Local Republicans back McCrory on filling Watt’s seat; Democrats don’t

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 12, 2014

Local reaction has been mixed to news that Rep. Mel Watt’s seat will not be filled until a special election 10 months from now.
Watt, the Democrat who has held the 12th District seat since 1993, resigned Monday to take over the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Also Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory announced that a special election to fill Watt’s seat would be held in November, following the established primary and general election schedule.
Rowan County Republican Party Chair John Leatherman said he backs the governor’s decision. About a third of Rowan County, including Salisbury, falls within the district.
In a phone interview Saturday, Leatherman mentioned McCrory’s statement that not having a separate election for the seat would save taxpayers up to $1 million.
“I support the governor’s decision,” Leatherman said. “I want everybody to be represented. I’m just saying, it’s such a short timeframe between now and the next election. And by the time you have a special election, I don’t know that it would make much of a difference.”
Also, Leatherman said he didn’t believe that one vote in the House of Representatives would have a serious impact on upcoming decisions.
“Everybody wants to have a representative, I don’t want to deny anyone a representative, but I don’t see that there’s any pivotal legislation that this seat would make a difference in,” Leatherman said.
Veleria Levy, chair of the Rowan Democratic Party, said she has gotten calls from local Democrats who are concerned.
“What you’re looking at is, we’ll have no representative for some 300 days because it costs too much to hold an election,” Levy said.
She criticized McCrory’s decision, saying the governor has been willing to spend money on issues, such as voter ID, that she believes are less important than filling the Congressional seat.
Levy also questioned how constituents in the 12th District would be served during the vacancy.
Oftentimes, Levy said, local residents call their Congressional representative for help with matters pertaining to the federal government.
Some services will be available. Under federal law, the Clerk of the U.S. House oversees management of offices when a House member dies, resigns or is expelled.
Tuesday, the office of the Clerk of the House issued a press release saying that 12th District offices and staff would remain at work until the position was filled.
According to the press release: “Staff members of Representative Watt remain on the House payroll under the supervision of the Clerk of the House to receive and undertake constituent casework, to help in handling business with the departments of the executive branch of the government, to provide general status information on pending legislation and to offer other general constituent services provided by House offices.”
Watt’s former staff will continue to operate the Washington, D.C. office as well as district offices in Charlotte and Greensboro, according to the office of the Clerk of the House.
Even so, Levy said, local residents will not have direct representation when it comes to legislation coming up for votes in the U.S. House.
Levy also said it’s unclear whether satellite offices throughout the district, including one in Salisbury, will remain open.
Robbie Akhere, chair of the N.C. Democratic Party for the 12th Congressional District, said that, while she recognized McCrory’s legal authority to make decisions about special elections, she questioned the fairness of his decision.
Especially, Akhere said, in light of the fact there will be no one to cast a vote in those residents’ interests.
In the coming months, Akhere said, there will be “several key issues dealing with unemployment, as well as food stamps with the Agriculture Department, votes that will affect constituents regardless of whether they are Democrat, Republican or independent.”
“Most people take for granted that a congressperson is there,” Akhere said. “They didn’t even realize that the governor would make this type of decision without considering all the citizens.”
She also said that the process of holding a primary, followed by a special vote in the November general election, might confuse citizens.
Whoever is elected in November will fill out the remainder of Watt’s term, then take office in January for a full two-year term.
Akhere expects that, with numerous candidates already saying they will run, “It’s going to look like a primary and a runoff” for both Democrats and Republicans.
In an e-mailed statement, Republican 12th District Chairman Daniel Rufty said he also disagreed with the governor’s decision.
“This is not about politics. This is about the citizens of the 12th District,” Rufty said.
Rufty also wrote that “Republicans in this district are very excited about this opportunity,” and said that Watt’s incumbent status for the past 11 years offers Republicans “a chance to shake some things up.”
“I believe the governor should retract his decision and hold a special election so that the citizens of the 12th District have representation in the U.S. House,” Rufty said. “I think it is absurd to go without representation for an entire year. We pay our taxes and we should have representation.”

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.