State Politics

Sen. Bob Rucho asks GOP to investigate Mecklenburg chairman

Sen. Bob Rucho
Sen. Bob Rucho

Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews has asked North Carolina and Mecklenburg County GOP officials to investigate the county’s party chairman for allegedly recruiting a challenger to a sitting lawmaker.

Rucho asked party leaders to investigate whether GOP Chairman Curtis Watkins should be disciplined or removed for his actions.

Last week N.C. House Majority Leader Mike Hager of Rutherford County accused Watkins of trying to recruit someone to run against him in the March 15 primary.

Watkins said Monday that while he talked to someone in Hager’s county about the race, he didn’t try to recruit anyone.

“My inquiry was to find out the state of the race,” he said. “I did not specifically ask anybody to run.”

In a letter to the vice chairman of the county Republican Party, and copied to the state GOP chairman, Rucho said he’d spoken to Watkins about the matter.

“This conduct by Mr. Watkins is troubling to me,” he wrote. “Any conduct by a party leader that appears to ‘target’ a specific member … with a primary undermines the confidence that members and candidates of the General Assembly need to have in these party organizations.”

Rucho went on to say he can’t understand why Watkins would recruit candidates elsewhere when “there are districts in Mecklenburg County that go uncontested.”

With a week left in the filing period, Democrats in nine Mecklenburg legislative districts have no Republican opposition.

Watkins said while he didn’t try to recruit a Hager opponent, he wouldn’t mind seeing Hager replaced.

“I do believe there are better opportunities for representation in Raleigh,” he said. “I think he has the wrong vision for energy policy for North Carolina.”

Hager is arguably the most prominent opponent of the state’s renewable energy mandate. Watkins is founder of SparkTank Advisors, an energy consulting company. He said he has no clients in North Carolina.

As it happens, Watkins is considering running for the Senate seat that Rucho will leave. GOP Rep. Dan Bishop already has filed for the seat.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill