Johnston County voters on Tuesday sided with Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Hillary Clinton for president and favored a school board member over a county commissioner for N.C. House.
Voters also supported challengers and incumbents equally for school board and said yes to North Carolina borrowing $2 billion to improve infrastructure, higher education buildings and parks statewide.
In complete but unofficial returns, Cruz won 44.14 percent of Johnston County votes, while Donald Trump was second with 41.54 percent. Clinton captured 52.07 percent of the Democratic primary votes.
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The race to win the GOP nomination in N.C. House District 28 pitted the leaders of Johnston County’s most powerful boards. In the end, school board member Larry Strickland defeated County Commissioner Tony Braswell and political newcomer Greg Dail. Strickland captured 50.14 percent of the vote, boosted, apparently, by the endorsement of retiring District 28 Rep. J.H. Langdon. Strickland easily carried the three precincts that make up Langdon’s home community.
Based on unofficial returns, the school board chairman will face Democrat Patricia Oliver in November. Oliver captured 50.36 percent of the vote, edging Jimmie Massengill, who won 49.64. In all, Oliver won 44 more votes than Massengill.
The race between Strickland and Braswell was the most hotly contested in Johnston County, often playing out bitterly in mailers, Facebook posts and newspaper ads as the candidates debated county and school spending. A week before the primary, Braswell published photos of school board bank statements, including account numbers. He said he was trying to show that the schools were sitting on the $20 million they returned to the county during the recession.
Strickland said Langdon’s endorsement helped him in Pleasant Grove precincts, but he also focused on Pine Level and Four Oaks, where he said he spent all of Tuesday at the polls.
Langdon said the race became so contentious because it was open for the first time in 12 years.
“The fact that the seat was open gave an opportunity for both me and Tony to seek hirer office,” Strickland said. “The campaign wasn’t personal.”
Braswell agreed that Langdon’s endorsement of Strickland presented a challenge, but the tide, he said, turned on CSX’s contentious container hub, which county commissioners opposed because of the threat on eminent domain.
Landgon’s endorsement “was something hard to overcome,” Braswell said. “But if you look at the results in other races, the board of education is portrayed as good and the board of commissioners is bad ... It turned around the CSX issue. That’s when, in my opinion, that it really swung.”
At the end of the year, when his term as a county commissioner ends, he will retire from politics, Braswell said.
In the District 26 House race, current school board member Donna White is headed to November run against Democrat Rich Nixon, who teaches history at Corinth Holders High School. White won comfortably over retired Air Force colonel Dennis Nielsen for the District 26 GOP nomination.
With all precincts reporting, Rick Horner of Wilson defeated Benton Sawrey of Clayton with 51.57 percent of the vote in the GOP primary in N.C. Senate District 11, which is made up of Johnston, Nash and Sampson counties. In November, Horner will face Albert Pacer of Zebulon, the lone Democrat to file for the seat.
Susan Byerly defeated James “Jay” Willis Sills Jr. with 77.43 percent of the vote in the race for the Democratic nomination in N.C. Senate District 12, which serves Johnston, Lee and Harnett counties. In November, she will face incumbent Ronald Rabin of Harnett County, the lone Republican to file for the seat.
The roster of Johnston school board candidates was certain to drop two from its ranks Tuesday night, setting the November ballot at eight candidates vying for four seats. Incumbent Mike Wooten and political newcomer Teresa Grant won the most votes, while incumbent Peggy Smith but newcomers Teresa Grant and Ronald Johnson also polled well. Rounding out the top eight were Todd Sutton, Summer Hamrick, Crystal Roberts and Jeff Jennings. Coming up short were Dale Bender and Chip Swartz.
Shake-up is certain on the school board, with two seats guaranteed for newcomers; current board members Keith Branch and Donna White are seeking other offices. And there could be as many as five open seats, with school board chairman Larry Strickland advancing to November’s N.C. House District 28 race as the Republican nominee.
Some voters didn’t stop there, though, looking to add as many fresh faces as possible. Cleveland Middle School teacher Tiffany Mundy used her ballot to try to elect some new bosses.
“I just voted for all new people,” Mundy said. “We’re not being treated fairly. The superintendent is getting a big bonus and we don’t have any paper for the kids. It’s shameful.”
Last month, a News & Observer investigation revealed Johnston County is on the hook for $508,000 of former superintendent Ed Croom’s pension because of a new state law against pension spiking.
A voter who would give only her last name, Mills, said Croom’s pension weighed on her decision too, but she also valued experience.
“I don’t have kids, but I care about the fate of the county,” Mills said. “Peggy Smith has the experience; she knows what to do.”
