2. Big Al

    What is a Babtist preacher (Jordan Burchette)?

    One who worships the Blessed Saint Barbara?

  3. Solano Jones

    “…rampant growth threatens our environment…we must fight for living wages, especially in the tourism sector.”

    OK, see, here’s why we have one of the worst job markets in the world. We think poverty is a good thing, apparently, since it doesn’t “threaten our environment,” and by golly let’s be sure and focus even MORE of our efforts at getting more money from “the tourism sector,” since that’s working out so well for us! Or does that mean, “force tourism sector jobs to pay higher wages?” If so, then this is actually saying “let’s drive even those jobs out of the area!” Tourism sector jobs are NOT living wage jobs. Period. Never have been and never will be, anywhere in the world.

    Buncombe County can’t have it both ways. We can’t bemoan poverty, joblessness and a nearly third-world wage base while simultaneously putting development and business off limits. Rampant growth indeed. We need more businesses and more success of all kinds in our area, and while sub-standard education is part of the problem, it’s not nearly as big an obstacle as elitist, anti-growth leadership.

    People and the environment don’t have to be mutually exclusive agendas. Greater economic opportunity breeds higher employment and better wages, which result in higher revenues (not higher tax rates), which is how successful communities solve the problems of poverty and low wages. Government can’t stand in the way of economic opportunity and cluck its tongue at the resulting poverty. Government can’t solve poverty, employment and wage problems without being pro business to some extent.

    I don’t want our mountains turned into a wasteland, any more than anyone else does, but I’m sick of people equating substandard opportunity with good stewardship. It isn’t. It’s the worst kind of stewardship–miserliness! It puts unobstructed views ahead of people’s lives. We must do better for our citizens than this failed policy of keeping the 21st Century away from our mountains, because I mean–it’s working (only not in a good way).

  4. I backed DeBruhl with 2 grand before I knew she would be going up against Newman, who I volunteered for in his first run for city council, though not since he took office. I backed Newman in hopes he would fund contraception, thus reducing rental demand, but was soon disappointed when he spent much more energy backing zoning, which reduces rental supply, than he sent backing contraception. I support Debruhl because I have seen her support rental supply, so that is not just a hope. However if I stay a registered Libertarian, I will be unable to vote in either primary.

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