CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Election results across the state returned disappointing outcomes for LGBT North Carolinians on Tuesday, who saw openly gay candidates fail to win their bids for office and an anti-gay candidate win in a hotly contested U.S. Senate race.
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The biggest upset was Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis‘ win over incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. Tillis, who helped shepherd the state’s anti-LGBT marriage amendment through the legislature and onto the ballot in 2012, carried 49 percent of the vote over Hagan’s 47 percent.
The two candidates had sparred for months. Along with parties and special interest groups, the campaign cost more than $100 million, making it the most expensive in Senate history.
Some of that money was from decidedly anti-LGBT voices. In the waning days of the campaign, the National Organization for Marriage poured more than $100,000 in the state on anti-gay mailers and TV commercials encouraging voters to cast their ballots for Tillis. The speaker has has joined with North Carolina’s Republican state Senate leader to continue fighting the overturn of the state’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.
No LGBT representation in legislature
In state legislative races, results were also mostly negative. Only one openly gay candidate, Wake County Democrat Bryan Fulghum, was on the general election ballot for the state legislature. Fulghum lost in his challenge to incumbent Republican state Sen. Tamara Barringer, garnering just 42 percent of the vote to Barringer’s 58 percent.
Earlier in the year, several other openly gay candidates were passed over in Democratic primaries and a special election in Mecklenburg County.
The loss of those earlier candidates and Fulgham second-place finish on Tuesday seals the fate for LGBT North Carolinians. For the first time in a decade, there will be no openly LGBT representation in the General Assembly when it convenes for its next session in January.
The absence will have a direct effect on LGBT advocates’ work on Jones Street.
“Despite the fact that we will have many very strong straight allies in the General Assembly, that’s not enough and members of our community know that,” Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro told qnotes Wednesday morning.
“As we go to fight anti-LGBT legislation and fight for employment protections and other important pieces of legislation, it’s critical that we have an LGBT voice at the General Assembly,” Sgro added. “It’s incumbent upon us at Equality NC and it’s incumbent upon other progressive organizations on our side to be prioritizing LGBT candidates.”
Sgro said developing qualified openly LGBT candidates for public office will be a priority for his organization.
The state’s only openly gay representative currently, House Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), chose not to run for re-election. He ran in the primary this spring for a chance to take the 12th Congressional seat. This fall, Brandon had campaigned to become High Point’s next mayor. Tuesday evening, he captured 35 percent to winner Bill Bencini’s 56 percent. The state’s first openly gay or lesbian representative was Democratic state Sen. Julia Boseman, who served three terms from 2005-2011 representing New Hanover County.
Additionally, one strong LGBT ally lost her bid to unseat a Republican incumbent representing Mecklenburg County in the state House. Democrat Margie Storch, a longtime House of Mercy staffer, took home just 45 percent of the vote against District 88’s Rep. Rob Bryan’s 55 percent.
Most of North Carolina’s state legislative races weren’t competitive; 78 didn’t even have challengers opposing their incumbents. Democrats had hoped to chisel away at the Republicans’ veto-proof supermajority in both chambers. Instead, they picked up just four House seats and lost one in the Senate.
The lack of LGBT representation will come at what might be a crucial time. Republican state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, who won 59 percent of the vote in his reelection campaign, and more than two dozen of his colleagues have vowed to pursue legislation designed to allow government officials to discriminate against LGBT people. Berger’s promise comes in reaction to the legalization of LGBT marriage equality in the state last month. He has said registers of deeds and magistrates should be able to refuse to grant same-gender couples marriage licenses and refuse to perform their legal marriages. It’s not yet clear if Berger will also pursue broader anti-LGBT discrimination measures like those recently proposed in Arizona and Kansas.
Republican state Sen. Chad Barefoot, among those standing with Berger’s efforts to enact anti-LGBT legislation, won in his first reelection campaign. Democratic challenger Sarah Crawford gave Barefoot a run for his money, running closely behind the incumbent all night. Barefoot pulled off a win, though, with 53 percent to Crawford’s 47 percent. Barefoot’s mother-in-law is Tami Fitzgerald, an anti-LGBT lobbyist and director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, the group which spearheaded efforts to put the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot in 2012. Late in the campaign, Barefoot had aired an ironic TV commercial calling out his opponent’s husband for his work as a lobbyist, despite Barefoot’s own familial relationship with his mother-in-law lobbyist.
