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GOP leaders make pick for Henson seat

Jake Johnson awaits the vote count on Tuesday night. Jake Johnson awaits the vote count on Tuesday night.

Jake Johnson, the upstart 25-year-old Polk County commissioner who had been campaigning for a state House seat since April, is on his way to filling the seat much sooner than he planned.

Republican Party leaders from three counties recommended on Tuesday night that Johnson be appointed to the House District 113 seat. The nomination will go from the state party chair to Gov. Roy Cooper. Accepting the party recommendation is usually a formality.

In weighted voting that gave Polk County just 25 percent of the total votes cast, Johnson won the endorsement over Larry Chapman, a former Transylvania County commissioner who announced his candidacy after state Rep. Cody Henson's sudden decision last Wednesday to resign, effective at noon Friday. County executive committee members and precincts chairs from the 113th District gathered at the Chariot on Tuesday night to select the appointee.

The race pitted Johnson against Larry Chapman after a third candidate, former Transylvania County School Board member Teresa McCall, dropped out.

Johnson had a 14-week head start, having announced in April that he would run for a seat that everyone thought would be vacant when Henson finished his term, not this week. Merry Guy, chair of the Henderson County Republican Party, rose to nominate Johnson and apparently helped deliver the county's vote for him. In his speech to the 37 voters present from the three counties, Johnson began by tying a speaking habit in one way to the president, who enjoys overwhelming support among Republicans.

“The good news is I made bullet points tonight," he said. "The bad news is I’m about as bad as Donald Trump at sticking to ’em.”

Johnson covered the district from east to west as he described his background. A graduate of Polk County high school, he told the audience that he "works just down the street" at the Berkshire Hathaway real estate office, that his father worked for the General Electric plant in East Flat Rock for 38 years and that "I spent a lot of days hunting and fishing in Transylvania County, in the trout streams up there.”
As a Polk County commissioner, “we worked with our school system to make our school system no. 1 in North Carolina,” he said. “We’re going to stand for pro-Christian values. We’re going to tell Roy Cooper there’s no decision to be made about a baby already born.”
He checked off other red-meat conservative themes: for the Second Amendment, against Planned Parenthood’s efforts to “infiltrate our education system,” against “top-down bureaucracy like Common Core,” for pro-business policies, for letting high school students know that “you can support a family being a welder, mechanic or anything where you use your hands and there's nothing wrong with that.”
He portrayed himself as the candidate that can not only defend the 113th state House district in the 2020 election but can help energize the effort to re-elect Trump and other Republicans up and down the ballot.
“We’ve been out hitting the pavement,” he said. “We’re going to knock on a lot of doors before this thing’s over, we’re going to make a lot of phone calls, we’re going to collect a lot of data and that’s not just for us. That’s to help get Republicans across the finish line.”
Chapman, a retired Ecusta executive, served on active duty in the Marine Corps and retired from the Marine Corps Reserves as a major. He served two terms on the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners, refusing to run for a third because he supports term limits. His experience in the military, in business, politics and family life distinguishes him from Johnson, he said. It helps to “know what it’s like to have a wife of 40-something years, to know what it’s like to raise children, teenagers.”
“When that D.I. shook my hand and called me a Marine, and I’m sure you guys in the Army, Navy and Air Force felt the same way — probably one of the proudest moments of your life,” he said.
He emphasized, too, that he has the time to serve.
“It’s not a part-time job.," he said. "You’ve got to be able to dedicate the time to the position, to meet with members of the community. I have no job. Fortunately, I retired. … I can devote the time to this district.”
He closed by reading an endorsement from former state Rep. Chris Whitmire, who held the seat until he retired in 2016.

"That's to be determined," Chapman said when asked after the vote whether he planned to challenge Johnson in a Republican primary next March. "Nothing against Jake. It was age versus experience. I understand. He started running for this way back when. He's been at it for months."