General Assembly retirements of 2020

Despite resignations and the flow of dark money into the state, Republicans kept their majorities

General Assembly - Raleigh - May 2020
File Photo: N.C. General Assembly as seem from the grounds of the Capitol building. Photo credit: A.P. Dillon, North State Journal

RALEIGH — Just over half-a-dozen lawmakers announced retirement this year, with some of them headed to other governmental roles or appointments.

The first was Rep. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham), who formally resigned on Jan. 7 after 13 years of service. McKissick left after being appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper to the state Utilities Commission in November of 2019. Former House Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham) was picked to replace McKissick, but a month later, the 89-year-old Michaux resigned with an effective date of March 31. On April 1, Natalie Murdock was appointed to fill the District 20 seat. Murdock went on to keep the seat in the Nov. 3 election, defeating Republican John Tarantino by almost 84% of the vote.

A surprise announcement in June came from nine-term Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph). Tillman announced he would be stepping down effective June 30. He had been a strong proponent for K-12 education, having been a teacher, coach and assistant principal prior to running for the legislature. Asheboro bank executive Dave Craven was appointed in mid-July to take Tillman’s place. Craven was elected to the seat in November over Democrat Jane Gant, with over 70% of the vote.

Cooper announced on July 15 the appointment of Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D- Wilson) to the Board of Review at the Division of Employment Security, which oversees unemployment benefits appeals. The following day, Farmer-Butterfield announced her retirement from the General Assembly. She had served nine terms in the House and had served as majority whip from 2006 to 2010. Linda Cooper Suggs, a Democrat, was appointed to fill Farmer-Butterfield’s seat. Suggs ran to keep the seat and did so, defeating Republican Mick Rankin by 2,072 votes.

On July 24, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), the second most powerful member of the House, announced he was withdrawing his name from the ballot in November, ending his 18-year legislative career. Lewis had been instrumental to help create the historic tax reforms in the state and with redistricting as chairman of the House Rules Committee for nine years. 

Shortly after sending his resignation letter to House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain), Lewis was charged with two federal crimes in the U.S. Western District of North Carolina. Both charges stemmed from monetary transactions apparently tied to aiding his financially struggling farm. At the end of August, a judge accepted the plea agreement that included Lewis admitting to making false statements to a bank, which is a felony. He also pleaded for failing to file a 2018 federal tax return. Prosecutors indicated they will not seek active prison time.

State Sen. Andy Wells (R-Catawba) announced on July 27 that he would be retiring at the end of the month. Wells had held the District 42 Senate seat since January of 2015. Prior to serving in the Senate, he spent three years in the North Carolina House representing District 96 from 2012 up through 2015. Retired Hickory businessman Dean Proctor was appointed to take Wells’ place. Proctor successfully ran to keep the seat, defeating Democrat Tina Miles in a landslide, with over 71% of the vote.

Rep. Debra Conrad (R-Forsyth) also announced she was leaving the legislature effective July 31. Conrad held the District 74 seat since 2012. She hinted in her retirement announcement that she is looking at returning to Raleigh in a lobbying capacity. 

Despite the resignations, a court-ordered map redraw and Democrats vowing to flip both chambers, Republicans managed to maintain majorities in both houses.

Not even a steady flow of dark money seemed to move the needle for Democrats, losing four seats in the House, giving Republicans a 69-51 majority. In the Senate, Democrats were only able to pick up one seat, bringing their total to 22 out of the 50 total members.

Several Democratic incumbents found themselves ousted as well. House Reps. Sydney Batch (D-Wake), Scott Brewer (D-Stanly), Christy Clark (D-Mecklenburg), Ray Russell (D-Watauga) and Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood) all lost their seats, and House Democrats chose new leadership for the long session beginning in 2021.

About A.P. Dillon 409 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_