One of the closest races last night was the bout between Republican Stephen Laroque and his challenger John Bell of Wayne County for LaRoque’s house seat.
LaRoque, a member of House Speaker Thom Tillis’ leadership team, lost by just 54 votes (out of 7,700 votes cast) to GOP primary opponent John Bell in yesterday’s primary election. Usually election results that close result in a call to tally the votes, but LaRoque instead conceded the election, according to the Kinston Free Press.
“It was a close race, I congratulate (Bell) and hope he’ll do a good job representing us,” LaRoque told the Kinston paper.
UPDATE: 4:37 p.m. LaRoque seems to have changed his mind. He told the Associated Press his supporters want a recount of the ballots.
From the Associated Press:
The co-chairman of the House Rules Committee says he’ll ask for a recount in his North Carolina primary election which shows him trailing narrowly, but he doesn’t expect it will change the outcome.
Republican Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston said Wednesday he’d ask for the recount because many supporters want to him do so. Complete unofficial results Tuesday show Wayne County GOP leader John Bell leading by 54 votes.
Sen. Chris Carney of Mooresville may face a runoff.
Bell will go on to face Democratic challenger Jim “Babe” Hardison of Lenoir County in the November election, though Bell is favored to win in the heavily GOP-leaning district. He told the Kinston paper he attributed his win to working hard to get his name out to GOP voters: “We beat the pavement, because grassroots is always key.”
Last night’s loss was the latest in a series of political and personal blows for LaRoque, who had come into the 2011 legislative session as a member of Tillis’ inner circle, as a co-chair of the House Rules Committee. But LaRoque’s polarizing behavior and biting tongue quickly garnered him attention in the General Assembly, including comments he made called NAACP members “racist” and chastising unemployed workers.
LaRoque was also the subject of a NC Policy Watch investigation last year “Public benefits, personal gains” which found he used his two federally-funded economic development non-profits (the East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company) to pay himself a generous salary (as high as $195,000 one year), stack his board of directors with immediate family members and lend to close associates, including two fellow GOP lawmakers (both of whom decided not to seek office again.)
LaRoque also took out a $200,000 loan from the non-profits for his personal business, a move that non-profit legal experts have said violates IRS tax rules that prohibit non-profit insiders from benefitting from their charities. He also settled a defamation lawsuit last September that he filed against his Democratic opponent from the last election by having the federally-funded non-profit pay $17,000 worth of contempt of court fines to the lawyers on the opposing side.
LaRoque has been adamant he did nothing wrong, and had a right to make a profit off his own business endeavors, but the actions at his non-profit caught the attention of both the Legislative Ethics Committee and federal investigators. USDA officials confirmed in January that USDA officials are looking into how LaRoque handled the $8 million his non-profits took in as part of an anti-poverty business development program.
LaRoque has since hired Joe Cheshire, one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the state, though no charges have been filed against LaRoque.
Both the ethics committee and federal investigators have been quiet about their probes into LaRoque, and how extensive those investigations may or may not be.