Photo: Red barn in Ashe County, N.C., by Jamie Williams.
In a county that can feel very partisan and very red, Down Home’s nonpartisan approach made an impact on election day. That impact is only going to grow.
“We won some,” says Field Organizer Dolly, “and even the ones we didn’t win we influenced through our hard work and canvassing. You can see where our work turned up. This is a long haul and we know it. That’s what keeps us going.”
Even if they largely vote Republican, Ashe County voters truly rejected the far right candidates. The ones running on false culture war campaigns, the ones who kept beating the anti-CRT drum, the ones who made ridiculous claims about litter boxes in classrooms, were largely ignored at the ballot box.
Our Down Home members in Ashe County drew a firm line for the school board to remain nonpartisan and focused on education, and voters agreed.
We protected our schools, but still have work to do
Voting was down this year in Ashe County compared to the last midyear election in 2018. This aligns with trends across the state and the nation. A total of 11,852 ballots were cast in Ashe, which is about 59% of registered voters in the county.
Our Down Home Ashe members endorsed Cheri Beasley for U.S. Senate. Only 27% of Ashe County voted for her.
Our endorsed candidate for N.C. House 93, Ben Massey, is a well-respected local advocate for the environment. Massey lost to the incumbent Republican – but we took a stand for mountain values and planted a flag for being good stewards to the land.
For County Commissioner, our endorsed candidate Beth Sorrell came in fourth behind two incumbents and another challenger.
In a field of nine candidates for a 3-person school board, our two endorsed candidates won re-election easily. Our members endorsed Dianne Eldreth and Polly Sexton Jones in this nonpartisan race, and these two women were the two top voter getters, earning 22% and 18% respectively.
In 2023, we will be expanding our work to organize public school parents and stakeholders, kicking off the effort with a statewide public school summit on Dec. 3.
The majority of Ashe voters stuck with the decent and sensible Republican incumbents, says Dolly. “Incumbent Todd McNeil and newcomer Mike Eldreth bring respectable ideas to the table.”
McNeil has worked to expand and preserve green spaces in Ashe. Mike Eldreth ran on making Ashe a better place for families. When asked by Down Home about what issues mattered to him, he largely talked about the need for more preschools in the area and the increasing need for local healthcare and affordable housing.
Get on the democracy bus
During Down Home’s member endorsement meeting, our members had positive things to say about both of these candidates but chose to only endorse Beth Sorrell. They fully supported Sorrell and wanted to give her the best chance to win by using a strategy called “single shot voting.”
“While the campaign was unsuccessful,” says Dolly, “it was not for lack of trying. In the end, I am happy with the election results overall. We kept out extremists candidates, we elected good people, and most importantly, we kept our wits about us through the end.”
Dolly points out there will always be disagreements about who is the best candidate and there is no such thing as a perfect one. But, in the words of Dave Matthews, “Democracy is like taking a bus to somewhere close to where you wanna go.” It may not get you directly where you want, but it’ll move you closer than where you were. “Change takes time and Down Home is here to stay.”
What’s next in the High Country
“In Ashe, we know people across the county, regardless of how they voted, are seeking the same things,” says Regional Organizer Ben. They want access to affordable housing, they want schools to be funded and safe, and they want healthcare and jobs that pay living wages. While approaches to achieve those goals may differ, there are so many needs in common across the county.
However, it’s clear there are strong, and sometimes bitter, cultural divides that come with political affiliation that will need to be addressed, says Ben. “I think the election re-affirmed that folks are dug in and divided, choosing to focus on the few things that separate us rather than the many needs and hopes that we share.”
The organizers in Ashe are looking forward to two next steps: issue campaigning and relationship building.
Since Down Home is new in Ashe County, “people only know Down Home here as an endorsement/canvassing/election entity, which is really unfortunate,” says Ben. We are excited for the community to see us in the streets fighting for tangible local issues that affect the daily lives of working class folks here in the mountains.
“We just need to keep meeting people and listening to them and sharing our model and theory of change. People fear what they don’t understand,” says Ben. The more folks up here spend time with Down Home and our members, the more they will understand what we’re about and how we strive to do things, he says. “Then the deeper our relationships will be, and the more success we’ll have advocating for those that have been left out and forgotten and taken for granted.”