by Eric Ginsburg
Republican Larry Proctor challenges incumbent Democrat Kay Cashion for an at-large seat on the Guilford County Commission.
Larry Proctor knows the odds are stacked against him. He’s a Republican running against a popular incumbent in a county where Democrats hold a plurality of registered voters, which is why he started campaigning a year ago.
But things are very different in the at-large race for Guilford County Commissioner than they were in 2008 when Proctor first ran. The Republican-controlled General Assembly restructured the commission, reducing the number of at-large seats from two to one. And Cashion, who had been elected to represent the former District 6, was appointed to hold the at-large seat until the 2014 election.
Proctor pulled in an impressive 85,292 votes in the 2008 race, still ranking third out of five and trailing by about 38,000 votes but leading the other Republican and Libertarian candidates. He said he lost in the inner cities of High Point and Greensboro and with college students in particular, but he takes some solace in knowing that Cashion hasn’t run at large before.
Cashion cruised to victory in the Democratic primary in May, easily upending former commissioner Kirk Perkins 18,402 to 7,248.
The commissioner, who runs Cashion Furniture & Decorating off of Battleground Avenue, touts herself as a “fiscal conservative with a soft spot for human services.” Cashion and Proctor are both quick to point to their long respective histories of volunteer and community work, though much of what Cashion cites stems from her time as a commissioner. She is particularly proud of convincing the current conservative-leaning board to create a family-crisis justice center that focuses on domestic violence and child abuse, and Cashion also points to her role in establishing adolescent drug courts.
Proctor served on the planning board for nine years, including five years as the chairman, and talked about how he would visit each site and carefully do his homework before voting. Cashion and then-opponent Kirk Perkins both said the same thing about themselves as commissioners when it comes to rezoning.
To Proctor, who named a spread of other volunteer efforts ranging from working with an aspiring Eagle Scout to serving on his church’s finance committee, running for office is a continuation of his service on boards and in the community. In the last week, the governor appointed him to the statewide Alarm Systems Licensing Board, Proctor said, and he’s already on the board of directors for Crimestoppers.
Even though he retired two years ago — from running Sedgefield Lawn & Garden and Outdoor Equipment with his brother — Proctor remains very busy, but emphasized that being retired would allow him to commit full-time hours to being a commissioner in contrast to Cashion, who is running a business.
Proctor grew up on a 24-acre tobacco farm, attending public schools in High Point.
“I’m just a down-to-earth country boy who knows what’s going on,” Proctor said, sitting with a cup of coffee at the Hardee’s in downtown Greensboro. “My wife says I’ll die working, which is probably true. If you sit down, you die.”
Except for his military service, Proctor said he has lived here his entire life.
He genuinely enjoys his service on various boards, and said that being engaged in and interested by his work makes his output that much better. And while repeatedly emphasizing his country roots, Proctor said he would work to represent the entire county rather than a specific demographic or political party if elected.
Cashion, who lives in Greensboro’s Sunset Hills neighborhood, said that even before she was drawn out of her district and appointed at large, she saw herself as representing the entire county.
Both candidates stressed that they are hard workers, with Proctor calling himself “a workhorse and not a show horse” and Cashion saying “you cannot outwork me.”
Cashion, the current vice chair of the Guilford County Commissioners, says on her website that “quality public education — preparing students for the global economy,” is her top priority, followed by creating a safe environment and quality jobs. She did not return calls for an interview before deadline.
When describing his priorities as a candidate, Proctor sounds like many other conservative local candidates. Naming the school system as a big priority, Proctor said there “is a need for some accountability” for expenditures, particularly around new construction. While he said it is hard to know the specifics without being involved firsthand, Proctor said he has heard horror stories from current employees about disarray with expenditures in the county school system.
Proctor also stressed the need to address what he sees as an out-of-control county debt, though he declined to name specifics for where reductions could be made. On debt and schools, he said it isn’t fair to say where cuts or changes should happen until he is able to get into the weeds of the budget and talk in depth with county staff.
Proctor also said the county is overly focused on attracting large, outside companies rather than providing incentives to existing small businesses or even large local companies such as Timco and DH Griffin. Unlike some conservative candidates, Proctor said he does support incentives to businesses if handled differently and directed at helping existing businesses expand.
During the primary, Cashion stressed that each incentive item would need to be considered on its own merits and added that she wished the county didn’t have to consider them at all because it is ultimately picking winners and losers.
That’s what voters will be doing when early voting starts on Oct. 23 or on Election Day — picking winners and losers — and even though he knows his chances aren’t high, Proctor is hustling to overcome Cashion, and he thinks he has a shot.