Featured photo: (L-R) Terri Mrazek, Dan Besse, Tonya McDaniel, Malishai Woodbury, Michael R. Owens
This year’s general election takes place on Nov. 8. Early voting will start on Oct. 20 and runs through Nov. 5. For more information on voting, including how to register, vote by mail and more, visit the Forsyth County Board of Elections website here.
A seat on the Forsyth County Commission doesn’t seem so glamorous at first glance. Commissioners rarely get the press that comes so easily to a mayor or city councilperson. But they do wield the most power, on paper. They are responsible for adopting the county budget, setting the property-tax rate, acting on zoning and land use and enacting county policies. The partisan board also appoints members of citizen boards, committees and other commissions. Four commissioners are elected from District B, two from District A and one is voted at-large. Each member serves a 4-year staggered term, and partisan elections are held in even-numbered years. Each December, the board chooses its chair and vice chair. Don Martin, a Republican representative for District B is the only candidate running unopposed.
In the upcoming general election, the candidates who made it through the primaries (and those who didn’t have to) will face off, separated by party. Triad City Beat contacted all of the candidates for this story and received answers from most of them. Their answers have been consolidated for print but full answers will be linked online.
The at-large race features former city council member Dan Besse, a Democrat, and Terri Mrazek, a Republican political activist and former head of the Forsyth County Republican Women.
Dan Besse (D)
Former city council member focused on police reform
Dan Besse served for 19 years on the Winston-Salem City Council starting in 2001, successfully running for election and re-election five times. Two years ago, he was recruited by the NC House Democratic Caucus to run for a Republican-leaning swing seat for the state House, a contest which he narrowly lost to Republican Jeff Zenger. Besse has also been actively involved in work for the Democratic party, from serving as a precinct chair to serving on the national board of Democratic Municipal Officials. This is his first time running for county commission.
Besse is community-oriented, and wants to be available to the public.
“I understand that this work is year-round, and that people need to see and speak with me as their representative on a regular basis, not just every four years at election time,” he said. “No matter how smart you think you are, you’ll learn more in one afternoon on neighborhood streets talking and listening than from a month sitting in your office.”
Besse points out a multitude of issues, from disparities in educational opportunities, healthcare and housing affordability, as the biggest challenges facing Forsyth County.
He pointed out the need to increase teacher pay, offer more extensive health outreach, increase in community policing and work towards energy efficiency.
Besse’s opinions concerning law enforcement funding and control are varied and nuanced, related to his time on city council.
“I adamantly oppose reducing law enforcement funding,” he said. “Good community policing with well-trained and managed law enforcement officers is essential, and it’s not cheap.” He continued, “At the same time, I fully recognize that the experience with law enforcement in many communities has not been positive historically.”
He insists on high standards of police conduct and accountability and acknowledges the difficulties of the job.
“None of these crises will solve themselves, and we can’t fix them with social media hand-wringing,” he explained. “All of us who care about the well-being of our communities must get out of our chairs and get to work on rebuilding civic engagement and the democratic process.”
Terri Mrazek (R)
Strong supporter of law enforcement who was in DC on Jan. 6
Terri Mrazek has worked as a political activist and assisted in many campaigns, most recently serving as the president of the Forsyth County Republican Women. She has worked on the campaigns of NC Dept. of Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and state Sen. Joyce Krawiec. If elected, Mrazek expressed a desire to provide a voice to the constituents. She also is interested in budgetary concerns.
“Finding revenue sources other than property taxes is a key to success,” Mrazek said. “The population demands more services and at the same time, they are not willing to pay additional property taxes.”
Public safety is a major priority for Mrazek.
“I believe in programs that promotes [sic] a healthy relationship between Communities and Law enforcement,” Mrazek said. “Our responsibility as County Commissioners is, ‘Our County Sheriff Department’ and foremost the safety of our people in Forsyth County and visitors.”
A devout Christian, Mrazek is also vocal about her support of the Republican Party and Donald Trump. When asked, Mrazek initially denied and then acknowledged being in Washington, DC on Jan. 6. Mrazek was adamant about not attending the Capitol Insurrection following the rally at the Washington Monument.
“I found the actions of others who entered the Capital [sic] was very wrong as well as the actions of those who months before destroyed people’s prosperity,” she said, referencing the worldwide protests against police brutality that were sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020. “Months before in Washington, there was burning, Vandalizing and loitering of peoples businesses and even a Historic Church was vandalize[d]. How soon that was all forgotten.”
Mrazek hopes to represent the community through lower taxes, a strong public safety system, and addressing the different financial needs of the county.
The District A race has two seats available with two Democrats, Malishai Woodbury and Tonya McDaniel running against the two Republicans, Reginald Reid and Michael R. Owens. Owens and Reid did not respond to TCB’s requests.
Tonya McDaniel (D, i)
Incumbent with clear ideas about budgetary goals
Tonya D. McDaniel was first elected as a county commissioner in 2018. She received her undergraduate degree from Winston-Salem State University and graduated with a bachelor of arts in political science. In 2016, she graduated from NC Central University with a master’s in public administration. She is also the goddaughter of former commissioner and community leader, the late Earline Parmon.
