N.C. House vacancies pave way for new faces in 2022

Brian Turner, John Ager and Susan Fisher
OUT OF OFFICE: From left, multiterm Democratic Reps. Brian Turner, John Ager and Susan Fisher announced their retirements within days of each of other, clearing the way for entirely new Buncombe County representation at the state House level. Photos courtesy of those pictured

It started on Nov. 29, when Rep. Susan Fisher announced on the floor of the N.C. House that she would step down as District 114’s representative.

Just hours later, Rep. Brian Turner announced he would not seek reelection to a fifth term for House District 116.

And Dec. 3, Rep. John Ager announced that he, too, would not seek reelection in District 115, after first winning the House seat in 2015.

All three of the multi-term Democrats representing Buncombe County in the N.C. House had thus bowed out of the 2022 election cycle. Jeff Rose, chair of the Buncombe County Democratic Party, described the string of announcements in a Dec. 5 statement to fellow party members as “a tough week if you’re a Buncombe Democrat.”

“It’s sad for us. Collectively, the folks we’re losing have had many decades of experience serving in the legislature,” Rose tells Xpress. At the same time, he continues, the vacancies will create opportunities for new faces within the party.

Reasons for leavin’

The three representatives offer a range of reasons for stepping down, including a demanding legislative schedule and newly drawn district lines.

Fisher, who has served in the N.C. General Assembly since 2004, called her decision “difficult and in many ways, sad” in a Nov. 30 press release but said she planned to spend more time in Asheville and with her family who live abroad. She did not respond to multiple requests for further comment.

In a press release, Turner cited the increasing length and unpredictability of the legislative session as the primary reasons for his decision. Although the General Assembly is supposed to wrap up its main session at the end of June, coinciding with the end of the state’s fiscal year, recent years have seen lawmakers work well into the fall. (The annual pay for state legislators, just under $14,000, has not increased since 1995.)

Speaking with Xpress, Turner adds that, while the newly drawn districts appear to resemble those of maps deemed unconstitutional gerrymanders in 2011 and in 2016, the lines weren’t a factor in choosing not to run.

“For the most part, the district remains pretty similar to what it was that I won 2014 through 2018,” Turner says. “At the end of the day, the new map didn’t really factor into my decision because it’s very similar to the district I had won three times already.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Ager wrote in a statement released Dec. 3 that he was ready for a new generation of lawmakers to tackle the issues facing Western North Carolina. In a Dec. 16 email to Xpress, Ager also noted that the redistricting process had played a role in his decision.

He cited an early version of the maps that would have shifted District 115 to become more competitive for Republicans, saying he would have run to keep the seat under those lines.  “But I really wanted someone with fresh eyes to represent my constituents, and four terms are enough,” he said.

Up next

Fisher’s retirement will be effective Monday, Jan. 31. Rose says local Democratic leaders are already preparing to fill the District 114 vacancy.

On Thursday, Jan. 6, the party will hold an election for the seat at its headquarters, 951 Old Fairview Road in Asheville, at 7 p.m. Roughly 80 members of the party’s Executive Committee, composed of members who reside in District 114 based on the 2020 district map, may nominate a candidate and cast a ballot. The candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote will be formally appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper Tuesday, Feb. 1, and will serve out the remainder of the 2020-22 term.

So far, Rose says that only Leicester resident and former Buncombe County Board of Commissioners candidate Taylon Breeden has announced her candidacy for the seat, but he is expecting more party members to vie for the role. “There’s a few other people I know who are very strongly considering it; I just don’t want to get ahead of any of their announcements,” he says.

(On Dec. 29, Caleb Rudow, a self-described yellow dog Democrat and Asheville native, also announced his candidacy for District 114.)

In District 115, Eric Ager, a retired Navy commander and the eldest son of John Ager, announced his candidacy in a Dec. 6 press release. The junior Ager has listed mental health care, housing, cybersecurity, environmental protection and public education among his priorities.

And in District 116, educator Lindsey Prather has thrown her hat into the ring — a move endorsed by Turner, for whom she has served as a campaign worker. “I think she is uniquely positioned to talk about the kitchen table issues that the folks of 116 are really concerned about,” he says. “I think she stands a good chance of running and winning.”

This story was updated Jan. 3 at 3 p.m. to include a campaign announcement from Caleb Rudow.


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