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Politics & Government

Surprise resignation in the NC Senate means GOP will appoint new candidate to ballot


A Republican senator announced a surprise resignation in the North Carolina Senate on Thursday, which is likely the final day of the legislative session.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, one of the longest serving Republicans in the Senate, frequently uses the moments of “points of personal privilege” at the end of the day’s session to talk about country music or other topics. But on Thursday he gave an unexpected farewell speech.

He told reporters afterward that he had submitted his resignation effective Tuesday, but did not give a reason other than that it was time to move on.

“Old J.T.’s gonna get outta here today,” Tillman told reporters. “I’m going to leave as soon as I go out that door, yes,” he said, pointing to the gold doors of the Senate chamber.

Perhaps Tillman’s closest friend in the Senate is across the aisle — Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat. After Tillman’s surprise announcement on the floor, Woodard talked about their nicknames for each other — Poncho and Lefty — and the good times they had together.

Still, “we fought like cats and dogs sometimes on issues,” Woodard said.

Referencing Tillman’s love of country music, Senate leader Phil Berger said on the floor that he thinks “we all have lyrics to a country song that we didn’t have before.”

Berger said later in a statement that Tillman “has been a leader in the Senate and a fierce advocate for his constituents. Oftentimes, after a long day of work, I’d find Jerry sitting outside my office ready to go to battle over some provision that he wanted for his district. He’s left his mark on the Senate and our state, and I wish him the best in this next chapter.”

Tillman told reporters that the work he’s most proud of is around tax reform and education reform he’s helped with over the years.

What happens in 2020 election

Tillman, 78, represents Guilford and Randolph counties.

He filed to run for a 10th term and is on the ballot this fall, but said he’s asking to be removed from the ballot in time for someone new to be on the ballot.

“I’ve been around nearly 20 years in this body and I’ve done many things, and I’ve been very, very pleased to be able to help people. ... The common man on the street, they can’t get through the bureaucracy, and when you can help them, it’s a good feeling,” Tillman told reporters.

Andy Jackson, elections policy analyst at the conservative Civitas Institute, tweeted that Tillman’s district is “safe Republican.”

Tillman said the Republican Party of his district will name someone to the ballot.

“Oh yeah, we have a person in mind. I can’t give you his name right now,” Tillman said.

Whoever the person is will face Democratic opponent Jane Ledwell-Gant of Asheboro in the election this fall. Ledwell-Gant is a church secretary and finance officer, according to her campaign website.

As a senator for 18 years, Tillman has served as chair of the Finance Committee, chair of the Appropriations Committee on Education and majority whip.

“I feel like it’s time for me to move on and get someone else to do this work. You know, your body tells you when it’s time,” said Tillman. He said he has plans to “continue to serve but not in an elective capacity.”

NC Insider editor Colin Campbell contributed to this story.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Domecast politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Megaphone, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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