“For over 14 years, I have worked at the precinct level, worked for the board of elections, managed several federal, state and local candidates’ political campaigns,” she said.
She believes that she is one of the most experienced candidates with a clear vision.
“Forsyth County has invested a total budget of $65 million in the sheriff’s department,” she said. “We have approved approximately $3.5 million in the Juvenile Intervention Team, and $1.5 million to work alongside the Cure Violence Initiative to combat gun and gang violence.”
As for schools, they “have $150 million for infrastructure, which includes funding for teachers, assistants and staff,” she said. She plans to work alongside state representatives and the school board to ensure a cohesive budget.
“I am also looking forward to recognizing our LGBTQ+ communities in the future and continuing the work on supporting the state goal of 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2050 and creation of green jobs,” she explained.
In her work with a federal non-profit, McDaniel maintained a budget of over $2 million in human resources over a period of nine years. Citing the $500 million budget she has overseen as a commissioner, she’s excited to help put more resources in her community.
“I am excited Forsyth County has written a resolution to utilize 80 percent of the $74 million ARPA dollars in the census tract of the marginalized communities,” she said.
McDaniel recognizes a need for local law enforcement, stating, “[F]rom my own personal experience dealing with domestic violence and gun and gang violence, I would have to admit law enforcement agencies are necessary in serving and protecting our citizens. I am grateful to live in a county where our sheriff’s department understands the need for behavioral health. It has to be an all-inclusive body of work.”
Malishai Woodbury (D)
Former school board chair focused on education
Malishai Woodbury has served on the WS/FCS Board of Education for almost four years, with three of those years as chair. Notably, she is the first Black school board chair in Forsyth County history. She received her bachelor of arts in communication studies from UNC-Chapel Hill and received her master’s degree in history at NC A&T State University. She later taught history at A&T.
“Teaching political courses is a great way to authentically experience the exchange of ideas and beliefs regarding political issues and the behaviors of political leaders,” she said.
This is her first run for county commission.
Focusing on District A, Woodbury wants to “help make Forsyth County the best place to live in NC no matter which side of 52 you live,” she said. “In order to make our county the best, we must strengthen District A.”
Woodbury thinks schools are still insufficiently funded, Pre-K accessibility needs attention and her experience on the school board helps inform her belief.
“I have experience working with the school district’s budget, which is comparable to the county’s budget,” she explains. “As of 2021, the school district received a ‘0’ error audit and increased our fund balance.”
Her thoughts on other ways that the budget could be utilized is similar.
“The county should invest more money in increasing educator pay supplements, Pre-K accessibility, and restorative juvenile justice, to name a few,” she said. “I think Forsyth County should spend less money on luxurious amenities for certain parts of the county.”
Woodbury’s views towards law enforcement are similar to those of her colleagues who are running for office.
“I agree with law enforcement reform that is a collaborative effort between community members, elected officials and law enforcement leaders,” she said. “I think policing has a negative connection to the history of slavery in this country; however, I believe all citizens want to live in a safe community that is protected by men and women who serve to keep the peace.”
She’s also expressed her opinion about the current state of the nation and its myriad of social issues.
“I am concerned about the future of this country if we don’t authentically deal with the core issues that hinder our progress, like racism, sexism, elitism, etc.,” she said.
As an elected official, Woodbury said she wants to emulate the past leaders who also served as longtime public servants.
“I will work to uphold the legacy and commitment of servant leaders like Mazie Woodruff, Earline Parmon and Walter Marshall,” she said. “In my opinion, their work to justify human and civil rights was the greater mission that benefitted all citizens of Forsyth County.”
Michael R. Owens (R)
Republican newcomer adamant about small government
TCB attempted to contact Mr. Owens multiple times for this story and received no response. All information is sourced from his campaign website and other media, where noted.
A lifelong resident of NC, Michael Owens has lived in Winston-Salem for more than 20 years. From his website: “I didn’t go to medical school, and I’ve never owned my own business. I’ve spent my adult life working regular jobs, just like everyone else.”
A staunch believer in the Constitution, Owens wants “men and women at the county level of government who understand the power they have OVER the federal government,” the “need to educate local officials of the Constitutional limits of the federal government,” and “at the County level, to learn to prosper without federal intrusion.”
Owens wants more state options concerning healthcare and believes the Affordable Care Act “is not something the federal government has any Constitutional authority to legislate.”
Owens is also a proponent of the belief that education is strictly a state issue and that the Federal Dept. of Education is unconstitutional.
From his website: “[W]hat I do have, is the willingness to make tough decisions for the good of Forsyth County, North Carolina… and the Republic itself.”
Reginald Reid (R)
Former political candidate with minimum online presence
Reginald Reid is a Forsyth County resident. Reid has run in previous elections, most notably, the NC Senate in 2012 and NC House races in 2018.
There is currently no campaign page or social media page that we can definitively tie to Reid.
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