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New sheriffs elected in 11 WNC counties

Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland (R) was one of many sheriffs in the region who retired this year. Now new sheriffs have been elected to fill those positions.
Lilly Knoepp
Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland (R) was one of many sheriffs in the region who retired this year. Now new sheriffs have been elected to fill those positions.

This story was originally published November 8 at 11 pm and updated November 10.

Voters in 11 Western North Carolina counties elected new sheriffs this year, following a number of retirements and leading to a changing of the guard in this region.

BPR talked with some of the retiring sheriffs and community leaders about the constitutional implications of this election.

The national group, Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, has seen a surge in recent years. The group wants local sheriffs to assert constitutional powers even over those of the president.

The group advocates against gun control measures and for ending federally-owned land. This is founded in the CSPOA’s contention that “The vertical separation of powers in the Constitution makes it clear that the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President.”

Two of the retiring sheriffs, Republican Robbie Holland of Macon County and Democrat Gregg Christopher of Haywood County, both agreed that the constitutional powers of the sheriff have limits outlined in their oath of office.

In Haywood County, Republican candidate Bill Wilke says he believes that the sheriff’s oath office is enough. He won the race with 61 percent against Democratic candidate Larry Bryson who won 39 percent.

“How much more constitutional does it get than when I take oaths coming into office that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, [and] support and defend the Constitution of North Carolina? That doesn’t grant me extra judicial authority to enforce laws that aren’t in place in place, nor does it give me the ability to neglect certain things that have been ruled constitutional by courts in the past,” Wilke told The Smoky Mountain News in September. “If we operate outside those boundaries, there’s a word for that — it’s called ‘vigilante.’”

In Buncombe County, police reforms have also been on the ballot. Incumbent Sheriff Quentin Miller has long been an advocate for what’s called “21stCentury policing.” He also worked on the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association to recommend reforms in 2020.

“I ran on a platform of a community of ’we‘ and we just need to add another word to it: ’together.’ Because I think some of the fight for us now is how do we unite. For me being sheriff is about serving people, it’s not about serving a party,” Miller told BPR in May.

Miller held onto his office with 60 percent of the vote against Republican Trey McDonald who won 37 percent of the vote. Republican candidate Jeff Worley won the primary but dropped out of the race in August due to health concerns.

In Jackson County on Election night at 10:30 pm, Republican Doug Farmer had 52 percent against Democratic candidate Rick Buchanan with 38 percent.

In Swain County, current sheriff Curtis Cochran held onto his seat with 72 percent against Doug (Tank) Anthony with 28 percent of the vote.

In Transylvania County, Republican Chuck Owens by beat Democrat William E. Hemphill by 13 percentage points. Unaffiliated Candidate Benny Frandy won 5 percent of the vote.

In Graham County, Unaffiliated candidate Brad Hoxit won against Republican candidate Russell Moody with 69 percent of the vote. a former Moody won a second primary against incumbent Sheriff Jerry Crisp in July, BPR reported.

In McDowell County, current sheriff Republican Rickey Buchanan won with 78 percent of the vote against Unaffiliated candidate Randy Barton, who had 22 percent of the vote.

In Henderson County, current sheriff Lowell Griffin is running unopposed.

In Madison County, current sheriff Democrat Buddy Harwood held onto his office with 69 percent of the vote against Republican Robin Lyles.

In Macon, Cherokee and Clay Counties the sheriff’s races were decided during the Republican primaries with no candidates from the other parties. Brent Holbrooks in Macon County won the primary after a recount. Dustin Smith won in Cherokee County. Mark Buchanan won in Clay County.

Here are facts about the sheriffs elected in all 100 North Carolina counties provided by the NC Sheriffs' Association.

  • Incumbent Sheriffs who were re-elected (includes sheriffs elected in 2018 and those appointed mid-term): 76
  • Sheriffs-Elect who won a seat where the incumbent sheriff was not running: 17
  • Sheriffs-Elect who defeated an incumbent: Total 5 (Primary Election 3, General Election 2)
  • Sheriffs appointed mid-term who won their first election: 11
  • Sheriffs and Sheriffs-Elect to attend the 2022 Sheriffs’ Leadership Institute: 35
  • Unaffiliated Sheriff-Elect who won election: 1 (Graham County)

Correction: Graham County sheriff candidate Russel Moody is a former sheriff in the county, not the incumbent.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.