Carolina Journal is taking a brief look at each new member of the General Assembly — 10 in the Senate and 11 in the House. We look at where they’ve been, what they’re doing now, and what we might expect them to do as lawmakers.
The 2021-22 session began in late January. Expect COVID-19 and the ongoing fallout from the pandemic to be top priorities for lawmakers, who are crafting a new budget for the biennium. They’ll also draw new legislative and congressional maps for the next decade based on fresh census data. Each legislator, too, has their own priorities.
Today, we look at the N.C. House:
Steve Tyson, R-Craven
Yesterday: Republican Steve Tyson has lived in eastern North Carolina his entire life, only leaving to serve in the Army. He comes from a military family, and his son followed in his footsteps. Tyson ran on his background as a small business owner for 35 years. But he has also served in government as Craven County Commissioner for 12 years and as a board member of the Craven100 Economic Development Alliance.
Today: Tyson wants to be remembered for protecting the Second Amendment, for responsible government spending, for term limits, and for protecting public waterways. He wants to make schools safer by adding more trained school resource officers. He touts his history in economic development on his campaign website, where he targets the urban-rural divide. “But let us face the facts,” he says. “Eastern N.C. is being neglected in Raleigh. Virtually all new business is going to Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham.”
Tomorrow: Tyson also promises to treat transportation like economic development, he says on his campaign website. He is a former member of the Highway 70 commission, and a former chairman of the Metropolitan Planning and Transportation Organization.
Matthew Winslow, R-Franklin
Yesterday: Republican Matthew Winslow ran on the slogan “send a builder.” His first paid job was cleaning hog houses in northeastern North Carolina. He is the son of a teen mother who worked to support her family, and he says he knows what it is like to have to depend on the government. He founded the homebuilding company Winslow Homes.
Today: Winslow describes himself as a “pro-faith, pro-family, and pro-freedom conservative.” His Facebook campaign page focuses on his faith. Like other Republican campaigns, his posts lean heavily on law and order messages. Just above a photo of an N.C. officer killed in the line of duty, Winslow’s campaign writes that “I’m running to build a safer community for families and law enforcement. I will always stand alongside our brave law enforcement officers who keep our families and communities safe.”
Tomorrow: He promises to support small businesses, according to his campaign website. “I understand the importance of lowering taxes, reducing regulations,” he writes. “As a businessman, I will take this work experience to the legislature. The legislature needs to be made up of people with real life business experience, not career politicians.”
Brian Farkas, D-Pitt
Yesterday: Democrat Brian Farkas ousted the Republican incumbent, physician Perrin Jones. He represents eastern NC Pitt County, home of East Carolina University and the Brody School of Medicine. Farkas now works in his family’s architecture business, but he also worked for emergency management for the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Attorney’s office. He bagged an endorsement from former President Obama. He became caught up in controversy over defunding the police, after House Speaker Time Moore, R-Cleveland, accused him of wanting to strip money from police departments. Farkas disputed the allegation.
Today: He shares Gov. Roy Cooper’s focus on education and Medicaid expansion. His campaign website promises he “will fight to lock up the Education Lottery funding, raise teacher pay, improve distance learning, and freeze college tuition.”
Tomorrow: His website says Farkas will fight for paid family leave, a raised minimum wage, and a state independent oversight committee for police accountability and racial inequality.
”We have to commit to real reforms to repair centuries of systemic racism and inequality,” Farkas says on the site. “Our state must be a national leader in accountability by conducting thorough investigations that provide a just and efficient means to reduce incidents of police misconduct.”
Charles Miller, R-Brunswick
Yesterday: Republican Charles Miller was chief deputy of the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office for more than a decade. He has also worked in the private sector and in security at a nuclear plant. He was the biggest donor to his campaign, putting $75,000 into the election. He served 15 years on the local school board, where he says he tried to reopen schools during the pandemic. He represents a coastal district just south of Wilmington.
Today: Miller says schools should be required to provide the choice of in-person learning during the pandemic. “I have visited with a lot of small businesses that have really suffered during this pandemic,” Miller told WECT. “The virus is real, I understand that, but it’s time to safely open [North Carolina] back up and let people decide. … I don’t think the governor has done a very good job taking care of North Carolinians.”
Tomorrow: Miller opposes expanding Medicaid, but he said that he wants to review the current level of unemployment benefits. Miller criticized the deficit Republicans inherited from the Democrats when they took over the legislature in 2010. “It’s not time to squander that money away. It’s time to buckle down,” Miller told WECT.
