North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

December 23, 2022

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While the 2022 midterm elections were just a few weeks ago, this week, several individuals announced their plans to seek election to statewide office in 2024. Representative Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) told the Carolina Journal in an interview this week that he is “strongly leaning towards running for Labor Commissioner in 2024,” and would make an announcement in January. Representative Ben Moss (R-Richmond), who was just elected to a second term, went a step further and formally announced his campaign for Labor Commissioner. Both announcements follow Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson’s (R) announcement earlier this month that he would not seek reelection to the position. Two candidates also announced this week for Lieutenant Governor: Republican Hal Weatherman, the former chief of staff and campaign manager for Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, filed paperwork to run for the position, and Democrat Chris Rey, who previously served as Mayor of Spring Lake, announced he would also seek the office.

Governor Cooper on 2023

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper gave a year-end interview to the News & Observer this week, providing a preview of his priorities for the new year as well as the challenges he anticipates in the upcoming legislative session. Governor Cooper said he wants to work with Republican leadership at the legislature, much like they have since the 2020 election when Republicans maintained a majority in both chambers but did not gain enough seats to override a gubernatorial veto. Governor Cooper is particularly interested in continuing cooperation with lawmakers on economic development projects and diversifying the state’s source of electricity. However, the Governor did caution against “culture war bills” targeting social issues like abortion, immigration, and transgender rights, saying those bills hurt North Carolina’s ability to recruit industry. “I hope that the Republican leadership understands that the reason we are the number one state in the country for business is because of our balance, and the fact that we do have a good business regulatory environment,” said Cooper.

Although Republicans recaptured their veto-proof majority in the Senate, and fell just one seat short in the House, Governor Cooper is optimistic he can not only prevent legislation but also pass some of his administration’s priorities during his last two years in office. Namely among those are investing more in public education and raising pay for teachers and state employees to remain competitive with the private sector. Perhaps most importantly, Governor Cooper wants to ensure that the influx of federal fund from the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act are allocated according to his administration’s priorities, citing funds coming to the state to “connect everybody to high-speed internet” and fund water and wastewater infrastructure, transportation, and clean energy.

Members of the General Assembly will return to Raleigh on January 11 to swear in new legislators before beginning the work of the long session later in the month. 

New Acting Secretary

This week, North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders announced that M. Antwon Keith will serve as the acting Assistant Secretary for the Division of Employment Security (DES). As Assistant Secretary, Keith will be responsible for the division’s operations, communications, and accountability as it administers the state’s unemployment insurance program. Keith succeeds former state Representative Pryor Gibson, who was selected to lead the program in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic when unemployment cases were at a record high. Last week Governor Cooper announced that Gibson was appointed to serve as Senior Legislative Advisor.

New House Republicans

When legislators return to Raleigh next month to start the 2023 legislative long session there will be several new faces around the legislative complex. Among those newly elected lawmakers, the House of Representatives will welcome thirteen new Republican members, seven of whom defeated Democratic incumbents in the general elections. They include:

Bill Ward – District 5 (Pasquotank)

Bill Ward is a military veteran and retired lieutenant with the Pasquotank Sheriff’s office. Ward mentions his law enforcement career on his campaign website, arguing that “standing up to criminals” and protecting gun rights are some of his top priorities. Representative-elect Ward defeated five-term Representative Howard Hunter (D-Hertford). Ward previously unsuccessfully sought the office of Pasquotank Sheriff and County Commissioner.

Timothy Reeder, MD – District 9 (Pitt)

Dr. Timothy Reeder is an emergency physician at the East Carolina University Health Medical Center and Vice Chair for Clinical Operations at the East Carolina University Department of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Reeder earned his medical degree from the Ohio State University before moving to North Carolina in 1998. Dr. Reeder also obtained a master’s degree in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to his campaign website, Dr. Reeder has held leadership positions in the North Carolina Medical Society and American Medical Association. Dr. Reeder defeated first term Representative Brian Farkas (D-Pitt) in a close election last month.

Celeste Cairns – District 13 (Carteret and Craven)

Celeste Cairns is succeeding Representative Pat McElraft (R-Carteret) who has served eight years in the House and decided to not seek reelection this November. Cairns lives in Carteret County where she has been an activist with the local Republican Party, including currently serving as Third Vice Chair of the Third Congressional District. Representative-elect Cairns graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in business administration and worked as a CPA and auditor for Deloitte, Willis Corroon Corporation, and HCA Healthcare Corporation. According to her campaign website, Cairns top priorities are “protecting our Constitutional Rights” and “protecting the sanctity of life.”

Ken Fontenot – District 24 (Wilson)

Ken Fontenot is a Marine veteran, retired educator, and pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. Fontenot received a bachelor’s degree in history from California State University in San Marcos and received a master’s in public administration from Ashford University. Fontenot unsuccessfully ran for the North Carolina House in 2018 as an unaffiliated candidate, coming within a few hundred votes of winning. This year, Fontenot ran as a Republican and defeated incumbent Representative Lisa Cooper Suggs (D-Wilson) in a close election.

Allen Chesser – District 25 (Nash)

Allen Chesser is a retired Army soldier, who was deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006. After returning from Iraq, Chesser served as a policy officer for the Town of Nags Head and then for the City of Raleigh. Chesser is actively involved in his local community, having founded a Christian soccer league in Nash County, and as a leader in his county Republican Party. Representative-elect Chesser defeated two-term incumbent Representative James Gailliard (D-Nash). On his campaign website, Chesser says he will be a “champion for individual liberties…against growing government authority.”

Frank Sossamon – District 31 (Granville, Vance)

Frank Sossamon is the former Senior Pastor at South Henderson Pentecostal Holiness Church, where he preached for 36 years. Sossamon is also the founder of the Chaplain Program at Maria Parham Hospital, former president of the Henderson/Vance County Crime Stoppers, a member of the Vance County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, and current President of the Granville County Crime Stoppers. Representative-elect Sossamon is a 2020 recipient of the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award. According to his campaign website, Sossaman’s top priorities are economic development, advocating for parents’ rights in education, and decreasing criminal activity. He defeated incumbent Representative Terry Garrison (D-Vance) in a surprising upset.

Jarrod Lowery – District 47 (Robeson)

Jarrod Lowery is a Marine veteran and graduate of UNC Pembroke. After graduating, Lowery worked for Governor Pat McCrory as Regional Outreach Liaison where, according to his campaign website, he “advocated on behalf of Rural Areas, Veterans, and American Indian communities.” Lowery is a member of the Lumbee Tribe, and is the brother of John Lowery, the Tribal Chair of the Lumbee Tribe. Representative-elect Lowery will be the first Republican Lumbee member of the state legislature, after succeeding Representative Charles Graham (D-Robeson), a Lumbee, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress this year.

Stephen Ross – District 63 (Alamance)

Stephen Ross is returning to the House after first losing reelection in 2020 to Representative Ricky Hurtado (D-Alamance) and then defeating Hurtado this year. Ross, who was first elected to the House in 2012, is a Burlington native who previously served on the City Council and as Mayor. During his time at the legislature, Representative Ross served as Chairman of the House Finance Committee, House Insurance Committee, and House Pensions and Retirement Committee. Ross received an undergraduate degree from Elon University in 1973 and worked as an investment officer and vice president at Wells Fargo. On his campaign website, Ross lists job-creation, regulatory reform, and tax relief as his top priorities.

Brian Biggs – District 70 (Randolph)

Brian Biggs is member of the Randolph County School Board, having served since first defeating an incumbent in 2014. In the 2022 Republican Primary election, Representative-elect Biggs defeated eight-term incumbent Representative Pat Hurley (R-Randolph). Biggs works as a realtor with Allred and Company Realtors. According to his campaign website, Biggs’ top priorities are “protecting religious freedom, pro-life values, and private property rights.”

Neal Jackson – District 78 (Moore and Randolph)

Neal Jackson is the son and grandson of Baptist preachers. After graduating from college, Jackson founded an insurance and financial planning firm, which he operated for twelve years. Jackson left that career, and founded Beulah Baptist Church in Bennett, North Carolina, in 2009. In 2020, Jackson and his wife, Tracy, founded a residential group home for children in foster care. Jackson airs his sermons weekly through the Truth for Today broadcast. Representative-elect Jackson earned doctorate degrees from Luther Rice Seminary and The Master’s Seminary. According to his campaign website, Jackson calls himself “pro-life, pro-family, pro-gun, pro-freedom, pro-jobs, and pro law enforcement.” Jackson succeeds Representative Allen McNeill, who is retiring after serving five-and-one-half terms in the House.

Kevin Crutchfield – District 83 (Cabarrus and Rowan)

Kevin Crutchfield is a businessman and farmer in Cabarrus County. Crutchfield owns Crutchfield Farms, Castaway Properties, LLC, Casco Signs, Inc, and The Crutchfield Group, a real estate holding company and equipment leasing operation. Before starting his own businesses, Crutchfield worked at IBM after graduating from UNC Charlotte with a degree in computer science. Crutchfield is active in the Cabarrus County Republican Party and with the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Foundation Board. Representative-elect Crutchfield’s campaign website lists the second amendment, business, and law enforcement as his main political focuses. Crutchfield will be the first to represent this newly created district that was redrawn due to the growing population of Cabarrus County.

Jennifer Capps Balkcom – District 117 (Henderson)

Jennifer Capps Balkcom is a mother and small business owner in Henderson County. Balkcom has worked for over 20 years as a mortgage banking professional and served as Treasurer of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Western North Carolina. Balkcom has been active in her local community, serving on the Henderson County Education Foundation, the Advent Health Foundation Board, and with the Saint Gerard House, a non-profit serving children with autism. Balkcom also currently serves on the Henderson County Planning Board. Representative-elect Balkcom graduated from Blue Ridge Community College with an associate degree in business administration, banking and finance. Balkcom succeeds incumbent Representative Timothy Moffitt (R-Henderson) who was elected to the state Senate this year.

For a complete breakdown of North Carolina’s state House election results in 2022, click here.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Monday, December 26

9:00AM: House Session
4:00PM: Senate Session