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Outgoing GOP U.S. Rep. Mark Walker launches 2022 U.S. Senate run in North Carolina

Walker is first Republican candidate in race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Richard Burr

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (CFP) — With the dust still settling from November’s election, Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker has jumped into next campaign season by announcing he will run for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2022.

Walker opened his campaign December 1 with a video featuring endorsements from leaders around the state and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and conservative talk show host. Walker said he was running “because serving others is my life, and I have the experience to fight and to win in Washington.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-North Carolina

“Washington has lost its mind. Job killing regulations, the Green New Deal, defund the police, end our military — seriously?” Walker said. “I’m proud of my record taking on the radicals as well as the establishment.”

Watch video of Walker’s announcement below

Walker, 51, from Greesboro, was a Southern Baptist pastor before his election to Congress. He has represented the 6th U.S. House District since 2015 but did not seek re-election in November after a court-ordered redraw of the state’s congressional districts made his district more Democratic.

Earlier this year, he considered a primary challenge against U.S. Senator Thom Tillis but eventually decided against it. Tillis was re-elected in November.

The seat Walker is seeking will be open in 2022 because incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr has announced his retirement.

Given the Tar Heel State’s partisan competitiveness, the race will likely be one of the most hotly contested and expensive battles of the 2022 cycle and a top Democratic target. However, a Democrat has not won a Senate election in North Carolina since 2008.

Among the names being mentioned as possible Republican candidates are Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, who grew up in North Carolina; Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who lost in November’s governor’s race; and former Governor Pat McCrory.

Among Democrats, Governor Roy Cooper will likely face pressure from Senate Democratic leaders to make a run but has not indicated he is considering it. Erika Smith, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Senate nomination this year, is the party’s only announced candidate so far.

Watch video of Walker’s announcement

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North Carolina elections board orders new vote in disputed 9th District U.S. House race

Republican Mark Harris reverses course and calls for new election instead of certifying his unofficial win

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — The North Carolina State Board of Elections has ordered a new election for the state’s 9th District U.S. House seat, after hearing four days of testimony about allegations of absentee ballot fraud by a operative working for Republican candidate Mark Harris.

The board’s unanimous February 21 decision came shortly after Harris, who had spent the morning answering questions, returned from a lunch break and called for a new election, saying poor health would not allow him to continue testifying.

Republican candidate Mark Harris weeps during his son’s testimony (From WRAL-TV)

“Through the testimony I’ve listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called,” he said. “It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”

However, Harris insisted that “neither I nor any of the leadership in my campaign were aware of or condone the improper activities that have been testified to.”

The board’s decision sets up a possible rematch between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready in the new election to fill the seat, giving Democrats another pickup opportunity.

However, it is not clear if Harris will be a candidate. He told the elections board that he had suffered two strokes while battling an infection in January and said he was not well enough to answer questions, calling into question if he could withstand a contentious campaign in the glare of the national spotlight.

“Though I thought I was ready to undergo the rigors of this hearing and am getting stronger, clearly I am not, and I struggled this morning with both recall and confusion,” he said.

In December, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature changed state law to require a full primary election in the event the 9th District race was rerun, which gives the GOP the option of ditching Harris and nominating another candidate to face McCready.

McCready took to Twitter to welcom the board’s decision, saying “from the moment the first vote was stolen in North Carolina, from the moment the first voice was silenced by election fraud, the people have deserved justice. Today was a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina.”

McCready has raised more than $500,000 for a rematch in the contested race since December; Harris’s campaign had just $19,000 in cash and $86,000 in unpaid debt at the end of December, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Harris, 52, a longtime Christian conservative activist and former senior pastor at Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, led McCready by 905 votes in unofficial returns after November’s vote.

But the state elections board refused to certify the results amid allegations that a contractor hired by the Harris campaign, McCrae Dowless, had illegally collected absentee ballots in Bladen County, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district.

Under state law, voters must mail or deliver completed absentee ballots themselves. The board heard testimony that Dowless and people working for him had collected the ballots and then submitted them. Questions were also raised about improprieties in applications for absentee ballots.

Until reversing course at the hearing, Harris had resisted calls by McCready and Democrats for a new election in the 9th District, which includes the suburbs of Charlotte and rural areas to the east toward Fayetteville.

His lawyers and Republican officials had argued that the results should be certified despite the fraud allegations because the number of absentee ballots in question was not sufficient to change the outcome.

The most dramatic testimony during the four-day hearing came from Harris’s son John, a federal prosecutor. He testified that he had warned his father against using Dowless as an operative in the campaign because he was a “shady character.”

