The executive committee of the New Hanover County Republican Party selected Michael Lee, Wilmington attorney and Republican candidate for state Senate, as the replacement for Sen. Thom Goolsby during a brief closed session Aug. 12. The nomination will move to Gov. Pat McCrory for approval.
Goolsby, who represented District 9 since 2011, resigned from his post in an Aug. 2 letter to McCrory. Goolsby’s spokesperson, Dee Stewart, said he supported Lee as his successor because the few months in Raleigh would give him an advantage if elected.
New Hanover County GOP Chairman Sam Ibrahim said Lee was the only candidate nominated, prompting little discussion from the approximately 35 committee members present.
Lee ran for the seat in 2010, when he was defeated by Goolsby in the Republican primary. Goolsby endorsed Lee during the 2014 primary.
Lee said he was surprised by the situation but grateful for the opportunity.
“I’m really humbled and honored that they would recommend me to the governor to fill Sen. Goolsby’s term,” he said following the nomination.
Following the nomination, Ibrahim acknowledged it as a commonly followed process.
“We’re not trying to play anything unfair. We’re following the process,” Ibrahim said.
Former Rep. Danny McComas left his seat in August 2012 to become chair of the N.C. State Ports Authority Board after nine terms in office, paving the way for Ted Davis Jr., then chairman of the New Hanover County Commissioners, to serve early before he was elected by voters in November.
Lee was appointed to replace McComas as chair of the Ports Authority Board in April. While state law does not require Lee to step down from his position on the Ports Authority Board while serving in the state legislature, he said he will step down to avoid any conflicts of interest.
State law requires Lee to resign from his post on the N.C. Department of Transportation Board. Lee said his experience on both boards is an asset in Raleigh, especially in discussions of job creation and growth in the state.
The General Assembly has not yet adjourned for the year, and Lee said he plans to be in Raleigh when the Senate reconvenes Aug. 14 regardless of whether McCrory appoints him to support important issues, like film incentives, as he has throughout the short session.
“I’m going to continue to be vocal about it. This is going to give me the opportunity to really engage the senators who are not coming on board with what we really need to be doing, not just for the citizens of New Hanover County, but really for the benefit of the state,” Lee said about a last opportunity for an amended version of the current film incentive to survive.
The General Assembly will meet again Nov. 17 to discuss Medicaid reform and coal ash management.
Elizabeth Redenbaugh, who will challenge Lee for the District 9 seat on the November ballot, called the move a manipulation of the political process during an Aug. 5 phone interview. She said the tactic is not always successful, citing the example of New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White.
White, tapped to replace former Sen. Patrick Ballantine in 2004, served in Raleigh for six months before Julia Boseman defeated him in the November election.
Lee said he plans to continue with his current campaign strategy moving into November.
“We’re going to be talking about the same things and the same issues. This won’t impact the election, from that perspective,” Lee said.
If approved by McCrory, Lee will serve the remainder of Goolsby’s term through January 2015.