Republican voters have three flavors of Commissioiner primary candidates to pick from
Beaufort County Republican primary voters will have three groups of candidates running for county commissioner to choose from this election, and they reflect the three groups that have been on the commission over the past few years, ranging from the Rock Ribbed Republicans to the Democrat Collaborators, with a third grouping in the middle. Democrats have no primary and no choice.
Beaufort County Republicans have had a nominal majority on the county commission for about two decades, but only in the first year of that majority did Republicans function as a team. That first year when Republicans were working together saw Beaufort County's last tax cut. Since then, GOP Commissioners have split between those who stand firm for Republican principles and those who prefer to collaborate with the Democrats instead of working with their fellow Republicans. Until his untimely death, the late Commissioner Gary Brinn was the man in the middle who maintained open communications with both groups, although on issues he mostly voted like the Rock Ribbed Republicans, and except for the one year the Democrats dangled the chairmanship in front of him personally, he voted for Republican leadership of the Commission.
The Rock Ribbed Republicans are conservatives who have consistently opposed tax increases, vote Republican principles consistently, and believe that a Republican majority should elect Republican officers to lead the commission. In this election, this group is represented by three candidates, Tandy Dunn, Hood Richardson, and Galen Swain. All have been registered Republicans in Beaufort County for decades.
- Tandy Dunn has spent most of his career in agriculture, where he currently works in management with a Greenville-based agricultural company. He has served on the Beaufort County Republican Executive Committee and was a Republican nominee for county commissioner two years ago. Dunn has made cutting wasteful spending and taxes the cornerstone of his campaign.
- Hood Richardson is a longtime Republican commissioner who has been outspoken on tax and spending issues and is known for doing his homework to get to the bottom of things and for attention to detail. In addition to serving on the county commission, he has been Republican nominee for the state legislature on two occasions. He has run his own land surveying and engineering firm in Washington for many years.
- Galen Swain has only recently gotten involved in politics, but comes from a family long active in the local GOP, including a father who was a highly successful county GOP chairman in the mid 1960s, and a grandfather who was nearly elected Beaufort County sheriff in 1930 as a Republican. The burden of ever increasing county taxes on average people in the county led him to get involved and file for commissioner this year.
The Democrat Collaborators are more moderate to liberal politicians who although registered as Republicans, prefer to govern by forming coalitions with liberal Democrats instead of working with the Rock Ribbed Republicans. They vote consistently for higher taxes and spending and are often liberal on other issues as well. Their roots in either the Republican Party or Beaufort County or both are often shallow. In this election, this group is represented by two candidates, Jerry Evans and John Rebholz.
= Jerry Evans is a longtime local realtor who has been a close ally of liberal Democrat Jerry Langley. Evans is a first term commissioner who decided to try his luck as a Republican in 2016, after a failed attempt to get elected county commissioner as an Obama Democrat in 2010. State Board of Elections records show that Evans has been a frequent financial contributor to liberal Democrat legislators, but never to any Republican legislator. Evans has voted to raise both county taxes and county fees every year he has been in office. He opposed the GOP bill to crack down on illegal alien sanctuary counties when it was going through the legislature, and he has voted several times against concealed carry for trained and vetted permit holders in county buildings.
- John Rebholz spent most of his life in the north before retiring to Cypress Landing, where he has been president of the homeowners association. He has only gotten involved in Republican politics in the last year, but was selected to fill the vacancy created by Brinn's death. He stated that former one term commissioner Ron Buzzeo, a notorious big spender and tax raiser, is his role model, and like Buzzeo, Rebholz voted against concealed carry for county employees who are trained and vetted. Like Evans and Buzeo, Rebholz has voted for a coalition with the liberal Democrats, instead of working with the Rock Ribbed Republicans.
Then there is the legacy of the former man in the middle, Gary Brinn. Although taking Brinn's seat, Rebholz has abandoned Brinn's more conservative legacy on issues and on Republicans supporting Republicans. There are two candidates running who could potentially fill Brinn's shoes as the man in the middle who can communicate with both groups of Republicans, Gary Blount and Randy Walker. Both have run for office previously as conservative leaning Democrats, but were shunned by that party for not being liberal enough and re-registered as Republicans, Both are Beaufort County natives.
- Randy Walker is the owner of a long established family business located on Main Street in Washington, and also worked for many years videotaping county commissioner meetings for TV, giving him a rather unique perspective on the commission since he attended and watched every meeting for many years. His wife is the current Republican chairwoman of the Beaufort County Board of Education, and Randy has been a Republican financial contributor even before joining the party himself. Walker has said that watching so many bad financial decisions by the commission helped motivate him to run.
- Gary Blount made history by becoming the first black Republican candidate for county commission in modern times. He voiced his support for healing the breech among Republican commissioners at the 2018 election night victory party for Representative Keith Kidwell when he commented to several tables of those attending that the serious problem facing Republicans in Beaufort County was the division among Republican commissioners, and that was a problem that badly needed to be solved.
Collusion with the Democrats by a series of people who have run on the Republican Party ticket has kept Republicans from having a real majority on the county commission for many years. That issue will again be before Republican primary voters this year, as will the direction that taxes and spending will take in the years ahead. The open question of what the present governing group of Democrats and Democrat Collaborators plans to do on the jail could lead to a huge tax increase if they keep control.
Publisher's Note: Steven Rader has held many leadership positions in the Beaufort County Republican Party and the North Carolina Republican Party, and has been inducted into the North Carolina Republican Party Hall of Fame. He spent five years overseas as Resident Country Director of the International Republican Institute in Moldova, where he advised and trained the pro-western political parties there, helping them defeat the last communist government in Europe in 2009 parliamentary elections.