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Contest for vacant state Senate seat differs from most political races

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The process of filling the 34th State Senate District seat is playing out unlike most contests for elected office.

The list of candidates won’t be clear until it’s time to vote, redistricting could alter the area contained in the district weeks after someone fills the vacant seat and most voters in the 34th Senate District won’t cast a ballot for the next officeholder.

The 34th District contains parts of Iredell and and Rowan counties and all of Davie County. Andrew Brock, who represented the district until last month, resigned to take a position on the state’s Board of Review.

Now, a limited number of Republicans from three counties will have a say in filling the seat. Rowan County Republicans plan to meet on Aug. 1 to endorse a candidate. The official meeting to select a person to fill the seat will be Aug. 15 in Mocksville.

In Rowan County, attorney Bill Graham has expressed interest. Meanwhile Davie County GOP Chair Jon Welborn and Iredell County COP Chair Ron “Duck” Wyatt said there’s no officially declared candidate in their counties.

NC GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said counties are not required to endorse a candidate. Woodhouse said multiple people from the same county could appear at the Aug. 15 meeting and announce their interest in filling the seat.

“Any qualified voter who lives in the district can put their name forward,” Woodhouse said. “Nobody has to be endorsed or supported.”

However, Woodhouse said individual counties may choose to endorse a particular person.

Asked last week, Welborn said the Davie County Republican Party wasn’t planning to hold a meeting before Aug. 15 to endorse a candidate.

Similarly, Wyatt said the Iredell County Republican Party had not endorsed a candidate. He said there’s a person from Iredell County, whom he declined to name, that would be well-received among other Republicans and has a good voting record.

“At this point, I’m not so certain that we will produce a nominee, depending on who Rowan comes up with as its nominee,” Wyatt said. “All three county chairs and parties need to do what’s best for our folks.”

County endorsements, however, will not be the only factor that influences who fills the 34th District seat. There are also questions about how the district will look in the next legislative elections.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision that 28 of North Carolina’s state legislative districts were racial gerrymanders. There’s still much to be decided about the future of North Carolina’s legislative districts, including whether a special election should be held and the deadline for districts to be redrawn. A federal court last week picked July 27 as a hearing date on redistricting.

Brock said he’s not sure exactly how his former district might change. Brock said he doesn’t believe it will change much, but mentioned the following combinations of counties as possibilities for the new 34th District seat: Rowan and Stanly counties; Davie and Iredell counties; Rowan, Montgomery and Stanly counties.

One Republican official told the Salisbury Post there’s a “high likelihood” that the 34th District map looks somewhat different after redistricting. The person chosen to fill the empty seat could wind up being “a placeholder” if redistricting changes the legislative maps significantly, the Republican official said.

Wyatt and Welborn both said redistricting could affect whether people decide to seek the empty seat.

Asked whether he’d also run for a full term if appointed to the empty seat, Graham hesitated and mentioned redistricting.

“I want to wait and see how that all comes out before deciding to run in 2018 or whenever the next election cycle is,” he said. “At this juncture, I think it’s premature. … After they redraw the maps, I may not live in the district which I’m representing.”

Regardless of who’s interested in the 34th District seat, most voters won’t have a say in choosing their next senator. Brock is a Republican and the next office holder must be registered to the same party.

Most Republicans within the 34th District also won’t have a say in the selection. Only those people who sit on the executive committee of the Republican parties in Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties and also live in the 34th District have a vote.

Votes on Aug. 15 will be given to individual counties based on the number of voters who live in the 34th Senate District. For example, Rowan County has a larger number of voters who live in the 34th District than Davie or Iredell and, as such, will have the most votes.

Rowan County will receive an even larger number of votes than Davie and Iredell combined, according to a breakdown provided by the N.C. Republican Party. Still, that doesn’t mean a candidate from Rowan County will fill the 34th District seat.

If Rowan County produces a candidate without solid, conservative credentials, Wyatt said it’s possible Rowan County votes could go to other candidates.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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