Harris sat crying as he watched his son’s testimony, which contradicted his previous assertions that the allegations of illegal activity by Dowless came as a surprise.

No Republican has yet come forward to launch a challenge to Harris. Two possibilities, former Governor Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who was defeated by Harris in the Republican primary in 2018, have both taken themselves out of the running.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and businessman, is not expected to face any challengers on the Democratic side.

If McCready wins the rematch, the 9th District will be the only North Carolina seat to shift from Republican to Democrat and would be the 11th Southern seat to shift in the 2018 cycle. Republicans hold a 101-to-50 advantage in House seats across the 14 Southern states.

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North Carolina legislators pass compromise ending trangendered bathroom ban

But compromise measure prevents cities from passing protections for LGBTQ people

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — After a year of turmoil and economic boycotts, North Carolina legislators have passed a compromise bill that rolls back HB2, a law which prohibited transgendered people from using restrooms in public facilities that didn’t conform with their their birth gender.

However, the bill hammered out by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature also forbids local jurisdictions in North Carolina from passing non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people until at least 2020, a compromise that left LGBTQ advocates seething.

“Lawmakers and Governor Cooper have failed to resolve the problems with HB2 by doubling down on discrimination,” said Chris Sgro executive director of Equality NC. “Once again, the North Carolina General Assembly has enshrined discrimination into North Carolina law.”

“Lawmakers must reject this disgraceful backroom deal that uses the rights of LGBT people as a bargaining chip,” said Sarah Gillooly, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “It is shameful that legislative leaders and North Carolina’s governor are once again rushing through a discriminatory anti-LGBT measure without proper vetting or an opportunity for public input.”

The bill to repeal HB 2 passed March 30, less than 12 hours after the compromise between Cooper and legislative leaders was unveiled. The House approved the repeal 70 to 48; the Senate, 32 to 16.

Cooper, who as attorney general refused to defend HB2 when it was challenged in court, campaigned for governor in 2016 on a pledge to repeal the law. Just a week before the compromise was reached, Equality NC was lauding Cooper for insisting on full repeal.

Attorney General Roy Cooper

In a statement issued after the repeal bill was unveiled, the governor conceded that it was a compromise from the outright repeal initially sought.

“It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said.

The compromise bill was passed the same day that the NCAA was to decide whether to remove all of its events from North Carolina until 2022 in protest of the transgendered bathroom exclusion.

HB2 was pushed through the GOP-controlled legislature in March 2016 in reaction to the decision by the Charlotte City Council to pass a human rights ordinance protecting LGBTQ people, which included the right of transgendered people to use restrooms and locker rooms that comport with their gender identity, rather than their birth gender.

The new law set off a firestorm of controversy. The NBA, ACC and NCAA all pulled events from the state, and a number of businesses halted plans to relocate or expand there.

The governor at the time, Republican Pat McCrory, bore the brunt of the nationwide backlash to the law. Last November, he was the only Republican governor to lose his seat, in a campaign dominated by the HB2 controversy.

Under the repeal measure, local jurisdictions would no longer be able to regulate use of bathroom facilities in public buildings, as Charlotte tried to do. Only the legislature could enact such regulations, but, after repeal of HB 2, no regulations currently exist. In essence, while transgendered people would not specifically be barred from using facilities that comport with their gender identity, they would also not have a legal right to do so.

However, the second part of the repeal bill prevents Charlotte or any other jurisdiction in North Carolina from passing LGBTQ anti-discrimination measure for the next three years.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper enters office with call to end partisan friction

But new governor calls for repeal of law regulating transgendered bathroom use

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — In his inaugural address, incoming North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued a call to end the contentious politics that have bedeviled the start in recent years, but he also made it clear that he would push for repeal of a bill that limited use of public restroom facilities for transgendered people.

Attorney General Roy Cooper

Attorney General Roy Cooper

“The people of this state are tired of yesterday’s politics. You expect and deserve public servants who reject cynicism, who don’t succumb to political paralysis, who negotiate differences in good faith,” Cooper said.

“I don’t think anyone believes that North Carolina families sit around the kitchen table every night thinking that their lives would change for the better if only the legislature would spend its time on the hot-button social issues of the day,” he said.

“People have bigger concerns, like why they haven’t gotten a raise in eight years or why the cost of health insurance is too much to bear or if they can afford to send their kids to college.”

