Photo: (From left to right) Jason Ewing, James Upchurch and Jim Davis
Two former High Point city council members will duke it out in the Republican primary and then face a Democratic political newcomer in the race for the District 6 seat on Guilford County Commission left vacant by Hank Henning.
Neither of the two Republican candidates for the District 6 seat on the Guilford County Commission is new to politics.
Jim Davis served as a High Point City Council member from 2012 to 2017 and even filled in as mayor for three months in 2014, after Bernita Sims resigned.
Similarly, Jason Ewing served on High Point City Council from 2013 to 2019, losing his seat to Michael Holmes by just a handful of votes. Both Davis and Ewing will duke it out in the Republican primary come March 3, and one will go on to face Democrat James Upchurch in the general election.
Both Davis and Ewing said in interviews that education is at the top of their list of concerns for the district if they were to win the seat.
“I know this bond issue for the schools is going to hit us front and center,” said Davis of the recent $1.5 billion need for Guilford County schools’ facilities. “I don’t know how the county commissioners is going to pay for it. It’s going to have to be some sort of tax. I am not an advocate for property taxes because our county has one of the highest property taxes in the country.”
Similarly, Ewing also mentioned that he would be in favor of a sales-tax increase over a property-tax increase if it came down to a decision between the two to pay for a potential bond.
“Property-tax increases are hard to sell because people who don’t have kids in the system don’t understand the correlation between property taxes and education,” said Ewing who has worked as a realtor for years. “We’ve got to the show the impact that having strong schools has on our community.”
In addition to improving the county’s education system, both candidates talked about a range of other concerns facing the district.
Ewing talked at length about economic development and how his experience as a city council member as well as his time on the board of the High Point Economic Development Corp. makes him a strong candidate for leading High Point in the right direction for future growth.
“I’m very focused on economic development,” Ewing said. “I’m focused on bringing new businesses here. But to do that, you’ve got to make sure you have strong schools and strong infrastructure in place, and be welcoming to the businesses.”
Ewing points to the success the city has had in using incentive packages to convince companies to build their businesses in the city.
Davis also mentioned the importance of infrastructure when it comes to needs at the sheriff’s department or having more nurses in schools. He also mentioned his concerns about the opioid crisis and how it affects residents in the district as well as countywide.
Ewing brought up the importance of creating more affordable housing as well as access to affordable transportation to ensure that businesses looking for employees and citizens looking for jobs can connect.
“We’ve got a huge workforce housing shortage,” Ewing said. “We’ve got to find a way to work with the city, transportation, work with PART and get more workforce housing so we can get these people to jobs where employees are looking for workers.”
Davis and Ewing also differed slightly in their opinions about the Forsyth County Commission’s recent decision to pass a resolution in support of the Second Amendment.
“I would be in favor of it,” Davis said if the possibility of a similar resolution came to the Guilford County board. “I grew up on a farm. I’ve hunted and fished my whole life. I had a private shooting range. I support the Second Amendment.”
Ewing on the other hand, said that while he supports the right to bear arms, that he understands that the resolution is merely symbolic and doesn’t have the power to enact any change to local legislation.
“I understand you got to send that message,” Ewing said. “I’m certainly in support of the Second Amendment but sometimes, adopting resolutions or measures that don’t really carry any power can be counterproductive. If there was any concern that the Second Amendment was under attack at any level, then the more counties that could show support for it, the better it would be.”
Both candidates pointed to their years of experience as city council members as evidence of working across the aisle with Democratic colleagues.
“I’ve never had an issue with working with people across the aisle,” Davis said. “You can look back at my record on city council. I supported issues that were good for the public.”
Ewing echoed Davis’ statement.
“I learned early on that there’s nothing Republican or Democrat about water, sewer, public services or infrastructure,” he said. “I worked closely with Democratic peers to get things done. Our nation has gotten so clouded now and there’s so much focus on what this part of this party is doing rather than getting things done.”
The candidates both mentioned their time on city council and forming relationships as the reason why they should win the seat.
“I just feel like I have the experience and the knowledge and willpower to do it and I look forward to serving,” Davis said.
“I developed good working relationships with people at the local, state and federal level,” Ewing said. “I think that having those relationships is beneficial to get things done.”
The winner of the Republican primary will face political newcomer James Upchurch in November.
Upchurch who has worked in the public education system, said that he was similarly drawn to the race because of education.
“I saw firsthand how our schools weren’t being funded,” Upchurch said. “So I started going to school board meetings, city council, the county commissioners. We didn’t have textbooks; we didn’t have school safety.”
Upchurch taught at Ragsdale High School from 2017 to 2018 and then at Smith High School from 2018 to 2019. He said that he was there the day Smith went into lockdown because of a suspected school shooter.
“Nothing happened but it could have been really bad,” he said. “That was kind of the final straw for me.”
He said school safety, including increasing safety features like buzzer systems and cameras, is at the top of his list if he gets elected to the seat.
As for the $1.5 billion facilities need, Upchurch echoed his Republican counterparts and said that he would support a sales-tax increase over a property-tax increase to pay for the bond debt.
“I don’t want to raise taxes but sometimes that’s what we have to do,” Upchurch said.
Still, he said that he would look for ways to cut costs and find ways to “spend money more efficiently” if elected.
“I went to school for business,” Upchurch said. “I believe in fiscal responsibility. I know the issues because I have been through them.”