by Eric Ginsburg
Two Democrats who served together on the Guilford County Commission trumpet their horns before their primary bout on May 6.
Kirk Perkins and Kay Cashion would prefer not to characterize their race for Guilford County Commission as a competition between the two of them, instead focusing on what they feel best qualifies them for the post. But with no other opponents in the Democratic primary, that’s exactly what this contest for an at-large seat on the commission is.
Perkins and Cashion, the vice chair of the commission, used to be colleagues — they served on the commission together until a redistricting process favorable to Republicans shook things up. After serving two terms, Perkins lost his reelection bid for a redrawn District 4 to a newcomer Republican in 2012, and Cashion was drawn out of her district and appointed to an at-large position.
Some might question why Perkins is challenging an incumbent from his own party. Perkins points out that Cashion wasn’t elected to the seat, suggesting Cashion could have run for the new District 3 seat instead of ceding it in an uncontested race to a Republican.
“To me it’s an open seat because she wasn’t elected to that seat,” Perkins said, adding that Democrats can’t regain control of the board after losing it in 2012 if they give up district races without a fight. “I think Kay looked out for Kay and not the Democrats.”
“It was not a probable win,” she said. “The numbers aren’t there. We have hundreds of other Democrats in District 3 and I’m sure they viewed it the same way, if they wanted to run.”
Plus, Cashion said, she filed for the election first.
The winner of the matchup will face Larry Proctor — a Republican and former Guilford County Planning Board chair — in the fall general election but is expected to win because at-large Guilford County Commission elections tend to favor Democrats. Cameron Simpson, a Democrat, withdrew from the race.
Despite initial unwillingness to discuss their opponent or parse out differences, Perkins and Cashion offered distinctions between their perceived strengths.
Cashion described herself as a “fiscal conservative with a soft spot for human services,” emphasizing accomplishments in her tenure and her position on the National Association of Counties, where she serves as chair of the justice and public safety steering committee.
In her office at Cashion Furniture & Decorating off Battleground Avenue, surrounded by awards, family photos and a poster of the Bahamas, Cashion noted her long list of volunteer engagement and a few projects that define her as a commissioner. She helped establish adolescent drug courts years ago and successfully convinced the current conservative-leaning board to establish a family-crisis justice center focused on domestic violence and child abuse.
The plan was unanimously approved. Cashion said the current board works well together, adding that her approach hasn’t changed since Democrats lost the majority.
Cashion pulled a binder and design maps of the center off a nearby shelf, later crossing the room to a bookcase full of more binders detailing county business. A hulking typewriter, still functional, sat behind her, but she flipped through emails on an iPad at her desk.
“I’ve got my fingers in so many pies,” she said.
That includes the idea for a Citizen’s Academy for the county and attending every meeting, as well as immersing herself in the naming committee.
“Mr. Perkins will not out-involve or out-work me on behalf of our citizens,” she said. “You cannot out-work me.”
Perkins disagreed, acknowledging that Cashion works hard but describing himself as more hands-on than Cashion and more accessible to constituents. A self-described middle-of-the-road Democrat, Perkins works in “all aspects” of real estate and said that while politics is in his blood, he doesn’t feel defined by his time on the commission.
A big fan of parks, Perkins said the commission made several open-space purchases during his two terms, and while he would say he is an advocate on certain issues, Perkins prides himself on considering the merits of each vote rather than pursuing an agenda.
Cashion, who lives in Greensboro’s Sunset Hills neighborhood, and Perkins, who lives in McCleansville, both said they viewed themselves as representing the entire county even when they represented different districts. Perkins claimed he has a greater ability to represent the entire county, emphasizing the importance of not overlooking High Point and that his former district included parts of Greensboro as well as rural areas.
Perkins once convinced the commission to meet in High Point instead of downtown Greensboro as acknowledgement of the smaller city’s importance. In some ways, Perkins said, he is more in touch with Greensboro voters too, noting his opposition to a Greensboro City Council proposal to reopen the White Street Landfill as evidence.
“Kay really was silent on that and I think people in eastern Greensboro need to remember that,” he said.
In a few areas Cashion and Perkins’ messages overlapped, stressing the importance of properly funding education and job growth. They took slightly different tones on incentives, each saying that possible packages needed to be evaluated individually but with Cashion coming across as more sour on the economic development tool.
She wishes the county didn’t have to consider incentives at all, Cashion said, because it is ultimately picking some companies above others. She quickly added that anyone is able to submit a request and that each is vetted to make sure it meets certain standards before appearing before the commission.
Perkins didn’t express any distaste about providing incentives but emphasized the importance of deliberateness.
“We really have more projects than we have money for,” Perkins said,
Perkins added that he thinks incentives are probably more important now than when he first joined the commission, in part because companies want to see the gesture but also because the amount is never more than the taxes paid back over time.
Perkins said he always tried to visit each rezoning site before a commission vote, citing it as an example of what he said is his more involved approach.
But without prompting, Cashion said the exact same thing about herself, referring to a recent case in Browns Summit as an example of how she sinks her teeth into each proposed rezoning.
Perkins provided a contradictory narrative, saying that he once invited Cashion to a rezoning case in his district but that she didn’t come because she was familiar with the location. Cashion was taken aback by the allegation and said she has no memory of an invitation.
Despite trading a few barbs, Perkins also offered a softer picture of the race.
“I think [the voters] have two good choices, I just think I’m the better choice,” he said.