Three Democrats make bid to replace McManus

Jan. 14, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Three people interested in being appointed to the empty N.C. House seat of former Rep. Deb McManus met Saturday to answer questions from the committee that will select her replacement.

McManus, a Democrat, represented all of Chatham County and parts of Lee County in House District 54 before resigning last month after being arrested on felony tax charges. Anyone who is a registered Democrat and lives in the district may apply for her seat.

Several dozen people attended Saturday morning's hearing at the Historic Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro. There, they heard pitches from former Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chairman George Lucier, as well as two attorneys, Robert Reives II of Lee County and Kathie Russell of Chatham County. Russell is a previous chairwoman of the Chatham County Board of Education; Reives has never held elected office but serves on a number of nonprofit boards and other community groups.

The three all have similar progressive political views, so they highlighted other qualities to try to distinguish themselves.

Russell said she would bring much-needed perspective to a legislature she said is controlled by old white men who won't listen to anyone who doesn't look like them.

Lucier touted his previous government experience, as well as his vast scientific knowledge from a career spent studying the environment and helping develop public policy.

And Reives, who is the son of a Lee County Commissioner, touted his ability to organize a large amount of support. He's also the only native North Carolinian of the three and spoke at length about his wife's Chatham County background, as well as his own family's roots in Chatham County, where he said he can be found most weekends at church or social events.

The selection committee is comprised of two Lee County representatives (Jimmy Love Sr. and John Kirkman) and two Chatham County representatives (Jan Nichols and Joshua Kricker), but because the district in question only covers part of Lee County, the two Chatham County representatives wield the vast majority of the deciding power.

The winner must have the backing of both Chatham representatives or one Chatham representative and both Lee County representatives.

Lucier, who has also long been involved with Central Carolina Community College, has the most name recognition of the three who spoke Saturday. But he raised some eyebrows when asked about his re-election strategy, should he be appointed, and told the committee he wouldn't try to be re-elected.

He said the appointee should be focused entirely on governing, not campaigning, and that he also thinks voters should choose between candidates in a primary election in which nobody has the advantage of being an incumbent via appointment.

“I think that's a better process than being selected by four people, no matter how carefully you do this job," Lucier said.

Russell and Reives both said they would seek re-election.

“It's going to take a lot of hard work, but that's what I do," Reives said. "That's how I built my practice. And one of the things I did in building my practice was by word of mouth. I kept in contact with everyone. ... I'll uniquely be positioned to not only raise money in Chatham County, but down in Lee County."

Of the 15 people who signed up to speak at Saturday's meeting, 12 spoke in favor of Reives. Russell and Lucier had one speaker each on their behalf, and one speaker didn't advocate for anyone in particular.

With Reives focusing on his grassroots connections and dual-county support base, Russell focused on her own more elite credentials. She has worked with two nationally known Democrats (and failed presidential candidates) who served as both U.S. senators and governors of their home states: Florida's Bob Graham and North Carolina's Terry Sanford. Russell, who works in Raleigh but lives in Moncure, describes herself as a protege of the late Sanford in particular.

“I believe that we have to restore the system for funding in education that has made this state progressive (and) that was started by my mentor, Terry Sanford," she said at one point Saturday.

This weekend's event was the first and only public session for the process. However, anyone who wants to be considered can still apply before Jan. 24, when the committee will meet again, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Historic Chatham County Courthouse, to cast their votes for the area's next representative. To apply or nominate someone else, email nchouse54vacancy@gmail.com.