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Hendersonville City Council member Jeff Collis has riled challenger Jeff Miller with a charge that the Henderson County Republican Party has injected partisanship into the race.
Collis says the GOP has endorsed Miller and Ron Stephens, who is running against incumbent Barbara Volk, a Democrat. GOP officials say it's not so.
The City Council race is non-partisan and historically candidates have ignored the party registration of their opponents.
Collis, who is registered as unaffiliated, made the charge in a letter to the Hendersonville Lightning and also to the Times-News, which published the letter on Friday.
Miller said Friday he got an unequivocal no when he asked a Republican official whether the party had endorsed or done any work for a city candidate. Republican Party chairman Andrew Riddle said the party had made no endorsement and done nor work on behalf of a candidate.
Collis faces former council member Diane Caldwell and the more heavily funded campaigns of Miller and fellow incumbent Jerry Smith in the Nov. 5 general election. Miller won the Oct. 8 primary with 36.7 percent of the vote followed by Smith, with 19.9 percent; Collis, with 15.1 percent; and Caldwell with 11.89 percent. Seeking a third term, Collis has reported no campaign donations and said he is taking his message door to door.
"With all the partisan mess we see going on in State and Federal Politics, it has always been a privilege to serve in a NON-Partisan elected seat," Collis said in the letter. "I can't think of a single time in my 8 years where (our) political affiliation ever made its way into a vote, discussion, or goal of Hendersonville City Council.
"We serve all the residents, not just those of a certain political party. I have to admit, it is very disappointing to see the Henderson County Republican Party endorse Ron Stephens and Jeff Miller for NON-Partisan seats on council, without so much as a phone call, questionnaire or interview of ALL candidates, some fellow Republicans."
Riddle said the party has not bought ads, taken a position, sent a mailer or operated a phone bank on behalf of Miller and Stephens or any other candidate.
The local Republican Party has a recent record of working on behalf of Republican candidates in non-partisan races. It urged voters to cast a single-shot vote for Josh Houston in the 2012 county School Board race and handed out endorsement sheets endorsing Houston and Republican candidates in non-partisan judicial races.
Riddle said nothing like that is occurring in the Hendersonville race.
"We're not doing any campaigning, signs, fundraising or phone banks," he said in an interview from Orlando, where he was on a family vacation. "Privately if someone asks me who I support, I tell them. If we were (endorsing a candidate), we'd put some signs at our new headquarters.
"Jeff Collis sent me an email asking me why we were supporting candidates for City Council and mayor. I replied that we're not. For him trying to complain is like saying Ronald McDonald cooks your hamburgers. It's a far stretch right now. I think he's grasping at straws."
Miller said he had tried to take the high road in the city campaign. Although he acknowledges that his party registration is well known — he was the Republican nominee for Congress in 2010 — he said he has kept partisanship out of the race. He said he has not asked nor had anyone from the party contacted him about an endorsement, and he is convinced that Collis is making it up.
"I don't have any cheeks left to turn," he said of Collis, who he says has been unfairly attacking him for his fundraising and his positions. "I've enjoyed this campaign because of the nonpartisan nature of it and I continue to operate in that respect. I am a Republican but I hope I would appeal to Democrats for what I bring to this campaign and to City Council."
Stephens said he had not asked for an endorsement, and said he too viewed the city election as nonpartisan.
On Friday night, Collis said he stood by his charge that the GOP, or at least Riddle as chairman, had sent out an endorsement of Miller and Stephens. Asked whether he had proof of the charge, he said he cannot identify the source.
"I'm not giving names because it's on the executive committee," he said. "I got three calls from people that are Republicans that are privy to it."
Collis got support from Ralph Freeman, a city council candidate and a Republican.
"I had two calls on Election Day (on Oct. 8) from people that wanted me to go out and vote," Freeman said. "They did not mention a candidate's name or anything. They had no clue who I was. They said it was the Republican Party calling to make sure you get out and vote ... I'm a registered Republican. I don't know how long I'm going to be one with all this going on."
Freeman, who failed to make the four-candidate runoff, is splitting from his party already. In a letter to the Hendersonville Lightning, he endorsed Volk.
Here is Freeman's endorsement of Volk:
"I urge all voters in Hendersonville to get the facts and vote for Barbara Volk for Mayor of Hendersonville. Her opponent has made misleading statements and says he does not support the new fire station. I was in the council chambers when the votes and discussion were made on this issue. He voted for and did not object to any part of the cost or contract for the new fire station on Sugarloaf Road. The contract was awarded to Cooper Construction who has given money to his campaign.
"Mayor Volk has worked hard to bring a positive image to the City. She has served on numerous boards and committees to fight for and represent the City's best long term interest. Mayor Volk has fought the states possible takeover of the city's water system, as well as the state and county commissions to stop the cities statewide from annexing for future growth. This law has put higher pressures on existing residents for futures taxes. She understands the importance of low taxes and regulations that attract businesses and residents to our city. Your vote for Volk is for a positive vision into the 21st century for Hendersonville."