Three sitting Republican commissioners in Transylvania County have walked away, together, from partisan politics.

Mike Hawkins, David Guice and Page Lemel announced their departure from the GOP in a jointly signed letter.

As they point out in the letter, all three have had successful political careers and appear well-regarded among their constituents. Among them they have won 20 elections. So these are not lame ducks lobbing parting shots on their way out of the door. The three made their case, clearly and soberly, in the letter, which was restrained and civil but tinged with disappointment.

Lemel told WMYA-TV: “I left the Republican Party; I didn’t leave my local people. I think this is a bigger statement on where I see myself as a human being.”

Among the reasons the three listed was their desire to be true to what they consider the ideals of conservatism.

“To be conservative is to honor and preserve the fundamental institutions, processes, structures and rule of law which have enabled the United States to be history’s greatest success story,” they wrote. “To be conservative is to be financially prudent while also investing in common groundworks that support individual success for all citizens. To be conservative is to be welcoming and inclusive, understanding that all of us share the same human aspirations; conservative tenets of self-determination cannot be exclusive. To be conservative is to have a strong moral compass and the willingness to challenge wrong regardless of its source.”

They added: “We believe all of these are not merely conservative principles but American principles.”

They cited no specific examples. They didn’t mention deficits or demonization of immigrants and refugees. They didn’t point to ballooning deficits that Republicans vilified Democrats for in the past. Not that they needed to.

“We believe elected officials have a special duty to conduct themselves beyond reproach,” they wrote, “and to make genuine efforts to represent all their constituents. Elected officials must strive to conduct all public and private actions with honor and integrity. Elected officials must value objective truth and in turn be truthful in their own statements and interactions. And elected officials must continually work to hear the voices of all while making hard decisions on behalf of their fellow citizens.”

At any other time, who would argue with those principles? Who’s on the record against integrity? But you could argue — convincingly — that “objective truth” is an endangered species in an era of “alternative facts.”

Finally, the three noted that local politics are more about effective leadership than partisan labels. As the adage goes, “a pot hole is neither Republican nor Democratic.”

“Our objective is problem-solving for Transylvania County,” they said in their letter, “and our experience is that partisanship is an obstacle to effective local governance.”

Yet an overreaching legislature in North Carolina has increasing poked its nose time and again into local matters, changing nonpartisan elections for city and town councils and school boards (including Forsyth County’s) into partisan affairs. Even more troubling, they have made judicial elections partisan.

For the record, the three commissioners are not becoming Democrats. They join the growing ranks of the unaffiliated in North Carolina, which is a statement in itself about the perception of partisan politics in the state.

As for Transylvania County (population: 32,425), it’s reliably red. No Democratic presidential candidate has carried the county since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

We commend the three for the kind of political courage that we’ve seen so severely lacking on much bigger stages in Raleigh and Washington, where, all too often, self-preservation trumps self-respect.

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