CORNELIUS – A former N.C. Representative has called for N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis to resign and cease his U.S. Senate campaign so he can be investigated for unethical actions.
Huntersville resident John Rhodes, a former N.C. House District 98 representative, called a press conference March 21 accusing Cornelius-based Tillis of bullying and questionable practices regarding campaign contributions.
Jordan Shaw, campaign manager and a spokesman for Tillis, called Rhodes' allegations "sour grapes" since he lost his seat to Tillis in the 2006 primary.
Rhodes sent letters March 22 to the N.C. Ethics Committee, Attorney General Roy Cooper and N.C. Board of Elections Executive Director Kimberly Westbrook Strach calling for an investigation surrounding the University of North Carolina Board of Governors appointments, which have been linked by The News & Observer in Raleigh to campaign contributions to Tillis. Rhodes alleges that could paint a “pay for play” scenario, meaning Tillis takes care of those who support him.
March 22 also marks the anniversary of when Rhodes called for the resignation of Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Black and others because of corruption and malfeasance. Black later resigned and was convicted on state and federal charges in 2007.
Rhodes has stayed out of the political sector since he left office, but declined to answer why he waited so long to make his statement against Tillis.
During the press conference, Rhodes called for Tillis to “resign his post as Speaker of the House so that a full and impartial investigation can be conducted into the scope, depth and circumstances that surround appointments to the UNC Board of Governors in relationship to campaign contributions received, how much money was involved, the timing of when the money changed hands and if any substantive legislation was passed in connection with the timing of these contributions.”
Shaw said the competition between the two has been over for years.
“The debate between Thom Tillis and John Rhodes was decided eight years ago by a 2-1 margin of voters in that district in favor of Thom Tillis,” Shaw said in a statement. “It's disappointing that Mr. Rhodes would rather talk about sour grapes than uniting together to beat Kay Hagan, which is what Thom Tillis and conservatives in this state are focused on.”
Rep. Robert Brawley, of Mooresville, said he’s defended both lobbyists and campaign contributions as important aspects of the election process, but said it makes a difference if candidates base decisions off of them.
“The issue when we in the public as citizens go vote is to try and know the values of the candidates themselves,” he said.
Brawley said this is an opportunity for Tillis to openly discuss his side of the "rumors" so voters are informed.
However, when asked for a comment about the specific allegations, Shaw responded, “Thanks for giving us the opportunity to respond to specifics, but we will just stick with the statement.”
Rhodes said Tillis uses political bullying and intimidation toward opposition.
“We see a stepped up and even more embolden unapologetic level of intimidation, coercion, corruption of process, and promises of retribution against fellow lawmakers, through primaries and the stripping of committee assignments, who speak out against Rep. Tillis,” Rhodes said.
He relayed stories of how Tillis allegedly bullied a woman at a political convention by shaking a finger in her face and has been “bullying fellow members of the legislature from his own party and openly challenging them.”
One of the victims of that is Brawley, who said he resigned last year as one of the chairs from the finance committee, “because Thom Tillis yelled at me and said he didn’t want me as chair anymore.”
Brawley said he’s seen a number of times Tillis has yelled at people in the General Assembly and constituents.
“He’s tried to do everything he could to intimidate and show he was in charge,” Brawley said, adding the problems he's had with Tillis are because he didn’t feel Tillis gives people an opportunity to speak openly.
Vallee Bubak, leader of Lake Norman Conservatives, said it’s her experiences with Tillis’ bullying that swayed her to volunteer for U.S. Senate contender Greg Brannon’s campaign, which has a campaign office in Cornelius.
She alleges she was told by fellow board members of the North Mecklenburg Republican Women to stop speaking out against toll roads or get off of the board because of Tillis and was later glared at by Tillis while being interviewed at a Lake Norman chamber expo.
During a phone interview, Shaw said Rhodes’ comments and those from the primary contenders wouldn’t sway the campaign focus away from Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan.
“We’re staying focused on Kay Hagan because that’s what conservatives expect from us," he said.
Shaw added the backlash by primary contenders and others “was to be expected” because “anytime you are succeeding in a political campaign, you get attacked.”