It’s unusual for local elections in Transylvania County to attract national attention.

Transylvania is the state’s 69th largest county, a densely forested pocket of Western North Carolina, known more for hiking and waterfalls than campaigns.

Until recently, its five-member board of commissioners was comprised entirely of Republicans, most of whom, after surviving primaries, ran unopposed. In the past, Democrats and independents aspiring for public office have been told to switch parties if they wanted a realistic shot in this GOP stronghold. 

Yet late last year, three Transylvania County Commissioners, Page Lemel, Mike Hawkins and David Guice, left the Republican Party, dismayed by the party’s direction and its leader, President Donald Trump.

They became unaffiliated, believing their day-to-day duties — managing water services, expanding recreational programs, and stimulating economic development — were disconnected from hot-button partisan issues like abortion and gun rights.

Downtown Brevard was bustling October 20, 2020.

“We’ve gotten so whipped up on the federal level that we forget to pay attention locally,” said Lemel, who works as a camp director in Brevard, the county seat. “They’re very different types of governance.”

While Guice’s term goes until 2022, Lemel and Hawkins are up for re-election this fall. They’re running as a team, their first names sharing space on lawn signs, ads and a website URL. Their campaign has been one of superlatives: the most difficult, the most heartening, and by far the most expensive of their political careers.

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