For the first time since 2012, Republican Bill James has a challenger for the seat of county commissioner.

Susan Rodriguez McDowell, a former precinct vice-chair for the Democratic Party, is running against incumbent Bill James to represent District 6 on the Board of Commissioners. The district, which includes Pineville, Mint Hill, Matthews, and parts of South Charlotte, is traditionally Republican territory. James is the longest-serving current member of the Board of Commissioners, with 11 terms under his belt.

However, demographic changes in District 6 have given Democrats reason to hope for electoral success. Since 2012, the number of voters registered Republican in the area has dropped, and the number of unaffiliated and Democrat voters has increased.

Another possible factor in this race is the surge of political participation both in Charlotte and in the U.S. as a whole. Since the election of President Donald J. Trump, more and more women have been politically organizing and running for office. In Mecklenburg County, all three incumbent Republican commissioners are fielding challenges from female Democrats. And local activists have been working double time to get constituents — particularly young people and college students — registered to vote.

James is running on a platform of staunch conservatism, taking a strong stance against affordable housing and tax increases. He thinks District 6 isn’t quite ready to turn blue. In a quote to the Charlotte Observer, he stated his extensive time in office is attractive to voters. “They know who I am. They know what I stand for.”

But McDowell thinks it’s time for a change. While she identifies as “fiscally conservative” (she is also against raising taxes), she believes that the changing district needs fresh ideas. And she’s advocating for plenty: creating new parks and greenways, developing a better relationship with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and supporting affordable housing and other measures to reduce poverty. McDowell also wants to make the board more inclusive to other people and perspectives.

James is notorious for his racist, transphobic and homophobic beliefs; in 2016, for example, he posted a series of tweets repeatedly using a slur to refer to transgender and nonbinary people, including a young girl. McDowell has stated that this behavior is at odds with her values and wants to uplift marginalized voices.

This race is critical not only for the Democrats, who are aiming to maintain their majority this year, but for Mecklenburg County. Another revaluation is coming up next year, and property values are projected to jump by at least fifty percent. Whether taxes will see a similar increase will be determined by the county commissioners. District 6 constituents can rest easy knowing that both James and McDowell support a revenue-neutral tax rate. But the outcome of this contentious election remains to be determined.

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