The results of the 2020 election in Brevard, the county seat of Transylvania in North Carolina, made national news.
New Yorker magazine dispatched Chicago reporter Peter Slevin to report from the Transylvania County courthouse on the race for county commissioner seats.
The contrast is quite convincing. Some 35,000 people reside in Transylvania County, while there are approximately 1.2 million weekly readers of The New Yorker.
Transylvania County is mountainous and forested. It is located near the southwestern tip of North Carolina, just above South Carolina. (About 430 miles of twisting highway freeway separate Morehead City from Brevard.)
Slevin managed to find his way from Chicago and revealed to his readers that the 2020 election did not go well for two sitting county commissioners – Mike Hawkins and Page Lemel.
Hawkins and Lemel have been strong pillars in the local community and highly respected public servants.
Hawkins is president of Pisgah Enterprises, a commercial and residential real estate development company, and operates the Pisgah Fish Camp restaurant in the Pisgah Forest. He received a BA and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Page Lemel, a graduate of Duke University in Durham, is the owner and executive director of Keystone Camp in Brevard, a girls’ summer retreat. It is a four-generation family business, considered the oldest private summer camp in the South East.
Hawkins and Lemel made headlines in 2019 when they chose to shed their Republican Party identity coats and give it a go in 2020, under the “Unaffiliated” banner.
National media zoomed in and presented it as a “local defection from President Donald Trump’s party.”
It was a risky maneuver, but Hawkins and Lemel thought it was a way to “test the waters” in a way. The largest voting bloc in the county is that of “unaffiliated” voters.
The state says there are 10,989 people registered as unaffiliated in Transylvania County, compared to 8,352 Republicans and 6,059 Democrats.
Hawkins and Lemel had the numbers on their side … if unaffiliated voters had been unified under this umbrella. It didn’t happen. Hawkins and Lemel got hit. Voters elected a new GOP list to the county board of directors.
Max Millington of Durham writes for Cardinal & Pine, a digital news outlet that supports policies advanced by Democrats. He interviewed Hawkins and Lemel.
The intention of their campaign was to “overcome” partisanship in local government.
Hawkins said, “My opinion is that many county commissioners across the state don’t see themselves in an administrative role, but rather see themselves as miniature Lindsey Grahams or miniature Mitch McConnells or miniature Nancy Pelosis.
“They are abusing the county commissioners office to wage partisan political battles. Your local role should be to bring people together, not pit them against each other, ”said Hawkins.
Lemel said she believes partisanship has no place in local government. “County commissioners have little control over the main issues that annoy people. Our work concerns public health, waste and social services. Our job is to make sure schools are funded and around parks and recreation. There are so many services that have a real impact on the quality of life, regardless of your party affiliation.
Lemel told The New Yorker’s Slevin that she had no regrets: “You have to live true to who you are. You arrive by yourself at the pearly gates.
The term of County Commissioner David Guice, who “left” the Republican Party with Hawkins and Lemel, expires in 2022. I’m just saying.