BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A proposal by the Brunswick County Republican party has some of its own members upset. Party leaders are meeting this week to discuss endorsing one of the two Republican candidates running for judge.
Party insiders say the GOP is looking to formally endorse incumbent Pauline Hankins. As you might imagine, the other Republican candidate feels that's unfair, and is concerned what that endorsement would do to his prospects of winning the race.
Political experts say it is not typical for a political party in a local judges race to endorse one of their candidates over the other. Because judges races are non-partisan, the literature distributed by the party to voters in the mail and at the polls is often the only way voters know which candidates share their political views.
Brunswick County Attorney Richard Cox is disappointed that his own party is considering endorsing his opponent, which could mean leaving his name off the official GOP list of suggested candidates handed out to voters at the polls.
"If somebody comes to the poll, and they are not an informed voter, and they come and they receive this card, and they just see one name, it's basically the party making the decision for them," Cox said, explaining that this is particularly important in a judge's race where there is less name recognition with voters.
Cox's opponent, District Court Judge Pauline Hankins, has the support of Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis, among other high ranking members of the Brunswick County GOP.
"I feel like my party should endorse me. I have been working hard with them for the last two or three years," Hankins said. She added that she was in good standing with the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission, and that Cox had run into trouble with both agencies in recent months for failing to file required paperwork.
Hankins' potential endorsement is particularly concerning to some Republicans, who noted that Judge Hankins is not up to par compared to fellow district court judges. They were referencing the results of a survey released by the North Carolina Bar Association.
The rankings are based on feedback from attorneys on a judge's perceived integrity and impartiality, legal ability, professionalism, communication and administrative skills. Hankins' overall rating comes in 136 out of 140 district court judges across the state, with 1 being the highest rating and 140 being the lowest.
Helen Pannullo, Chairman of the GOP for NC's 7th Congressional District, sent a letter to GOP executive members advertising the meeting this Thursday, where they will consider endorsing a candidate for the judges race. Pannullo told us by phone Monday that there is precedent for endorsing a candidate in a local judges race before.
In 2014, when Fred Gore was challenging Sherry Prince to be a district court judge for Bladen, Columbus, and Brunswick Counties, the party endorsed Gore. In that case, both candidates had recently switched from the Democrat to Republican party. Pannullo said that after both candidates made presentations and answered questions from the committee, the party chose to endorse Gore.
Joe Agovino, Chair of the Brunswick County GOP, says that the party is simply considering their options for a potential endorsement. The party can decide to put both Cox and Hankins names on the slate of suggested candidates for voters, put neither of their names on the slate, or pick one candidate to endorse. Because they are the only two candidates in the general election, Cox says an endorsement from the party could make or break one's chances of winning the election.