Erin Pare, R-Wake
Yesterday: Republican Erin Pare defeated a Democratic incumbent by running an aggressive campaign in suburban Wake County. She earned Rep. Steve Scalise’s endorsement after her Democratic opponent mocked the representative’s shooting on social media, says Pare’s campaign website. She won against her opponent, Sidney Batch 50% to 47% in November, who then got a gubernatorial appointment to an abandoned state Senate seat. . Pare describes herself as a small business owner. She previously served in the nonprofit sphere and as the director of the Regulatory Improvement Council.
Today: Pare focused on education and the economy when she ran for office. She describes herself as an advocate for the taxpayer. Her website portrays her as a traditional, fiscally conservative Republican, with a focus on public safety, Second Amendment rights, and low taxes.
Tomorrow: Pare supports getting children back in the classroom. She is the PTA president of an elementary school, and she says one of her key goals is school choice. Pare is a military spouse and the sister of a disabled adult, and this has taught her the need for market-based solutions in health care, she says on Ballotpedia.
Abe Jones, D-Wake
Yesterday: Democrat Abe Jones served Wake County as a judge on the Third Division of the Superior Court. Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, appointed him onto the court in 1995, and he was elected to two more eight-year terms. Jones turned his attention to the legislature after losing in the judicial elections in 2012 and 2014. His district covers northeast Raleigh in Wake County.
Today: His campaign focused on affordable housing, vocational education, and criminal justice reform. He argued for a more fair legal process, saying that “a costly bail bond system, lengthy trial times, and overcrowded prisons all currently contribute to a process that disadvantages those without money and resources in North Carolina.”
Tomorrow: Expect him to be an advocate for community colleges and funding for vocational training. His website praises Wake Tech and calls for expanding vocational training across the state. Community colleges are bracing for a lean budget year, and their enrollment has failed to rise with the unemployment rate during the pandemic.
Diane Wheatley, R-Cumberland
Yesterday: Democrat Diane Wheatley is a registered nurse who operates a school bus company with her husband. She served on the Cumberland County Board of Education for 10 years. The NRA ran videos for her describing her as the “law and order candidate.” She focused on making her county catch up with the rest of the state, on unemployment and wages before the pandemic. She won in a recently redrawn district, after losing in the 2012 primaries.
Today: She says health care is her top policy priority, followed by education and job creation. She says she most admires her father and President Reagan for his “unapologetic patriotism, positive attitude, humor and overwhelming belief in the American people.”
Tomorrow: She believes the biggest challenge facing the state is revenue and the economy. On Ballotpedia, she writes, “Everything state government does, whether it is healthcare, education, public safety or infrastructure, depends on funding and funding depends on a healthy state economy. We are currently looking at having to recover from an unprecedented reversal of economic fortune both nationally and in North Carolina.”
Ricky Hurtado, D-Alamance
Yesterday: Democrat Ricky Hurtado is the son of immigrants who fled civil war in El Salvador. The 32-year-old UNC Chapel Hill instructor says that education changed his life. His campaign focused largely on education, especially for first-generation college students and immigrants. He scored endorsements from key national figures, including former president Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He has worked with the governor on task forces, including the DRIVE Task Force on education equity and teacher diversity and MyFutureNC on workforce development. His district sits between Durham and Greensboro.
Today: Expect him to oppose Republicans’ education priorities. Hurtado regularly criticizes Republicans, accusing them of putting tax cuts above education funding. He is skeptical of school choice and charter schools. He told WXII that the voucher program was “not working” and that he supports a temporary moratorium. But he didn’t call for a cap on charter schools.
Tomorrow: Hurtado promised to “reverse an harmful era of Republican deregulation” with environmental policies. He will push Democratic priorities, including Medicaid expansion, diversity in education, and higher teacher pay.
Ben T. Moss Jr., R-Richmond
Yesterday: Republican Ben T. Moss Jr., a locomotive engineer, flipped a seat that had been held by Democrats for decades. He was also the first Republican elected to the Richmond County Board of Commissioners in more than 120 years, according to the Richmond Observer. His district borders South Carolina.
Today: He is the House freshman whip. He describes himself as a Christian and a strong advocate for the Second Amendment. He ran on safety and security, filling his Facebook campaign page with posts about gun rights and law enforcement officers. As whip, he will be responsible for mobilizing votes from his fellow Republican freshmen representatives.
Tomorrow: He says on Facebook he is pro-God, pro-gun, and pro-law enforcement. A political ad pilloried him as “Bad News Ben,” a title he embraced as far as Democrats were concerned. He assures supporters that he is “bad news” for anyone who is “pro-abortion, anti-God, anti-law enforcement.”
