Dems plan to pick McManus successor 'soon'

Two ask to be considered for legislator's seat
Jan. 02, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

When Deb McManus resigned her seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives several weeks ago, following felony tax charges levied against her by the state, she left all of Chatham County and parts of Lee County without a state representative.

And while the former Democratic politician embarks on her legal battle, local Democratic leaders must find someone to fill the rest of her term, which expires in late 2014.

Since her House District 54 seat covers two counties, representatives from the local Democratic Party in each county will come together to consider nominations and will then choose her successor.

Lee County Democratic Party Chairman Ann McCracken said John Kirkman and Jimmy Love, himself a former Democratic state representative who lost to current Rep. Mike Stone (R-Lee/Harnett) in 2010, will represent Lee County on the selection committee. Officers of the Chatham County Democratic Party could not be reached for comment; it's unclear who will be representing them.

From Lee County, Robert Reives II is the only person who has asked to be appointed to the remainder of McManus' term, McCracken said. Reives serves as first vice chair of the local Democratic Party, and his father is a longtime Democratic member of the Lee County Board of Commissioners. At the Wilson and Reives law firm in Sanford, he specializes in criminal law, civil litigation and personal injury.

Since McManus' resignation, Reives said he's received numerous phone calls from supporters in Lee and Chatham counties, which spurred his interest in the seat. Many things happened in the General Assembly over the last year that could have been approached with more public debate, he said.

"There is a time when you can sit back and time to participate," said Reives, who added he was concerned about the general direction the legislature was moving. "I think is an opportunity for me to participate."

If appointed, he said he'd be interested in focusing on education, the economy and women's health issues.

In Chatham County, attorney Kathie Russell is the only person to have publicly proclaimed her interest in the seat. Russell practices corporate, business and real estate law in Wake County but lives in Moncure with her children. She served on the Chatham County Board of Education from 2006 to 2010 — the same board McManus served on before her election to the General Assembly last year — and said she would focus on education among other issues.

"I am not happy with the direction of the legislature in North Carolina today." Russell, who describes herself as a protege of the late Democratic Gov. Terry Sanford, said in a written statement. "I want to be a voice for middle class and working class folks and single moms — people I can relate to."

McManus expressed similar goals before being charged with embezzling nearly $50,000 in state income tax withheld over several years, all via her role as bookkeeper of her husband's Siler City medical practice. The allegations do not involve anything she did through her political position, her attorney Elliot Abrams said in a statement.

McManus introduced 15 bills during her one-year legislative career, although none became law. They mainly focused on inequality and public education, including restoring the Teaching Fellows program, establishing a moratorium on high-stakes standardized testing and creating a scholarship fund for people who want to teach science, technology, engineering or math.

McManus' replacement should be chosen soon, McCracken said, noting that her Chatham County counterparts have experience with filling an empty seat due to the recent resignation of long-serving Democratic Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, who represented Orange and Chatham counties.

"They've done this fairly recently — it was a Senate seat with Ellie Kinnaird ... — so they know what they're doing," McCracken said.

Kinnaird resigned in August; in September the Democratic parties in Chatham and Orange counties appointed Valerie Foushee, who had been serving in the House of Representatives, to take her place. For that nomination process, Chatham County was represented by Donald Knowles and George Lucier.