Grant, a chemistry supervisor for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, said her strong showing shocked her, and but she appreciated the trust voters put in her.
Grant, who finished second only to incumbent Mike Wooten, said she worked to rise above the nine other candidates by making appearances at events throughout the week.
“From the day I filed, I hit the ground running, going to two or three events a night, four on Saturday and maybe one on Sunday,” she said. “I’m trying to get out to everywhere I can.”
Four seats on the Johnston County Board of Commissioners are up for grabs this year, but only Districts 4 and 6 had primaries on Tuesday, both in the GOP.
In an outcome that surprised some, Larry Wood beat DeVan Barbour IV for the District 4 nomination with 57.55 percent of the vote. Barbour is the son of retiring County Commissioner DeVan Barbour IV. Keith Branch outdistanced Darryl Mitchell in District 6 with 58.92 percent of the vote.
Second Benson election
Curtis Dean McLamb reversed his fortune from November and won Benson’s District 2 commissioner seat over incumbent John Bonner. The State Board of Elections called for a second election in District 2 after some voters received the wrong ballot in November. McLamb won this time by 50 votes, 178-128.
While some voters expressed either confusion or surprise on Tuesday, Johnston County Board of Elections officials reported no problems with ballots or the state’s new voter-ID requirement. Confusion about polling places was “the same as it is every year,” said Board of Elections member John Shallcross Jr. of Smithfield.
“It’s been smooth sailing,” he said.
At both the East Smithfield and North Smithfield precinct polling places, some voters said they didn’t know if they were in the right place. They were unsure if they voted in the same place for county and state elections as in Smithfield Town Council elections.
Also, some voters said they were unaware they would have to show an ID to vote, but all showed ID, and poll workers turned no one away.
By noon Tuesday, Smithfield Church of God, home to North Smithfield Precinct, had already seen 400 voters, an unprecedented number, according to poll workers, who said a line began forming in the morning. At the First Baptist Church Ministry Center, home to East Smithfield Precinct, just 150 voters had cast ballots by noon, and there was no line, poll workers said.
Chris Sanders, who cast his ballot at Smithfield Church of God, said voting went smoothly for him.
“I had to show my ID, but that wasn’t a problem,” he said. “There were pretty good choices, but it’s mostly conservative in Johnston County.”
Lee Tylecky, who also voted at the church, said many races had a large number of candidates, which took some research to become familiar with.
“We didn’t know some of them at all,” he said. “So we ended up having to research some of them. The ID requirement was about time.”
Malory Mullins, a first-time voter, said she was aware of the controversy surrounding the voter ID requirement. But she has long carried some form of ID, so “it wasn’t a problem,” she said.
Like Tylecky, Mullins was unfamiliar with many of the candidates on the ballot this year. “There were so many of them,” she said. “I didn’t know a lot.”
Smithfield Town Councilman Travis Scott, another North Smithfield Precinct voter, said he was checking in to make sure “everything goes smoothly for Smithfield voters.”
Scott said he supported the voter ID requirement, because it “creates accountability” for voters.
At the First Baptist Church Ministry Center, Barbara Acton said her voting experience was an easy one, with no lines. And the voter ID requirement was “no big deal,” she said.
Acton said the winners on Tuesday had their work cut out for them. “Whoever wins, it will take them forever to get us out of the mess we’re in now,” she said.
Offie Dublin, another East Smithfield voter, said he had no problems casting his ballot, and he added that the poll workers were “very helpful.”
“As long as you had your ID, it wasn’t a problem,” he said.
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett
N.C. House District 26
Dennis Nielsen 40.43%
Donna White 59.57%
N.C. House District 28
Jimmie Massengill 49.64%
Patricia Oliver 50.36%
Tony Braswell 41.81%
Gregory Dail 08.05%
Larry Strickland 50.14%
N.C. House District 22
William Brisson 53.48%
Ben Snyder 46.52%
N.C. Senate District 11
Rick Horner 51.57%
Benton Sawrey 48.43%
N.C. Senate District 12
Susan Byerly 77.42%
James Willis Sills, Jr. 22.58%
Commissioner District 4
DeVan Barbour IV 42.45%
Larry Wood 57.55%
Commissioner District 6
Keith Branch 58.92%
Darryl Mitchell 41.08%
Board of Education
Dale Bender 03.49%
John Taylor Brantley (withdrew) 03.31%
Teresa Grant 12.87%
Summer Hamrick 9.78%
Jeffrey Jennings 7.76%
Ronald Johnson 11.09%
Crystal Kimpson Roberts 09.71%
Peggy Smith (I) 12.35%
Todd Sutton 10.24%
Chip Swartz 04.29%
Mike Wooten (I) 15.12%