App State College Democrats host democratic county commissioner candidates, discuss voting

Mia Seligman, Enterprise Editor

The App State College Democrats hosted an open forum for the Democratic county commissioners Thursday in Anne Belk Hall. 

During this event, students were able to ask questions to both candidates, Larry Turnbow and Billy Kennedy, who are representing the Democratic party for county commissioner in the election. 

Both candidates are in favor of preserving natural resources, with Kennedy wanting to make sure that these natural resources are available to everyone.  

Kennedy, who is representing district 3, said he “aims to build new parking places along the river that are legal and free.” He said the goal with new parking being built is to prevent towing and booting. 

Kennedy also shared his support for mental health and providing adequate resources for those who need them. 

“I’m in a group which is trying to make people coming out of jail not have to go back in and work on recovery on the inside,” Kennedy said. 

Turnbow, who is running for district 4, echoed the same sentiments. 

“The environment is very important to all of us. I’ve worked around huge wastewater facilities certified to run anywhere in the world,” Turnbow said. “And let me tell you, we, as human beings, produce a lot of waste.”

Turnbow shared with students in attendance that he has a background in environmental preservation and microbiology. Turnbow plans on applying this background in environmental and fresh water preservation. 

Turnbow said he aims to take the geological structure into account when determining which environmental plans will work for certain situations. 

As well as the environment, both candidates shared they want to make sure housing is more affordable and accessible for constituents. 

“Whether you’re rich or poor, we want you here,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy also discussed how tourism brings in a lot of money, but can also take away affordable housing from those who need it. 

“I’m in favor of ad valorem right now,” Kennedy said. “We worked out an agreement where they get a proportion and we give a proportion of it back to us.” 

Ad valorem is a tax plan that directly correlates to the estimated value of goods and services being produced. With this, Kennedy said he wishes to make housing more affordable for both students and residents alike. 

“We lowered our tax rates to the lowest in the state. Unfortunately, that’s going to just draw more investors over time with the Airbnb,” Kennedy said. “ It’s great to have y’all here, you do bring all kinds of great stuff to the community, but it drives the rent up so we need to find a sort of balance.” 

Turnbow shared the same sentiment as Kennedy, saying “our biggest priority for the next term is affordable housing.” 

“We tried five years ago, but it takes a unanimous vote for the county to give away public property,” Turnbow said.

As well as public housing, Turnbow also wishes to increase student housing. 

“We have this wonderful university,” Turnbow said. “I wish they’d double the student housing so students won’t have to compete in rent wars.”

Kennedy and Turnbow both shared they are big believers in public systems. They aim to make sure young voters are educated, as well as willing to go out and vote. 

“You are a part of this community,” Turnbow said. “Your opinions mean something.” 

With the upcoming election, the App State College Democrats share the same mentality of educating and learning about who and what voters are choosing. 

Elliot Sheehan, a sophomore social studies education major, works on the field department for the App State College Democrats and has been working on getting students registered to vote before the voter registration deadline. 

After this deadline, “the focus is shifted to getting students educated and to the polls to vote.”  

“I think it’s really great to have the candidates,” Sheehan said. “Especially when the local candidates come visit us, because obviously everybody is shrouded in national politics, and we kind of forget that local elections happen too.” 

Sheehan is the deputy field director for the Watauga County Democratic Party. 

“It’s so important to have everybody’s vote,” Sheehan said. “So, one, it’s important to get out to vote and let people know that local issues matter too, and second, it’s also important that students are voting for local candidates who have their best interests in mind.”

Stephen Leverton, a senior political science major and president of App State College Democrats, works with the elections coordinator to get candidates to visit and talk to students. Leverton said he advocates for creating a space for students to come together and learn about politics as well. 

“Here at College Democrats, it’s not just progressive or moderate,” Leverton said. “It’s a good mix of the two. So it is a very welcoming community.”

Both candidates and the club said they aim to have students voting as soon as they can. To increase the voting numbers, both candidates stress education and issues that voters are passionate about, and who represents those issues.

Editors note: Stephen Leverton used to be an opinion writer for The Appalachian.