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State GOP demands quick action on Henson replacement

Jake Johnson, Larry Chapman and Teresa McCall are seeking appointment to the House District 113 seat that became vacant on Friday. Jake Johnson, Larry Chapman and Teresa McCall are seeking appointment to the House District 113 seat that became vacant on Friday.

PISGAH FOREST — State and local Republican Party leaders fast-tracked the filling of the vacant state House District 113 seat because the seat is critical to the state Republican Party's effort to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of a Republican-drawn budget, state GOP Chairman Michael Whatley told party members who jammed into a barbecue restaurant on Saturday morning.

The sudden decision by state Rep. Cody Henson on Wednesday to resign set off urgent calls from Republican leaders in the Legislature to make sure the seat is filled quickly. The state House, which lost its Republican supermajority in the November 2018 election, is maneuvering to schedule an override vote on Cooper's veto. Cooper and Republican leaders are locked in a standoff over the Republican budget and Cooper's insistence that the Legislature OK Medicaid expansion to cover thousands of uninsured North Carolinians.

Whatley told an audience of 125 people from Transylvania, Henderson and Polk counties that the five-day turnaround to pick Henson's successor is happening on orders from House Speaker Tim Moore. Whatley quoted Moore's message in a phone call: “I am going to be managing in the next two to three weeks the veto override because the governor has vetoed the Republican budget bill.”

The budget, Whatley added, "has everything we need as a state to move forward the governor vetoed it and we need to override it."

“What we’re looking at right now is trying to figure out how to override the governor’s veto on the budget and we need every single seat we can get," Whatley told the Lightning in an interview. "The speaker and I talked last Friday. He made it very clear the urgency" of filling the seat.

The competition to win appointment to a state House that became vacant at noon Friday now includes an ambitious 25-year-old county commissioner from Polk County against a retired 69-year-old sales executive, Marine Corps colonel, former Transylvania County commissioner from Pisgah Forest and a retired Blue Ridge Parkway administator and three-term Transylvania County School Board member.

A committee of Republican Party executive committee members from Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties meets Tuesday in Hendersonville with the goal of recommending an appointee to the state Republican Party chair, who then forwards it to Gov. Roy Cooper. Under state law, Cooper must act on the recommendation within seven days. If he fails to act, the nominated person would get the seat automatically.
“We hope we can come to an agreement on that as quickly as possible because Speaker Moore has some very important votes coming up so having someone on the conservative side once those votes come up is important,” said Aubrey Woodard, who chairs the 11th Congressional District Committee. Cooper “may take the entire seven days if he thinks one of these votes is coming up.”
District 113 includes all of Transylvania and Polk counties and 10 precincts in southern Henderson County. Transylvania has the largest number of votes among the three counties but not a majority.
“It’s a weighted vote based on population and a formula,” said Henderson County Chair Merry Guy.
The committee members are also expected to accept nominations from the floor if any are made, Woodard said.
Polk County Commissioner Jake Johnson, who launched his campaign in the spring, and former Transylvania County Commissioner Larry Chapman are vying the appointment.

Jake Johnson

“We really are just running as the conservative candidate in this race and we’re praying for Cody and his family as they go forward and we wish him the best but we have to look to the future of the party and the district,” Johnson said.
Johnson is working the phones fulltime to solicit support from the executive committee members.
“The reality is it’s really going to come down to a handful of delegates” who will vote on Tuesday night, he said. “Everything would show I’m in a position to do this. We’ve got the time and energy and we’ve got the right message, too.”
In a campaign that he launched months ago, Johnson has been meeting people throughout the 113th district, making contacts and raising money. He said his campaign finance report will show he’s raised a “solid” amount of money with more fundraisers scheduled.
“We have some solid events coming up on the calendar. We’ve got some in some in-home events and some nice lunches,” he said.
A real estate agent for Berkshire Hathaway in Hendersonville, Johnson said he’s cleared his campaign and potential service in the Legislature with his bosses.
The weeks of work Johnson has invested on the campaign trail may not give him a clear path to the appointment. The 113th District has been represented by a Republican from Transylvania County for more than 20 years — including David Guice, Trudi Walend, Chris Whitmire and Cody Henson — and many voters in the western-most county like that hold on the seat.
“I certainly picked up on that sentiment, from subtle hints they’ve dropped and some not so subtle,” Johnson said. "What I’ve been saying is it doesn’t matter what county I’m from, I’m running to represent this whole district. I am a fiscal conservative and social conservative. I’ve had some people comment on my age and my zip code but we’re running to represent the whole district.” He said he expected to receive "statements of support over the weekend from some really key figures throughout the district. Organizations in the district have full hearted got on board.”
If he does not win the appointment, he said he will see whoever does win it in a Republican primary next March.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’ve had an overwhelming amount of support from throughout the district and it would be a real injustice to them to quit because of something that happened in a party meeting behind closed doors. So we will be absolutely running for this seat no matter what. The people in that room are in the district but we’re running to represent the district as a whole.”

Larry Chapman

Chapman said friends and supporters encouraged him to seek the appointment, and he announced on Friday morning that he would.
He served two terms on the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners, until December 2018, declining to run for a third term “due to my position on term limits.”

A native of Transylvania County, Chapman graduated from Brevard High School and earned a bachelor of science degree from Western Carolina University. He worked for Ecusta for 37 years until the paper mill ceased operations. He and his wife have three children and two grandchildren.

Although he pledged not to make an issue of Johnson’s age, he does tout his own experience as a Marine Corps colonel, a manufacturing executive and an elected county commissioner.
Experience “is important when you go down to Raleigh because as they say you’re in a lot bigger fish bowl,” he said. “I have the time and the financial resources to run back and forth to Raleigh and serve this entire district. It is not a part-time job to do it right, that’s one thing I found out as a county commissioner.”
He said he also knows how to raise money.
“It’s important to raise some money and spend it wisely and reach out and, (as) a friend of mine said, go out and shake hands and kiss the babies.”
“Experience is critical, maturity is critical and the ability to have the time to spend in the district — those are the critical things,” he said. “To do it right it takes time and it takes effort.”

Teresa McCall

Teresa McCall, who served three terms on the Transylvania County School Board and retired as an administrator for the Blue Ridge Parkway, announced her intention to seek the seat on Thursday night. The sudden turn of events — Hansen announced Wednesday he was resigning, one day after he said he intended to serve out his term — left all the candidates scrambling.

“This happened very quickly in the last 48 hours,” McCall said. “Cody resigned. We just put my name in night before last.”

“I have a proven record of leadership,” she said when asked about her qualifications. In her 12 years on the board, she served as chair for seven years and vice chair for two.

“During that time our schools did very well," she said. "We had a great working relationship with our county commissioners. I feel confident that our schools were left in better shape than when I was first elected. I have a strong record of conservative values. I’m not easily swayed and I’ve shown I have the ability to work with many people.”

A lifelong resident of Transylvania County, she is married to Scott McCall. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. She was appointed to serve as a trustee of Blue Ridge Community College and has served as vice chair and secretary of Transylvania Republican Party.

She began her National Park Service career in 1982 as administrative assistant for the Blue Ridge Parkway and retired this past January as the Parkway’s chief of administration, guiding the oversight and direction for an annual budget of $16 million and supervising a staff of 14 spanning 400 miles in North Carolina and Virginia.