Just after Thanksgiving, three Transylvania County commissioners publicly announced that they have left the Republican Party to register themselves as unaffiliated.
Commissioners David Guice, Mike Hawkins, and Page Lemel jointly wrote, “This is not an action we do happily, and it is not a choice we take lightly. It comes after much prayer, reflection and discussion among us and with our loved ones. In leaving, we are ending a long association that is deeply personal. Between us, we have won 20 different elections as Republicans in Transylvania County.”
The announcement was reminiscent of many such realignments made during the 1980s and 1990s, when an uncounted number of southern Democrats, under the aura of Reaganism, left their party to become Republicans. Many of them proclaimed at the time, “I haven’t left my party; my party has left me.” Recently, Republicans disenchanted with their party and its leaders under President Donald Trump have made a similar assertion.
The three commissioners noted three “broad areas” for their decision to leave the party:
“First, we have clear notions of conservatism. To be conservative is to honor and preserve the fundamental institutions, processes, structures and rule of law, which have enabled the United States to be history’s greatest success story. To be conservative is to be financially prudent while also investing in common ground works that support individual success for all citizens. To be conservative is to be welcoming and inclusive, understanding that all of us share the same human aspirations; conservative tenets of self-determination cannot be exclusive. To be conservative is to have a strong moral compass and the willingness to challenge wrong regardless of its source. We believe all of these are not merely conservative principles but American principles.
“Next, we believe elected officials have a special duty to conduct themselves beyond reproach and make genuine efforts to represent all their constituents. Elected officials must strive to conduct all public and private actions with honor and integrity. Elected officials must value objective truth and, in turn, be truthful in their own statements and interactions. And elected officials must continually work to hear the voices of all while making hard decisions on behalf of their fellow citizens.”
The third point the three emphasized was this: “We believe local government should not be partisan in nature. Good ideas come from across the spectrum of political thought. Our focus is local, our objective is problem-solving for Transylvania County, and our experience is that partisanship is an obstacle to effective local governance. Governing is done best when done closest, and close governing is done best when removed from partisan encumbrances.”
Guice previously served two terms in the NC General Assembly. He told the Transylvania Times, “I registered as a Republican over 30 years ago because I supported the ideals the Republican Party stood for, things like fiscal responsibility and respect for individuals, as well as respect for structures and processes and rule of law… Until recently I have always felt comfortable that the party and I shared common perspectives.”
He added, “Leaders at every level should preserve and protect our fundamental American institutions and the rule of law … should operate with strict standards of honesty and integrity, and … work to represent all citizens. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to suggest that Republican leadership at the highest levels are no longer consistently maintaining those principles.”
Lemel has been a registered Republican for almost 40 years. He grew up in a Republican household where his father was local chair of Gerald Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign.
“I believe in limited government. I believe in fiscal conservatism. I believe in the power of the individual. I believe that the United States is the greatest nation on Earth.”
Hawkins registered with the party in the early 2000s, because, he said, “Of the people I worked with who I thought were devoted to moving Transylvania County forward in a positive way, most were prominent Republicans.”
Hawkins told the Transylvania Times that while “State Sen. Chuck Edwards is a person of integrity, who works to do the right thing, who sincerely wants to hear all voices,” it’s “not unreasonable to suggest that GOP leadership”—at the state and national levels—“doesn’t always value those attributes.” Leaders “should honor and defend fundamental American institutions, value truth and integrity, and strive to represent all citizens,” but said that his party has strayed from those principles.
The Transylvania seats currently occupied by Hawkins and Lemel, as well as that of Commissioner Jason Chappell, will be on the ballot next November. If Hawkins and Lemel decide to run again, they will have to file as unaffiliated candidates, following the process outlined by state law, and must meet the requirements by noon on March 3, 2020.