Berlester Campbell, we are convinced, benefitted from his campaign pledge to not cash his monthly stipend of $700 as a county commissioner, but to donate it to a worthy cause in District 2, which he will begin to represent when he joins the county Board of Commissioners in December.
Campbell was pandering of course, but that didn’t rob the promise of its effectiveness. We are sure that plenty of voters came to his side for this reason — and it only.
So it would be easy to mark up Campbell’s victory over incumbent Hubert Sealey, who had held the District 2 seat for 12 years, as a voter backlash against the county commissioners for their pay and benefits. That happened in the re-election of Noah Woods, once seen as invincible, who came within a couple of votes of losing the District 4 seat he has held since 1990. It will be tested again in November when challenger Mickey Meekins, a Democrat, faces incumbent David Edge, a Republican, in the District 6 race. Meekins, like Campbell, has also said he would put the stipend to work in the community, and not for himself.
Sealey would never apologize for the fact that the sum of the commissioners’ pay, stipend and benefits can only be rivaled in North Carolina by the way the commissioners in Durham County honor themselves. Sealey and his fellow commissioners have read from the same script on this matter, talking about how long and hard they work. Do they work longer and harder than commissioners in Wake, Mecklenberg, Guilford, New Hanover and Orange counties, just to pick a few?
Their collective pay, stipend and benefits is one of the few pages that Sealey shares with fellow commissioners. Be clear on this: The other commissioners will do a dance when Sealey exits the board in December, seeing him as a rock in the shoe that kept the board from speaking with a single voice. Sealey is a contrarian on that board, never afraid to ask questions that other commissioners don’t want sounded publicly.
They don’t like him — and the feeling is mutual.
The biggest lesson from Tuesday’s runoff is an old one — that to get elected in Robeson County depends on a candidates’ ability to get out the early vote. Campbell’s overall margin was essentially what he built through the early voting process, which historically has been manipulated in this county and is why there are multiple investigations of the shenanigans that went on during the November municipal elections.
We are not making a claim of improprieties on Tuesday. Instead, we are putting in bold the reality that campaigns here, as they do everywhere else, are much more likely to succeed if well-financed. It is, as courts have ruled, free speech and protected by the First Amendment, but we would have to be convinced that it’s working toward the betterment of our democracy.