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GOP declines to make endorsement after two emerge for vacant Senate seat

SALISBURY — After some statements to the contrary, Rowan County Republicans did not endorse a candidate to fill the vacant 34th District N.C. Senate seat Tuesday evening.

Rowan Republicans who sit on the county party’s executive committee and live in the 34th District met to hear from those interested in filling the seat, formerly held by Andrew Brock. Rowan GOP Chairman Don Vick previously said local Republicans would vote on their preferred choice, but Tuesday’s meeting adjourned without such an endorsement.

Meanwhile, two candidates emerged from the meeting — only one of whom had previously announced his interest.

They are attorney Bill Graham and Chad Mitchell, a teacher and former county commissioner.

Graham was nominated by businessman John Leatherman, and the nomination was seconded by state Rep. Harry Warren, R-77. Mitchell was nominated by County Commissioner Craig Pierce, with former County Commissioner Jim Sides seconding it.

After nominations, Graham and Mitchell spoke for three minutes about their interest in the 34th District seat.

Mitchell talked about his experience as a Rowan County commissioner, a role in which he served from 2002 to 2014. He focused on the recession, saying county commissioners made difficult decisions as a result of shortfalls in tax revenue.

“When you look at the state budget, North Carolina is in charge of $22 billion, give or take, and a third of that goes to education. A third of that goes to Medicaid, and there’s not many thirds left after that,” he said. “So when we send someone to Raleigh, we really have to send someone that knows how to sharpen a pencil and get down to budget figures.”

Mitchell said the person appointed to fill Brock’s former seat needs to have a wide array of experience. Mitchell said his time as a county commissioner has provided that experience.

However, Mitchell also raised the specter of Gov. Roy Cooper not officially making the appointment of a new senator after local Republicans make their selection. Mitchell said any grudges Cooper holds against the N.C. General Assembly could result in no appointment, effectively leaving the 34th District without a senator until the 2018 elections.

Graham spoke about his knowledge of and experience in politics. He ran for governor in 2008, championed a lower gas tax campaign in the 2000s and worked with former Gov. Pat McCrory in various capacities. Graham said he’d go to Raleigh already knowing many state senators, including those in leadership positions.

“I’m ready to go,” Graham said. “I could sit up here and talk about my accomplishments, but that doesn’t really do you any good. I’m honored to be considered for the seat.”

Graham, a partner at Salisbury-based law firm Wallace and Graham, said he would be able to devote his time to representing the 34th District because of the quality of people who work at his law firm.

Graham said he would work to eliminate the state tax on overtime.

Graham said he doesn’t want to see any division within the local Republican Party because elections in 2018 will be more challenging than any in recent history.

“We are going to have to get together,” he said.

Still, there was clear division among some Republicans at Tuesday’s meeting. Disagreements focused on whether the Rowan County GOP should have allowed candidates from other counties to speak at the meeting and if an endorsement should be made.

Leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, party Chairman Vick said that a vote of some sort would be held. N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said an endorsement would be OK but not binding because the official appointment for the 34th District will be decided during an Aug. 15 meeting in Mocksville.

Despite discussion about the matter before and during the meeting, the meeting was adjourned without a vote.

Former Rowan GOP Chairman Stephen Kidd, who served as the parliamentarian on Tuesday, said there was nothing to gain by holding a vote, which would have been nonbonding and served as an endorsement. But Sides, a former county commissioner who sits on the executive committee, said the vote wasn’t held because party leaders knew it was wrong.

Sides sent an email to many Republicans in advance of the meeting stating his opposition to holding Tuesday’s meeting. The only meeting should be on Aug. 15 in Mocksville, he said. That email sparked a short back-and-forth among those included on the chain.

“Give them heck, Jim,” local attorney Todd Paris wrote.

Ron “Duck” Wyatt, the Iredell County GOP chairman, sent an email to the Salisbury Post before the meeting, too. Wyatt also expressed his opposition to Rowan County’s meeting.

Vick clarified Tuesday that his intent in calling the meeting was only to hear from local candidates interested in the 34th District opening.

Davie County Commissioner Dan Barrett came to Tuesday’s meeting but was not allowed to speak.

So far, Barrett, Graham and Mitchell are the only publicly declared candidates.

The full list of candidates will become clear on Aug. 15. At that meeting, Republicans from Rowan, Davie and Iredell counties will make a selection to fill the vacant Senate seat.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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