Because of a snowstorm that paralyzed North Carolina, Cooper delivered his January 7 inaugural address on television, rather than to an outdoor crowd as initially planned.

Cooper, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory by just 10,277 votes out of nearly 4.8 million cast, which was the nation’s closest gubernatorial election this year and the only one that flipped from Republican to Democratic.

The most contentious issue in that election was House Bill 2 — passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by McCrory — which required transgendered people to use bathrooms in public facilities consistent with their birth gender, rather than the gender with which they identify.

Cooper, who was attorney general at the time, opposed the measure and refused to defend it in court. In the wake of the bill’s passage, a number of major companies have dropped plans to move or expand in North Carolina, and the NBA, NCAA and ACC have all pulled sporting events out of the state.

After the election, the legislature met in special session to consider repealing the law, but Republican supporters of the law scuttled the effort. Cooper made in clear in his inaugural address that he would keep trying.

“This law has isolated and hurt a lot of people, damaged our state’s reputation and cost our economy hundreds of millions of dollars that could have paid our teachers and firefighters or built new highways,” he said.

“There are enough bipartisan votes in the legislature right now to fully repeal HB2 with no strings attached. This is not complicated. In fact, it’s very simple. Let them vote.”

Cooper will face a legislature dominated by Republicans. In the Senate, the GOP holds 35 seats to 15 for Democrats; in the House, Republicans have 74 seats and Democrats 46. Those margins are enough to override Cooper’s vetoes, which only requires a three-fifths majority in the Tar Heel State.

However, in late November, a federal judge struck down the state’s legislative districts on the grounds that they were improperly gerrymandered using racial considerations and ordered the legislature to draw new maps.

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, new elections for the entire General Assembly will have to be held in 2017, which could allow Democrats to gain back some ground.

After the election, the legislature also passed measures to limit the number of political appointments Cooper can make and require that his cabinet picks to be approved by the legislature. Cooper has gone to court to challenge those new laws.

Cooper, 59, from Nash County in eastern North Carolina, served four terms as attorney general before seeking the governorship, the second longest tenure in that office in state history.

Pat McCrory concedes to Roy Cooper in North Carolina governor’s race

Concession comes after vote recount in Durham County

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — Nearly a month after election day, North Carolina’s hotly contested governor’s race has finally been settled and will flip into Democratic hands.

Attorney General Roy Cooper

Attorney General Roy Cooper

Republican Governor Pat McCrory conceded the race to Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper on December 5, after it became clear that an ongoing recount in Durham County would not overturn Cooper’s lead.

“Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken,” McCrory said in a video posted on YouTube. “We now should do everything we can to support (Cooper).”

Cooper welcomed the concession in a Facebook post, bringing to an end a contentious race that became the most expensive governor’s race in state history.

“While this was a divisive election season, I know still that there is more that unites us than divides us,” Cooper said. “I’d like to thank all of the hardworking families in North Carolina, and I look forward to serving the greatest state in the country as your governor.”

Cooper’s lead over McCrory was 10,263 votes, out of more than 4.7 million votes cast, a difference of just .22 percent.

Cooper’s win is a rare moment of good news for Democrats in North Carolina, which went Republican in both the presidential and U.S. Senate races. The Cooper-McCrory contest was the only governor’s race in the country that shifted the office from Republican to Democrat.

Democrats will now hold four out 14 Southern governorships. The others are in Virginia, West Virginia and Louisiana. Republicans hold the remaining 10.

The contention over the results in Durham began on election night, when a batch of 90,000 votes came in all at once, propelling Cooper — who had trailed most of the night — into the lead statewide.

McCrory and his campaign found those results suspicious and demanded a recount. However, Durham election officials said the late reporting of results was caused by a technical problem that forced them to enter the results from voting machines by hand.

The Durham County elections board turned down McCrory’s request for a recount, but the State Board of Elections voted along party lines to order one.

In North Carolina, both state and county elections boards are appointed by the governor, and the governor’s party holds a majority.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory

McCrory rode a GOP wave into office in 2012, but the Republican-controlled legislature’s passage of a controversial voter ID law and measures favored by religious conservatives made the governor a lightning rod.

The issue that dominated the race was McCrory’s decision to sign a law requiring transgendered students to use bathrooms that match their gender of birth, rather than their gender of identity, in public facilities.

McCrory continued to defend the law, even after a number of businesses scuttled expansion plans and the NCAA, NBA and ACC pulled events from the state.

Cooper not only opposed the measure, but he also refused to defend it in court when students and the federal government took legal action to overturn it.

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