NC Sen. candidate JD Wooten. JD Wooten
NC Sen. candidate JD Wooten.

The Democrat candidate for an open legislative seat questions his GOP opponent on Confederate statue decision.

When the death of George Floyd reignited protests around the world, the shadows of past and present racism and white supremacy became contentious issues in a state Senate race in North Carolina’s Triad counties. 

Voters in Alamance and eastern Guilford counties who live in state Senate District 24 will have a choice between Amy Galey, the Republican lawyer who serves as the chairwoman for the Alamance County Board of  Commissioners, and JD Wooten, a Democrat. The seat is open after Republican state Sen. Rick Gunn announced earlier this year he wouldn’t be seeking re-election. 

Wooten ran for the seat in 2018, but was defeated by Gunn.

Some residents of Alamance County have been outspoken about the Confederate statue that stands in front of the county courthouse in downtown Graham, with protesters urging removal of the statue facing off against those who wish to keep it.

RELATED: NC’s Confederate Statues are Coming Down. But Officials in One Town Want to Shut Down Protests Instead.

Wooten, of McLeansville, has criticized Galey, of Burlington, for not taking steps to remove the Confederate statue in her role as chairwoman of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners. 

“I wore the uniform and I swore the oath to support and defend the Constitution, and in doing so I take that very seriously,” said Wooten, an intellectual property lawyer who served in the US Air Force. “The officers of the Confederate States of America swore that same oath that I did, and then they turned their back on that oath and took up arms against this nation. That is the definition of treason.” 

Wooten favors relocation of the monument. Galey did not respond to requests for comment. 

The Alamance county commission had a Tuesday vote to keep the monument where it stands, according to Spectrum News 1.

The outcomes of the 2020 election cycle in North Carolina stand to influence the state’s redistricting process following the 2020 census. The state legislature has been under Republican control for the last decade, but, with newly drawn districts, Democrats believe they have a shot at changing that. They hope to win in several state senate races like this that are being viewed as toss-ups. Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to hold on to their majority in both houses.

State Legislative Race Heats Up

Despite action statewide to remove statues and monuments tied to the Confederacy, Alamance and Graham officials have taken a more heavy handed approach than others to protect the Confederate statue and stifle dissent, including declaring a state of emergency, enacting curfews, and requiring residents to file a permit to protest. 

Last month, Galey had a resident forcibly removed from a commissioner’s meeting when she spoke out against the statue. The resident, Meg WIlliams, spoke directly to representatives from UPS who were present at the meeting to make a decision about locating a distribution center in the North Carolina Commerce Park.  When the resident refused to address her comments to the Alamance County Board of Commissioners, Galey asked Sheriff Terry Johnson to remove Williams from the chamber. UPS told local news outlets they support the removal of the statue. 

Even at the urging of two Alamance County mayors, the Alamance County manager and officials from Elon University, Galey has not been open to removing the statue.

“There’s nothing to vote on, because it’s illegal to move it,” Galey said in June. The Alamance County Board of Commissioners released a statement, claiming the commissioners don’t have the legal authority to move the monument under the state’s 2015 monument law. But other elected bodies around the state have still moved forward with removal of Confederate statues, many of which went up during the Jim Crow era, citing the  public safety issues posed by the controversial statues. 

Like many officials, Wooten said he doesn’t condone the destruction of Confederate statues, but he feels they should be relocated.

“These statues have a place in our history,” said Wooten. “They represent a very dark period of our country’s history that we should not under any circumstances forget. But there’s a better place for him. And that’s a museum.” 

Wooten Makes Pitch to Voters

Wooten’s campaign lists “equality for all” as a priority in addition to funding for better education and affordable healthcare. He’s hoping voters send him to the legislature to make good on those campaign promises. 

“When I came home after a decade of service, I found a North Carolina that I didn’t recognize,” Wooten said. “Republicans in Raleigh represent leadership that is not working for hardworking North Carolinians and I’m running to help change that.”

The election in this district has been combative, with accusations lobbed by Galey that Wooten misused a Veterans Affairs-backed loan in 2019 to buy a house outside of his senate district.

A recent fact-check by the News & Observer found that wasn’t the case, and that Wooten had not intended to run for office when he bought the home. The fact checkers also found Wooten lived in the district at least a year before the election, and there is no evidence the lender has objected, or claimed to have been defrauded by Wooten.