In Fayetteville, incumbent Republican state Sen. Wesley Meredith won 54 percent to Democratic challenger Billy Richardson’s 46 percent. The race had attracted attention late in the campaign season after the North Carolina Republican Party paid for anti-LGBT mailers assailing Richardson as having no “moral compass” and receiving the endorsement of Equality North Carolina, which Republicans said “support[s] special rights for homosexuals.” Additionally, the GOP’s mailer praised Meredith for his support of “Traditional Christian Marriage between one man and one woman.”
Judicial candidate comes in second
An openly gay candidate for the North Carolina Court of Appeals came close to recapturing his place on the court.
Charlotte’s John Arrowood came in second in his race, which pitted 19 candidates against each other for an unexpectedly open Court of Appeals seat.
Arrowood, who previously served on the court from 2007-2008, had sought to return. He ran a strong campaign, placing him second with 14 percent of the vote despite his name appearing near last on the long 19-candidate ballot. Conservative candidate John Tyson came in first with 24 percent of the vote — with more than 200,000 more votes than Arrowood.
The contrast between Arrowood and Tyson was clear. Arrowood, who had been attacked by conservatives for his sexual orientation, had been endorsed by statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina and the national LGBT group Victory Fund. Additionally, Arrowood had procured the endorsement of the North Carolina Democratic Party and other progressive groups. Meanwhile, Tyson was endorsed by the North Carolina Republican Party, along with the North Carolina Values Coalition.
But the rare 19-way race made it difficult to make the candidate’s difference stand out to voters.
Equality North Carolina’s Sgro doesn’t think a conservative sweep really affected the judicial campaigns, where progressives took the lead in other Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races.
“I think what we actually saw was an incredibly crowded field,” Sgro said. “Judicial races are really hard to make sure people are educated about good candidates. Democrats endorsed very late. Republicans endorsed very early. I think what you saw was a splitting of votes between a handful of progressive candidate and the Republican pulled away because of that.”
Anti-LGBT politician returned to Mecklenburg Commission
Republican Jim Puckett was successfully elected in his race to replace outgoing Mecklenburg County District 1 Commissioner Karen Bentley, carrying 54 percent of the vote over Democratic opponent Leonard Richard’s 46 percent.
For Puckett, the win means a return to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, where he served from 2000-2006.
During that time, Puckett made a name for himself as an anti-LGBT leader, voting against expanded protections for the county’s gay and lesbian employees in 2005. At the time, he compared LGBT people to to those with “sexual addictions, adulterers, bigamist[s], and sadomasochist[s],” and, in response to same-sex couples said, “I pray that they seek forgiveness for what I understand to be a sin and further pray they find solace for the burden they bear.”
Puckett also said the non-discrimination measure would lead to a decline in “family values.”
Puckett said Charlotte was already seen as “a relatively tolerant and accepting community,” and added: “But this proactive, gratuitous, embracing of an abnormal lifestyle will signify an enticement, a cognizant invitation to those seeking that lifestyle that runs counter to the religious and moral foundation this Bible Belt region of churches, synagogues and mosques has held out to families since the mid 1700’s.”
Democrats easily won reelection in other County Commission races. At-large incumbent Pat Cotham received the most votes in her race, capturing 24 percent. She was followed by former Charlotte City Council member Ella Scarborough and incumbent Trevor Fuller.
Democrats Vilma Leake (District 2), George Dunlap (District 3) and Dumont Clarke (District 4) had no challengers on the ballot.
Longtime anti-LGBT Republican Bill James (District 6) also had no challenger on the ballot.
Incumbent Republican Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour also won reelection to his District 6 seat, carrying 64 percent of the vote to Democratic challenger Art Cardenas’ 36 percent. Ridenhour has an anti-LGBT record, voting against the gender identity protections for county workers last year.
Aiken loses race
In yet another loss for LGBT voters, openly gay, Democratic congressional candidate Clay Aiken was unable to oust incumbent Republican U.S. House Rep. Renee Ellmers from her Second Congressional District. Ellmers carried the win with 59 percent of the vote over Aiken’s 41 percent.