In the past 10 years, the elected mayors of Hillsborough, Chapel Hill and Carrboro have been registered Democrats. In those 10 years, no Republican has won a seat on Chapel Hill’s town council or Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen. More Republicans and unaffiliated candidates have won in Hillsborough and for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education seats, although they are few and far between.
As a result, some Republicans are forced to consider switching parties in order to obtain political office.
Gary Kahn, a candidate for Chapel Hill mayor, and Evelyn D. Lloyd, an incumbent of over 20 years for Hillsborough town commissioner, changed their party registrations from Republican to Democrat ahead of the November municipal elections.
Adam Jones, who is running for a seat on the Chapel Hill town council, is the only Republican.
“I talked to several previous council members, or people who ran in the past, and one of them told me that I was never going to win as a Republican in Orange County,” Jones said. “If I was serious about running, I would have to change my affiliation to at least Independent, if not Democrat.”
Jones said he decided against doing so because he didn’t want to lie to the public.
Lloyd believes party registrations don’t affect the vote, but she said she changed her party affiliation this year because her opponents within her party, whom she said were more conservative, had drastically different opinions from her. She also wasn’t satisfied with the Republican Party’s decisions in the state legislature.
“The environment has been hurt a lot,” she said. “In Raleigh, the Clean Water Fund money has been cut — I’m against fracking.”
Municipal elections in Chapel Hill are nonpartisan. This means candidates don’t run on a party platform, and their party registrations will not show up on the ballot. The biggest disadvantage for candidates who run as Independents or Republicans might be the access to resources.
“The only glaring difference was there was a democratic forum that came up a few weeks ago that I didn’t get an invitation,” Jones said.
“There is an Orange County Democratic Party and they endorsed three other candidates in the Hillsborough town race and I was not one of those,” said Ashley DeSena, a Hillsborough town commissioner candidate who switched from Republican to Independent. “There is a pressure to appear like something that I’m not, but I’m just not willing to do that.”
The dominance of Democratic candidates in Orange County races, however, has not resulted in a lack of diversity in opinion, said Eric Hansen, a UNC political science graduate student.
“We usually think about state or national level debate issues like same-sex marriage, gun control where there is a clear partisan divide,” he said. “You don’t see any of those issues being debated quite as often at the local level in North Carolina because local governments are very restricted on what they can do under state law.”
He said the situation in Chapel Hill is typical of many small towns in the country.
“We see different types of political divides popping up rather than just the Democrat-Republican one,” Hansen said. “In Chapel Hill, there is sort of pro-growth and slow-growth — two camps popping up in this election.”
The 16 percent of registered Republicans in Orange County still have their picks now and then. Augustus Cho, former chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, ran for Chapel Hill town council and mayor seats in 2011 and 2009, losing against candidates like the current Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.
Jimmy Carroll Dearing, a resident of Hillsborough for ten years, identifies as a Republican, but has never voted in municipal elections.
“It’s not enough for Republicans to win anything,” he said. “The only chance for Republicans to win is through state and federal races.”