HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) – James Upchurch, a High Point business owner elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners in November 2020 as a Democrat, only to switch parties a year later, has announced a bid for state treasurer in 2024.

Upchurch will seek a position that came open on Saturday, when 2-term incumbent Dale Folwell of Winston-Salem fulfilled an expectation by announcing he would seek the GOP nomination for governor, the first Republican to enter the race.

James Upchurch of High Point, a member of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, is a GOP candidate for North Carolina state treasurer. (CAMPAIGN PHOTO)

Upchurch’s announcement sought to capitalize on that opening and insert himself as long committed to the Republicans’ goals of lowering the state’s debt and individual and corporate tax rates. He is the first confirmed Republican candidate.

State Rep. Wesley Harris (D-Mecklenburg), a native of Taylorsville, announced two weeks ago that he would seek the Democratic nomination after in November earning his third term in the General Assembly.”

Political blogger and Catawba College professor Michael Bitzer maintains a tracking site for possible candidates in Council of State races, which include governor, lieutenant governor and cabinet-level positions. His most recent post includes another House member from Mecklenburg County, John Bradford (R-Mecklenburg) as a potential GOP nominee.

Bradford on Monday posted a letter on his Twitter account that said he was aware of Folwell’s decision and was considering a run for the position. He said his “primary focus is working on the state’s budget and leading the effort for continued personal income tax cuts.”

Upchurch was 25 when he was elected to the Board of Commissioners to serve District 6, which includes part of High Point. His website says he has worked in banking and as a public school teacher before opening a consulting business, and he has an undergraduate degree from East Carolina and a master’s from UNC-Pembroke.

Unchallenged in a primary, Upchurch earned 52.9% of the more than 49,000 votes cast in beating Republican Jim Davis in November 2020.

But 13 months later, in December 2021, he announced he was switching from Democrat to Republican because he didn’t like the way he was being “ostracized” by the Democratic Party and that his values no longer fell in line with the party.

“I have spoken to the NCGOP,” Upchurch wrote in an emailed response to questions from WGHP. “They’ve known for months now that I’d be running.

“My party switch may be the focus of some, but I’ve never changed my stance on the issues – that’s what I’m going to focus on.” 

‘Elect a conservative’

In February Upchurch had told the Rhino Times he would not seek a second term on the board because “everything I was going to do, I did.” He told the Rhino Times that he had his eyes on higher political office.

“Republicans have worked hard over the past decade to decrease our state’s debt and lower costs for North Carolinians,” he said in a release announcing his candidacy for treasurer. “Our pension fund is one of the best in the nation. It’s essential that we elect a conservative treasurer to keep our state on the right track.”

Analysis of North Carolina’s debt by Statista shows that state government is projected to owe $16.16 billion as of this year, and local governments would owe $35.19 billion. Those figures would rise to $20.14 billion and $43.85 billion by 2027.

Lawmakers have lowered the individual income tax rate to 4.75% this year, down from 5.25 in 2021. The corporate tax rate is 2.5% but could go lower in this year’s budget.

His top priorities

Upchurch said in his announcement that during his two-plus years as a commissioner, he has highlighted healthcare and education as his top priorities and that he wants to continue improving investments in those areas at the state level.

He said he wanted to improve state employees’ health plan, look at the transparency in medical billing and rates and invest in the healthcare provided in rural areas.

“Many people living in these areas have limited access to healthcare services,” he said. “I will work tirelessly to improve the quality and quantity of healthcare facilities in these areas so that everyone, regardless of their ZIP code, can access the healthcare they need.”

But in education he said he would use the treasurer’s seat on the State Board of Education “to empower our parents and eliminate political indoctrination.” He cited bad test scores as a reason for pushing for more parental involvement.

He said he would begin a 100-county tour to meet voters and tell his story.

“I believe that North Carolina has tremendous potential, and I want to work to make our state an even better place to live, work, and raise a family,” Upchurch said. “I am committed to serving the people of North Carolina with integrity and passion, and I look forward to earning their support during my 100-county tour.”

Other races

With his entry into this race and Folwell’s bid for governor, they join Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), who is seeking the GOP nomination for Labor Secretary, as confirmed statewide candidates from the Triad.

Two others could be running for governor: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson of Greensboro and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro, both Republicans.