RALEIGH — Eleven former legislators are looking to make a political comeback this year and return to the General Assembly. Five of them are challenging the opponents who defeated them in 2018, while others have been out of the legislature for many years.
Only one of the 11 former lawmakers on 2020 ballots is a Democrat, and he says more favorable lines from redistricting helped prompt his return. Redistricting was also a factor in two Republican legislators who were defeated in 2018 deciding not to seek a rematch.
Former Rep. Grey Mills, R-Iredell, wants to return to a seat he left in 2013 after a failed bid for lieutenant governor. He’s served on the Iredell County Board of Elections since leaving office and said he hasn’t run until now because he supported Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell, who’s retiring at the end of the year.
“I’ve often thought I’d like to go back one day,” Mills said. “I looked around, nobody else seemed to have any plans to run, and I wanted to make sure ... Iredell County would be represented.”
Former Sen. Allen Wellons, D-Johnston, served from 1996 to 2002, and he’s running for the redrawn Senate district covering Nash and parts of Johnston County where Sen. Rick Horner, R-Nash, isn’t seeking re-election.
The new district is “very similar to the district that I had when I was last in the Senate, which makes it a competitive district,” Wellons said.
Data from PlanScore and the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation show the new district still leans Republican but isn’t a safe seat for the GOP.
Wellons will face either Rep. Lisa Stone Barnes, R-Nash, or Johnston County Commissioner Patrick Harris. Johnston County has trended more Republican for county-wide races, but Wellons says he’ll appeal to unaffiliated voters based on his moderate record and work with the county’s economic development agency.
Horner cited new district lines as part of his reason for stepping down, and redistricting also dissuaded two other former senators from making a comeback.
Former Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, lost by a narrow margin in 2018 but said the redrawn district for northern Mecklenburg is “virtually impossible to win as an R.”
“Spending millions, even against one of the least effective and least liked members as a challenger in the opposite party, you would be undertaking a futile exercise,” he said in an email. Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, unseated Tarte and won’t have a Republican opponent this year, although a Constitution Party candidate is running for the seat.
Former Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, had considered running for her old seat after a 2018 loss, but told the High Point Enterprise that the new lines “would be tough for any Republican.”
The five rematches from 2018 elections are:
- Former Sen. Wesley Meredith, R-Cumberland, challenging Sen. Kirk deViere, D-Cumberland
- Former Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, challenging Sen. Harper Peterson, R-New Hanover
- Former Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, challenging Rep. Rachel Hunt, D-Mecklenburg
- Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg, challenging Rep. Christy Clark, D-Mecklenburg
- Former Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Swain, challenging Rep. Joe Sam Queen, R-Haywood. If Clampitt defeats a GOP primary opponent, he’ll be facing Queen for the fifth time.
A Republican primary for a Davidson County House seat will feature two former legislators squaring off.
With Rep. Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson, vacating his House seat to challenge Sen. Eddie Gallimore, R-Davidson, former Reps. Roger Younts and Sam Watford both want their old seat back. Watford lost an attempt to move up to the Senate in 2018, and Younts was appointed to a partial House term in 2013 and 2014.
“Obviously I feel like I have unfinished business and would like to serve a few terms of my own,” he said. Younts says Davidson County’s legislative delegation has seen “too much jumping around and musical chairs” with House members seeking Senate promotions.
In western North Carolina, former Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt is running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson. Moffitt was a Buncombe County legislator unseated by Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe, in 2014. He has since moved to Hendersonville. Former Rep. Mark Hollo, R-Catawba, is seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba.
After 2019’s legislative session dragged into late October, some questioned if veteran legislators would be hesitant to sign up for another term.
A total of 24 House and Senate incumbents aren’t seeking re-election, which largely mirrors numbers from previous election cycles. Ten of those incumbents are instead running for higher office.
The former legislators seeking to return said they’re hopeful the 2021-2022 session won’t be as long, but their personal and professional lives can withstand a long haul in Raleigh.
Mills noted that his children are mostly grown now, making it easier to be away from home. Younts said he “would hope that this was an anomaly and we would go back to maybe a six-month long session,” but “I’m prepared for whatever comes.”
In addition to the lengthier sessions, some of the former legislators say the General Assembly seems more politically polarized than when they left.
“A lot of us want to get back involved because of the highly partisan way it’s being operated,” Wellons said. “We were good friends with each other, we worked together on a lot of different bills. It doesn’t seem that way anymore.”