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McGrady announces retirement from House

State Rep. Chuck McGrady, in the House chamber. State Rep. Chuck McGrady, in the House chamber.

Saying he never got the chance to enjoy public lands he helped save, state Rep. Chuck McGrady announced that he is leaving public life to hike and camp in the woods.

McGrady, 66, has been active in public policy and elective office in Henderson County since the mid-1990s, serving on the Flat Rock Village Council, Henderson County Planning Board and Henderson County Board of Commissioners before his election to the state House. He won election to the state House in 2010, when a Republican tidal wave swept Democrats from power and gave the GOP the authority to redraw political boundaries. McGrady rose quickly to a leadership role, serving as a key budget writer and as one of the chamber’s top experts on environmental legislation.
“Serving in the North Carolina House of Representatives has been one of the greatest honors of my life; my gratitude to the people of Henderson County for providing me with that opportunity goes beyond measure,” he said in a statement. “And that journey would not have been nearly as successful without the knowledge and support of the many dedicated professionals, including fellow legislators and staff, that I have been fortunate to have worked with along the way.
“But the time has now come to turn my focus back home to my friends and family — and most especially to my wife, Jean, who has made untold sacrifices over the years so that I could serve as a council member, county commissioner and a legislator. In the near future, I hope to hike and camp more in places that it’s been my privilege to protect. And I also have a lengthy list of books that I’ve had to put off reading for far too long.”
“I’ve not give any thought to it,” he said when asked whether he might take some other job. “I have a lot of things on the bucket list. I’ve worked to save a lot of land around the country and really have had little time to go visit those places between the summer camp and the public life.”
The former owner of Falling Creek Camp, McGrady has spent his adult life on land conservation and environmental policy, from his service as national president of the Sierra Club to his leading role in a coal ash cleanup bill in the Legislature.
Among his final goals are an overhaul of state laws on beer, wine and liquor, a redistricting reform measure and completing the funding for the “Raise the Age” juvenile justice reform that he led last year.
Contrary to the press corps’ focus on “shiny objects” that generate controversy, he’s made progress on the ABC front, he said. An omnibus bill that House and Senate committees have endorsed almost unanimously reforms state law governing craft breweries and distilleries and gives local ABC boards greater flexibility, including the authority to open liquor stores on Sunday.
“I think somebody ought to look at the other pieces of legislation we have passed,” he said. The bill has “made clear health departments aren’t going to shut down a brewery because dog shows up,” among other more substantive changes he called “hugely significant.”
His bill to create a non-partisan redistricting procedure is on hold pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on lawsuits challenging partisan maps in Maryland and North Carolina. A potential case that would be decided at the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court could also invalidate the state’s Republican-drawn maps.
“I expect at some point, the leadership will decide it needs to take action (on redistricting) and I’ve given them several different ways to go about that,” he said.
McGrady said he doesn’t know who might be interested in running for his seat, aside from former state Rep. Tim Moffitt, who moved from Asheville to northern Henderson County.
“I’ve heard there were other people sitting back and waiting to see if Chuck would make an announcement,” he said. Those people might have been waiting for the sort of unequivocal statement he’s now made, after he hinted two years ago he might retire and then decided, at supporters’ urging, to stay one more term.
“Now is a better time” to leave, he said. “Sen. Edwards is now chairing some substantive committees and I won’t be leaving Henderson County without strong representation. But we will have two freshmen” in the House. Given the decision by Rep. Cody Henson not to run, “Chuck will have to perhaps do some teaching.”
Polk County Commissioner Jake Johnson has announced his intention to run for the House District 113 seat, which is made up of Polk, Transylvania and southern Henderson County. For more than 20 years, the seat has been held by someone from Transylvania County. McGrady said he understands that Transylvania voters hope that continues.
“There haven’t been people that have raised their hand,” he said. “A lot of times you look at local officials, county commissioners and mayors, and to my knowledge none have expressed interest, which I understand, in going to Raleigh. I think Page Lemel would be a superb member of the Legislature.”
A Transylvania County commissioner, Lemel shares McGrady’s own background. She’s a summer camp owner active in conservation work.