Top stories of 2020: Daniel Walton

Daniel Walton

In a year marked by a constant churn of updating numbers — COVID-19 dashboards, economic forecasts, political polls — I took comfort in the times I was able to report more deeply on some of the issues facing Western North Carolina. Each of my top five selections from 2020 is a longer read, but each tried to understand some of the structural challenges to the region’s politics, health and environment beneath the daily headlines.


Graph of party registration by Western North Carolina county
Graphic courtesy of Chris Cooper


Unaffiliated candidates face challenging path to ballot

Although unaffiliated voters are the second most-populous political group in North Carolina, no members of the state’s Congressional delegation are unaffiliated, nor are any officeholders at the state level. According to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, just seven of 587 total county commission seats were won by independent or third-party candidates in 2018.






Graphic by Getty Images

Local government advisory groups hindered during COVID-19

From March through July, the majority of local government boards and commissions meetings were canceled due to COVID-19, meaning citizens were largely shut out of formal policy discussions as Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners managed the tandem economic and public health crises caused by the coronavirus.






Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Health and Human Services




COVID-19 stresses Buncombe opioid response

“We’ve got an epidemic within a pandemic,” says Kevin Mahoney with the Mountain Area Health Education Center. Social distancing, job losses and drug contamination associated with COVID-19 have all complicated local efforts to manage the impacts of opioid use.









Photo courtesy of Olivette Riverside Community and Farm

Climate migration could bring influx to WNC

“Folks are really starting to get weary of the pattern of hurricanes and extreme weather and are looking for more stable environments such as Western North Carolina,” says local real estate agent John Haynes, about clients seeking to move to the region from coastal states like Florida, New Jersey and Texas.





Patton-New Leicester intersection
Photo by Matt Henson


New commission to tackle county land use

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman lists land use policy as a top priority for the new commission, sworn in on Dec. 7. Board members will likely revisit the county’s land use plan, a document originally developed in 1998 and last updated in 2013, in response to rapid community growth.


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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