Longtime GOP activist, real estate broker Mac Butner dies at 63
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — The year was 2006, and Carl Ford wanted to be a county commissioner, but he didn’t want to beat Mac Butner.
Initial primary results showed Ford, now a state legislator, up by 13 votes over Butner in the Republican county commissioners primary. The margin was close enough for a recount, and Butner would request one — something he later told Ford he regretted.
After a recount, the final vote results showed Ford with 2,510 votes and Butner with 2,495 — a 15-vote margin. The recount increased Ford’s margin of victory.
“We joked about that for years,” Ford said. “I wanted to win, but I didn’t really want to beat Mac.”
The 2006 county commissioners race wasn’t the closest Butner ever came to elected office, but it’s a memorable moment in a life that included a heavy involvement in local politics and commitment to the Republican Party.
Malcolm Wade Butner Jr., a real estate broker better known by his nickname “Mac,” died at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Wednesday. He was 63. The cause of death was unclear on Wednesday afternoon. Funeral arrangements were also incomplete at Summersett Funeral Home.
“We’re bad in our party about forgetting about our past,” Ford said after learning of Butner’s death. “I hope we don’t forget Mac or others that came before. He did so much for our party.”
Perhaps best known locally for his involvement in politics, Butner would run for a number of local and state positions. Butner also worked behind the scenes on campaigns, regardless of whether they were explicitly political. For example, he helped organize the 2015 renaming of Faith Road for legendary public servant Eugene McCombs.
“Mac was never blessed with being elected to public office, but he was instrumental behind the scenes in helping many who were,” said former county commissioners chairman Jim Sides. “Mac was sometimes misunderstood, but he was a kind and compassionate man who loved God, country and his fellow man. I will miss his dry wit and his company.”
In addition to his past political efforts, Butner also became known in recent years for generating controversy. That included racially tinged social media comments that drew the ire of many across North Carolina. He would be the subject of a first-of-its-kind decision by the State Board of Elections to remove an appointed board member for comments on social media.
One of Butner’s earliest forays into politics came in 1970, when he volunteered to serve as the campaign manager for Phil Kirk, who was running for state senate at the time. At the time, Butner was just a teenager.
“He was a tenacious and hard worker and was very mature for his age,” said Kirk, who now lives in Raleigh.
Terry Osborne, a local Republican organizer who works as the general manager for the Rowan-Kannapolis Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said he recalled first interacting with Butner as part of the local young Republicans club.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Osborne said. “He had as keen an interest in politics as anybody I’ve ever been around.”
Butner frequently called the Salisbury Post simply to chat about local politics. Sometimes, the conversations would last for an hour or more. More often than not, an email or other electronic message from Butner, regardless of the topic or recipient, would consist of all capital letters.
Butner jokingly called himself a “capaholic.”
Salisbury resident Tom Millspaugh said he first met Butner and his family at Maranatha Bible Church in the 1990s.
“Mac was my kind of guy, and you always knew where he stood on any issue,” Millspaugh said. “A great golf buddy who kept you laughing on and off the course. A dedicated Christian, and I will surely miss our times of fellowship.”
During his life, Butner served on many citizen boards. He once served as president of the Salisbury-Rowan Home Builders Association. He also served as president of the Salisbury-Rowan Association of Realtors.
He had a business degree from Catawba College and was a licensed real estate broker.
“Mac Butner’s presence will be sorely missed,” said Rowan Republican Party Chairman Stephen Kidd. “Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with his family Julia, Laura and Wade.”
Most people who spoke to the Salisbury Post wouldn’t discuss Butner’s final years — when he was the subject of overwhelming criticism for racially tinged comments. Others declined entirely to speak about Butner, adding that they didn’t want to be associated with the story.
Ford said he didn’t feel it was appropriate to talk about recent controversies following Butner’s passing.
The controversies started in 2014, when Butner served as Rowan County Housing Board chairman.
“Gee they are all black,” Butner said in a 2014 post about the Moral Monday Movement. “I guess the white folk could not get off because they were too busy working being productive good citizens.”
A racial discrimination complaint was filed in 2014 through the Greensboro field office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. County officials would also investigate whether Butner participated in any discriminatory practices as chairman of the housing board, but the county found that no wrongdoing occurred.
After an avalanche of criticism for the comments, Butner decided not to reapply for the housing board.
Roughly one year after he left the housing board, Butner would be appointed to the Rowan County Elections Board. He would be unanimously elected the board’s chairman. The appointment would be called a clerical error when State Board of Elections officials noticed the previous comments on social media.
In October 2015, the State Board of Elections voted by a 3-2 count to dismiss Butner after a lengthy analysis of his Facebook posts dating back to 2013. It would be the first time anyone had been removed from a local elections board because of social media comments.
At the time, Butner was in the midst of dealing with medical issues and couldn’t attend the meeting. He sent a three-sentence letter to the board in an effort to defend himself — something he found himself doing frequently in his last years.
“Since my appointment to the Rowan County Board of Elections, I have not violated any parameter or law regarding my conduct as a board member or chairman of the board,” the letter stated. “Due to my recent heart and foot surgeries, I am not able to respond to the state board in a proper manner that I wish. I will be happy to respond in a more detailed manner when I have fully recovered from my medical issues.”
Elections Director Nancy Evans defended Butner at the time, saying he had served in a nonpartisan manner during his few months as chairman.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.