Freshman Republican legislator Greg Murphy’s first legislative vote as a new state representative was a doozy: House Bill 2.
The NCAA pulled several championship events from North Carolina because of the controversial law, which bars transgender people from using public bathrooms that aren’t the same as their gender by birth. Greenville, the county seat of Pitt County where Murphy lives, had expected to host the Division 1 women’s golf regional in May.
Murphy, a 53-year-old urologist, voted for H.B. 2, but he said the law was “a response that went too far to the right.” He told The Daily Reflector he would be willing to look at the part of the bill that bars workers from filing discrimination suits in state court.
“It’s not about discrimination,” Murphy said of the law. “It’s about privacy.”
The bathroom law is the most divisive issue in the election to an open seat representing House District 9, to which Murphy was appointed in October 2015, when Republican Brian Brown resigned to work for Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis.
Murphy, a Republican, is facing Democrat Brian Farkas, 29, who has a master’s degree in public administration from UNC Chapel Hill and works at JKF Architecture as the director of client relations and development.
House District 9 covers eastern Pitt County from Grifton to the Martin-Beaufort county lines. Major employers in the district are health care and the district’s two universities. A Republican has represented the district since 2012, when Brown defeated Marian McLawhorn, the former Grifton mayor who had held the seat for more than a decade.
The district is what’s known as a purple district, not solidly Democratic or Republican, though its conventional voting behavior leans Republican, according to the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, which tracks state elections.
About 37 percent of the district’s 59,842 registered voters is Democrat, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections. About 32 percent is Republican, and 30 percent is unaffiliated. The remaining 0.6 percent is Libertarian.
“It’s a very close district,” said attorney Charles McLawhorn Jr., the chairman of the Pitt County Democrats whose father, Charles McLawhorn, and Marian McLawhorn, his cousin by marriage, held the seat for years.
Ginny Cooper, the chair of the Pitt County Republican Party, said issues in the race include education and social issues such as immigration.
“I think North Carolina as a whole has problems keeping that under control,” Cooper said.
Farkas did not return repeated phone calls and emails from Carolina Journal. His website said Farkas favors establishing a bipartisan redistricting commission. The measure didn’t get enough votes in the General Assembly to put it on the November ballot.
“As your representative, Farkas will lead the fight to end gerrymandering once and for all,” Farkas’ website said.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would look at whether North Carolina’s 2011 congressional redistricting violated the Constitution by looking too much at race when drawing the boundaries of the districts. A separate federal case challenges the districts used to elect state lawmakers in North Carolina.
Farkas’ website also said that he favors reforming campaign finance “to get lawmakers out of the fundraising business.”
Murphy has raised about $266,976 so far, including a $50,000 loan to himself that has been repaid, according to his campaign filings. Murphy, the only practicing physician in the North Carolina House, has received significant campaign support from the medical community.
Farkas has raised about $36,679 so far, about one-seventh of what Murphy has raised.
Murphy, who accepts patients on Medicaid, said he supports expanding that government insurance program for the poor, aged, and disabled in North Carolina. Murphy said he would like to see an expansion similar to how Indiana expanded its Medicaid program. Most newly eligible adults in Indiana pay monthly premiums, and services are delivered through managed care organizations.
“We need people who can work to work,” Murphy said.
Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly have opposed expanding Medicaid, saying its structural problems and processes needed fixed first. Thirty-one other states and the District of Columbia have expanded their Medicaid programs for adults to include people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or $33,534 for a family of four.
Murphy also supported a needle exchange program for drug addicts to help prevent diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis C. The programs are legal starting Oct. 1.
Murphy was the chief of staff at Vidant Medical Center in 2014. Vidant Health, its parent company, spent $162,519 in lobbying efforts in fiscal 2013, according to the most recent available tax returns for the nonprofit.
Vidant Health, which lost about $30 million during fiscal 2013, plans to form a new nonprofit that would include ECU Physicians, and Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. Fifty-one percent of the new company’s board would be appointed by Vidant Health.
The State Employees Association of North Carolina has raised questions about whether some of the 1,200 employees of ECU Physicians, who currently are state employees, could lose their jobs, or have their benefits cut as part of the transition to the new company.
“A lot of these jobs are duplicated,” said Amanda Finelli, a SEANC spokeswoman. “There’s now a big fear that they will lose their retirement before they’re vested.”
Murphy said the merger is important to the viability of the Brody School of Medicine, and its mission to create primary care physicians for eastern North Carolina and the state.
“As far as losing benefits, I feel there is a lot being stirred up, and a lot of fear-mongering created about this,” Murphy said. “The institution is fully committing to serving all their employees, and treating them very fairly.”
Murphy and his wife, Wendy, a nurse at Vidant Medical Center, own real estate in Greenville, and in Emerald Isle, according to his economic interest statement. He also receives income from rental properties and dividends from companies such as Texas Roadhouse, and Carolina Lithotripsy.
Farkas doesn’t own any real estate in North Carolina worth at least $10,000, and is paying off a federal student loan, according to his economic interest statement filed in February.
Murphy volunteered in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and said his “entire life has been serving others.”
He sees his time in the General Assembly in similar terms.
“I’m doing mission work in our legislature,” Murphy said.