2022 in Review: Stanly voters revamp school board, county commissioners

(AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

STANLY COUNTY — In both the May primaries and the November midterm elections, local voters made their mark in reshaping the Stanly County Board of Education and Stanly County Board of Commissioners in 2022.

Prior to Election Day, county elections director Kimberly Blackwelder gave SCJ her aspiration for Stanly County’s final numbers: “I hope we will have at least a 45% turnout and even a 50% turnout, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Her statistical hope was met and exceeded.

Over half (53.6%) of registered voters living in Stanly County voted in November, making their voices heard in the ballot box while exceeding the averages of 47.3% in North Carolina and 46% nationally.

Among other factors, the turnout was indicative of a county reacting to the policies in the Stanly school district — particularly face-mask rules, lengthy quarantining requirements, and critical race theory taught through the state-run Social and Emotional Learning program.

It was a year where established local politicians squared off with political newcomers as well as familiar faces.

The Stanly County Freedom Network — a grassroots conservative movement and Facebook group of nearly 1,800 members — had its sights set on winning four local seats with four Republican candidates who campaigned together throughout the year.

School board candidate Meghan Almond joined county commissioner candidates Levi Greene, Patty Crump, and Thomas Townsend as representatives of the group. School board incumbent Anthony Graves and commissioner candidate Brandon King were endorsed by the network in their respective races.

Ultimately, one group member (Crump) and one group-endorsed candidate (King) were successful in their election bids.

Two county commissioners — current vice chairman Mike Barbee and Bill Lawhon — held their seats through their reelection bids while former chairman Tommy Jordan and commissioner Lane Furr were both replaced. Additionally, school board member Dustin Lisk retained his seat while board member Graves suffered a defeat.

In the District 1 commissioners’ race, Barbee notched his second consecutive term with 41% of the votes (3,100), overtaking Levi Greene’s 33.7% (2,553) and Mike Haigler’s 25.3% (1,919) of the votes.

For the District 2 race, Lawhon, a former chairman for the board, secured his third term with 4,114 votes (53.7%) compared to Thomas Townsend’s 2,832 votes (37%) and Jon Ledbetter’s 719 votes (9.4%)

With District 3 being a two-way race between Jordan and King, the latter had 4,548 votes (59.5%), while Jordan tallied 3,116 votes (40.5%).

In the At-Large race, candidate Patty Crump had 44.2% (3,426) of the vote and edged past Furr, who had 39.3% (3,047) in his race to retain his seat; Leon Eugene Warren picked up 16.6% (1,286).

The two school board races featured a landslide victory as well as a tight finish.

In the four-way At-Large race, former school board member Robin Whittaker defeated the seat’s incumbent by nearly 13 percentage points. Whittaker’s 45.1% (3,474) bested Graves’ 32.2% (2,479), Melvin B. Pool’s 15.5% (1,196), and John Wright’s 7.1% (549).

Meanwhile, Lisk retained his District 1 seat with 3,850 votes — just 67 votes more than challenger Meghan Almond’s 3,783 votes. The final tally came down to a difference of less than one percentage point (50.4% and 49.6%).

When it came time for the November midterm elections, the school board and county commissioner candidates — all registered Republicans — ran and won their seats unopposed with no Democratic challengers.

The winners have since been sworn into office for their four-year terms, issuing in the latest wave of local government shaped by the will of Stanly County voters.