David Willis, R-Union
Yesterday: Republican David Willis owns and runs a local preschool. He serves on the N.C. State Board of Community Colleges, as well as on advisory boards for early education. He campaigned on educational issues and supporting public schools. He will represent the south-Charlotte area.
Today: He was elected the freshman leader in the House. He ran on boosting education, infrastructure, and economic growth. He also promises to identify and eliminate wasteful spending in government.
Tomorrow: Expect him to make education a major priority with teacher pay and school choice. “Parents should have the opportunity to decide which educational environment is best for their children,” Willis writes on his campaign website. “Students deserve an education that will help each one of them reach their fullest potential and prepare them for a successful career.”
Amber M. Baker, D-Forsyth
Yesterday: Democrat Amber M. Baker was a principal of an elementary school for 12 years before becoming a life skills teacher at Mount Tabor High School. She was elected as vice-chair of the Forsyth County Democratic Party’s African American Caucus. She says she has been homeless and dependent on government assistance for her daughter.
Today: Her district leans heavily Democratic, with about 58.4% of its 54,000 voters registered as Democrats and only 15.5% as Republicans. She replaces Derwin Montgomery, who ran for Congress but lost in the primaries.
Tomorrow: Baker wants to double the money for low-income housing. She also pushed to add an African American history requirement for high school students. Expect her to fight for increased funding for social services.
Jeff Zenger, R-Forsyth
Yesterday: Republican Jeff Zenger comes from the construction industry. He ran on reopening the economy during the pandemic and school choice against a Democratic opponent who focused on health care. Zenger did not give an answer on Medicaid expansion, but he has voiced support for market driven solutions to healthcare needs like the association health plans that would allow small businesses to band together for leverage against insurers.
Today: Zenger’s win helped Republicans hold onto their majorities in the legislature. Democrats invested heavily in his district, and Democrat Dan Besse outraised Zenger by 12 times, as of June, reported the Triad City Beat. Zenger won the seat with 51.2% of the votes.
Tomorrow: Expect Zenger to join Republicans’ crusade to reopen the economy this session. He takes a traditional conservative’s approach to government spending. He is suspicious of government inefficiency, and he advocates for school choice. “I’ve found a government of any size rarely that had a revenue problem. It is far more common to see a government filled with overspending, inefficiency and corruption,” he told the Triad City Beat.
Sam Watford, R-Davidson
Yesterday: Republican Sam Watford is back in office. After serving two terms in the House, he lost a 2018 election after voting against a law that would eliminate the need for a concealed-carry permit, as well as allow 18 year olds to buy guns. He once served on multiple state legislative committees, including appropriations, elections, energy, education, regulatory reform, foster care, and state and local government. His district lies southwest of Greensboro.
Today: The waterline contractor has regained one committee assignment on local government so far. He ran on gun rights, low taxes, less regulation, and an economic comeback. His vote on concealed-carry permits returned to haunt his campaign, but he fired back on social media.
Tomorrow: Watford argued that he approaches state issues from the local perspective in a previous election. As the chair of the Local Government House Committee, he will help lead the legislature’s response to local governments’ economic woes from the pandemic and the shutdowns.
Dudley Greene, R-McDowell
Yesterday: Republican Dudley Greene replaces Josh Dobson, who moved on to become the N.C. commissioner of Labor. Greene served three decades in law enforcement, including as the sheriff of McDowell County. Not surprisingly, he made law and order a major issue in his campaign for office.
Today: His campaign touted his support for law enforcement and career technical training. He described himself as a commonsense conservative who will support business, public safety, and education.
Tomorrow: Greene opposes any cuts to police funding. He called for more resources for law enforcement, telling Avery Journal: “As a matter of fact, I think that where we can, we need to give law enforcement more resources. If there’s not public safety, there’s not an environment for business, education or anything else in the state. … If there’s ways we can expand through additional training and funding, that’s what we need to do.”
Ray Pickett, R-Watauga
Yesterday: Republican Ray Pickett, in what was dubbed “the battle of the Rays,” defeated Democratic incumbent Ray Russell. Pickett lambasted his opponent for opposing teacher pay raises in the budget and the pro-life “Born Alive” bill. Pickett accused Russell of looking out for the “liberal inside the beltway agenda.” Pickett served on the Blowing Rock Town Council and owned the Blowing Rock Inn for almost 20 years. He will represent Boone and Appalachian State University.
Today: His campaign promoted veterans’ issues, broadband, and law and order. His Facebook campaign page pushed back against the mask mandate. Pickett also criticized the N.C. Department of Transportation for overspending.
