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North Charlotte Today

Friday, February 28, 2020

Crowded field in North Carolina lieutenant governor race


By Tom Lawrence | Feb 7, 2020

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Being the No. 2 person in government has never been a popular job.

John Nance Garner, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president from 1933-41, later told fellow Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson to avoid the job when Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy asked LBJ to be his running mate.

“I’ll tell you, Lyndon, the vice presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit,” Garner told Johnson, although some reports say he used an earthier term than “spit.”

Still, Johnson accepted the assignment – and was miserable as JFK’s little-used and often-ignored VP.

Still, some politicians aspire to be VP, or, on the state level, lieutenant governor. In North Carolina, there is a long line of applicants for the job, which will be vacated by Dan Forest, a Republican who is term-limited after a pair of four-year terms.

Nine Republicans and seven Democrats are seeking the post. In North Carolina, the governor and lieutenant governor run separately.

Forest was re-elected in 2016 but Republican Gov. Pat McCrory was defeated in a bid for a second term by Democrat Roy Cooper, who is running for re-election this year. It’s the second time in state history the governor and lieutenant governor are not in the same party.

Forest is hoping to move up a rung on the ladder as he is running for governor this year. He is opposed in the GOP primary by state Rep. Holly Grange.

Cooper is being challenged by retired Army Capt. Ernest T. Reeves, who has been a candidate for numerous offices over the years.

The GOP lieutenant governor primary race is packed. Candidates include former U.S. 2nd District Rep. Renee Ellmers; state Sen. Andy Wells; former state Rep. Scott Stone; North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson; North Carolina Education Lottery commissioner Buddy Bengel; Deborah Cochran, former mayor of Mount Airy, the hometown of TV legend Andy Griffith, who modeled his fictional Mayberry after it; Greg Gebhardt, a North Carolina National Guardsman and U.S. Army veteran; lawyer John L. Ritter and businessman Mark Robinson.

Three other men eyed the job before declining to run: U.S. 6th District Rep. Mark Walker, state Rep. Mark Brody and Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Puckett.

Sarah Reidy-Jones, vice-chair of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party, said such a large field is a good thing. It’s the state’s most-populous county, with more than 1 million people.

”The Mecklenburg County Republican Party does not take a role or speculate in primary elections, but we are pleased with the breadth and depth of talent of our candidates for lieutenant governor,” Reidy-Jones said to North Charlotte Today. “The role of lieutenant governor is important because it is one heartbeat from the governorship and leads the Republican-led General Assembly, of which we are committed to keeping. We look forward to working with the eventual nominee, as well as all of the Republican nominees for the Council of State to continue the North Carolina General Assembly's ’Carolina Comeback’ track record.”

She said the county party would not support a candidate.

“Party rules do not allow party leadership to endorse in a primary. To do so would be a violation of our Plan of Organization,” Reidy-Jones said. “It seems to be a wide-open race at this point.”

The Democratic primary also is crowded, with state Sen. Terry Vsn Duyn; state Rep. Chaz Beasley; state Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley; Hoke County Commissioner Allen Thomas; Bill Toole, a former Belmont city councilman and former chairman of the Gaston County Democratic Party, and Ron Newton, a 2016 candidate for the post, all throwing their hats in the ring.

Holley led the way with 7 percent in the December poll, but as with Republicans, most are unsure whom to support, as 77 percent said they were undecided.

Former state Sen. Cal Cunningham dropped out of the race and is now running for the U.S. Senate.

Both primaries will be held Tuesday, March 3.

The job has some attractive qualities. It currently pays $124,676 annually but because of a raise approved in 2019, whomever is elected will instantly get a raise to $136,799. The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and is a member of the Council of State, the State Economic Development Board and the North Carolina Advisory Commission on Military Affairs. He or she also is a voting member of both the State Board of Education and the State Board of Community Colleges.

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