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Breaking from tradition, GOP endorses in non-partisan School Board race

Josh Houston speaks to Blue Ridge Tea Party Patriots. Josh Houston speaks to Blue Ridge Tea Party Patriots.

The Henderson County Republican Party and Henderson County Tea Party agree that they can find only one candidate to endorse in the Henderson County School Board election — former Republican Party treasurer Josh Houston.

The Henderson County Tea Party urged several hundred people on an email list to cast a single vote for Houston in the School Board race.
The Tea Party's endorsement of Houston, a Republican precinct committee chairman, is a departure from the policy of the two major political parties, which generally decline to endorse in non-partisan races. And that's not the only new wrinkle in the non-partisan election. The Henderson County Republican Party is for the first time making a public endorsement. The GOP, too, likes Houston, a banker and party activist who says he favors school reform and wants education money shifted from other areas to the classroom.
Robert Danos, a former party chairman, notified the Hendersonville Lightning of the GOP's endorsement after the newspaper broke the story of the Tea Party endorsement. As recently as last week, party officials said they did not make endorsements in the non-partisan School Board race. The party has generally endorsed (identifying "conservative judges") in judicial races. After interviewing candidates who sat down with them, local GOP leaders decided to make a recommendation in the School Board race.
"The tipping point for me to endorse in a school board race, came last year when Republicans in Raleigh, including Sen. Tom Apodaca, were fighting Gov. Bev Perdue for some of the same education reforms that have been very successful in Florida under Gov. Jeb Bush — including lifting the cap on the number of charter schools, merit pay for teachers with the best improvements in their students, and tenure reform," Danos said in an email.
"In the news stories at the time, I was dismayed that not one Henderson County School Board member was willing to make the case for why these reforms are better than the status quo. Josh Houston, whose wife teaches in the public school system, just like Sen. Apodaca's wife, understands these issues."
The party's endorsements are shown in advertisements and posters and will be included in cards Republicans hand out at polling places, he added.

The Henderson County Tea Party is one of three local groups claiming the Tea Party mantle. The Blue Ridge Tea Party Patriots and the Asheville Tea Party are all chaired by Henderson County residents.
Henderson County Tea Party chairman Ron Kauffman sent an email to about 450 supporters that listed the endorsed conservative candidates for U.S. offices, state Legislature, Council of State and judgeships and included the recommendation to vote for Houston.
"You'll notice that we have listed only 1-candidate for School Board," Kauffman said in the email. "That's NOT an error. To be sure that our candidate gets a majority of the votes, we are voting for only 1-candidate and that will prevent a dilution of our selection among other candidates."
Houston, a manager at First Citizens Bank in Tryon and a father of two who is married to Hendersonville High School teacher Jessica Houston, said he had participated in the iCaucus candidate vetting process that many Tea parties use but had not heard specifically about the Henderson County Tea Party endorsement.
"I'd like to know a little more from them first because all I've done is respond to the iCaucus," he said. "My platform is not to cut the budget. I think we're in a tough spot, as all school systems are, with the budget. I'd like to see more money in the classroom, where the teaching takes place, and work with the county commissioners to try to get the politics out of it."
Tea Party and Republicans met jointly with a number of candidates and made choices. "I was independent of that whole process," he said, adding that he purposely left his Republican Party position when he filed to run for School Board. "I'm not a Tea Party member. If they choose to help me and endorse me, then so be it."
He said he does not ask voters to cast a single-shot for him.
"I don't get into that," he said. "I tell them where I stand and get my ideas out to them and I don't say one way or another about other candidates."
Kauffman, a recent transplant to Hendersonville, could not give specifics as to why the Tea Party endorsed only Houston among eight candidates.
"I'm new here. I'm basically a year old," he said. "I had to rely on going and talking to people who had children (in the public schools). We wanted to be sure that one person we had listened to and liked what he said is going to be the person that gets elected."
The strategy of single-shot voting in a multi-candidate race is not uncommon among factions supporting one candidate but is sometimes frowned on by election purists who say voters should fill in all the blanks.
One-shot vote could make a difference in a race made up of three incumbents and five challengers vying for four seats. In Henderson County, School Board incumbents have generally had success winning re-election. The incumbents are longtime chairman Ervin Bazzle, retired principle Mary Louise Corn and retired teacher and coach Rick Wood. Shannon Baldwin chose not to seek re-election.
The challengers are Houston, former School Board member Debbie Reemes Ford, retired principle and administrator Charles E. Thomas, Michael Absher and Sonia Gironda.
The thinking behind single-shot voting is that someone strongly supporting one candidate may essentially cancel out the vote for him or her by also voting for someone who may be slightly ahead in the overall count.
"You may be adding to that lead," Kauffman said. "The trick is to help one candidate specifically.... You dilute your vote by voting for more than one person."
Kauffman said he favors new blood and new ideas.
"I also don't like the idea of people that don't get rotated out," he said. "In this particular case, going back to Josh Houston, I had to go to people that basically have a dog in that fight. I didn't hear any 'let's nots.'"