Tomorrow: Pickett wants to audit the department and prevent future cases of overspending. “Our Dept. of Transportation has gone millions over their budget and still failed to get the job done,” says his website. “Every day I drive on roads and infrastructure that need repair. Let’s audit the DOT and stop wasting taxpayer money on projects that never happen.”
Grey Mills, R-Iredell
Yesterday: Republican Grey Mills recaptured the seat he held from 2009 through 2012. He took a break after running for lieutenant governor and losing in the primaries. Mills once served on several influential state legislative committees, including transportation, appropriations, elections, and education. He co-owns a law firm that specializes in personal injury. He interned for U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms while completing law school. His district sits just north of Charlotte.
Today: Mills won almost two-thirds of the vote in this election. Like other Republicans, he focused heavily on gun rights, transportation. He attacked Cooper for “mismanaging” unemployment benefits.
Tomorrow: Mills will serve as the Chairman of the Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform House Committee. “COVID-19 has changed things. We’ll have a lot to deal with next session,” Mills told the Mooresville Tribune. “The biggest thing is the budget. With reduced revenue being likely, we’ve got a lot of tough choices ahead. It’s a tough thing, but we’ll have to deal with it.”
John R. Bradford III, R-Mecklenburg
Yesterday: Republican John R. Bradford III is back in the House, after serving two terms and losing the 2018 election cycle. He is a former environmental engineer, and he says he supports renewable energy. Bradford has a daughter who has a serious, chronic health care condition. He describes helping people with developmental disabilities as a major priority. He has hired employees with Downs syndrome. He followed his grandfather into the state legislature. He will represent the northern part of Mecklenburg County.
Today: As a small business owner, Bradford prioritizes cutting regulations, taxes, and the size of government. He will serve as the senior chairman of the House Finance Committee with three other Republicans.
Tomorrow: Expect him to make people with special needs a legislative priority. “I want to be remembered for ensuring that everyone deserves an opportunity. I believe individuals with special needs have special abilities that we need to embrace and try to provide opportunities to help them live productive and meaningful lives,” he wrote on Ballotpedia.
Mark Pless, R-Haywood
Yesterday: Republican Mark Pless spent 15 years as a paramedic, where he faced the opioid epidemic and drug overdose calls. The insurance salesman served as Haywood County commissioner, where he became embroiled in controversy over his comments about addiction. His district lies in the mountains in western North Carolina, near Asheville.
Today: Pless might have whipped up controversy in his district while serving as county commissioner, but he still carried off 64% of the vote against the Democratic candidate’s 36% of the vote. Pless credited the controversy to his focus on protecting taxpayer dollars.
Tomorrow: The agent with N.C. Farm Bureau Insurance focused his campaign on bringing jobs to the region. Expect him to support gun rights. “It’s very different for people to be able to stand strong and to believe in government, and it seems like their rights are being threatened or violated, especially the second amendment and freedom of speech and right to vote,” he told The Mountaineer.
Mike Clampitt, R-Swain
Yesterday: Republican Mike Clampitt won this round against his Democratic opponent, who has run against him in the past four elections. Clampitt helped win Republicans their veto-proof supermajority in 2016, when he rode President Trump’s coattails to victory. He is a retired fire captain for the Charlotte Fire Department. He represents a rural district in the far western mountains.
Today: He ran on supporting law enforcement, jousting with his opponent on support for police officers. Clampitt was once assistant sergeant at arms for the General Assembly. He will serve as chairman of the Federal Relations and American Indian Affairs House Committee.
Tomorrow: Clampitt says he wants to work with a DWI task force and to bolster drug rehabilitation. He says he wants to funnel money from the court system into more schools. “One thing I’m looking at for sure is the fines and forfeitures that go to the current school systems, but aren’t being shared with charter schools,” Clampitt told ABC News.
Karl E. Gillespie, R-Macon
Yesterday: Republican Karl E. Gillespie trounced his Democratic opponent, carrying 74% of the vote. Gillespie is a fifth-generation resident of Macon County, but he left to spend almost two decades in the communications industry. He returned to found National Communications, a turnkey low voltage contractor that handles fire alarms and fiber optics. He serves on the Board of Trustees for Southwestern Community College. His county is home to the Nantahala National Forest in the western mountains.
Today: Expect his background in fiber optics and community colleges to influence his policy decisions. Gillespie says affordable broadband is his top issue, and he plans to push for “substantial financial commitment” from the state and federal government. He also wants more money for public education and community colleges.
Tomorrow: Gillespie told the Smoky Mountain News that he supports Medicaid expansion, the issue that sunk the last budget amid partisan gridlock. He promises to promote local agriculture, broadband access, and fiscal responsibility.