Jon Hardister, aka Majority Whip, faces two Republican challengers in the May 8 primary.
Republican Jon Hardister was first elected to the state House in 2012 after his party redrew the district map, flipping one of the Guilford County seats from blue to red. A quick study on policy matters and conservative politician with an agreeable disposition, Hardister has risen to the position of majority whip in his six years in office.
Shortly before the filing period earlier this year, the courts ordered a new map, flipping one of the Guilford seats back to blue. But Hardister, who moved from Greensboro to Whitsett, managed to remain in GOP-friendly territory during the game of musical chairs, while his maverick Republican colleague John Blust was forced into retirement.
Compared to Hardister’s old district, which poked a finger into Republican-friendly parts of Greensboro, the new District 59 forms a rural horseshoe along the eastern flank of the city. Despite, or maybe because of his stature in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, Hardister hasn’t avoided challenges from within his own party. Mark McDaniel, a former state senator, is waging a withering attack on Hardister’s role in a 2013 bill to expand the sales tax, while Karen Albright, a paralegal, said her candidacy was more or less an accident. She had planned to challenge the Democratic incumbent in neighboring District 58 and hadn’t realized that the court-ordered redistricting shifted her into District 59.
Whoever wins the May 8 Republican primary in District 59 will go on to face Democrat Steven Buccini in the November general election.
As a conservative lawmaker with urban roots in a Democratic-leaning county, Hardister has earned a mixed reputation on social issues: He was caught off guard in March 2016 by the furious backlash against his party-line vote for HB 2, a notorious bill that prevented transgender people from using bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity, among other measures. Bemused by the outcry, Hardister posted a photograph of himself posing next to a chalkboard sign outside of Scuppernong Books saying “restroom access denied” to the four Republican members of the Guilford County delegation, including himself.
But Hardister’s free-market philosophy has dovetailed with urban constituents seeking to liberalize alcohol laws to promote tourism and support the flourishing microbrewing industry. The so-called “Brunch Bill,” passed in June 2017 allowed alcohol sales to begin at 10 a.m. on Sundays contingent on local approval; the city councils in Greensboro and High Point, along with the Guilford County Commission promptly signed on. The legislation also increased the number of bottles distillers can sell per year to each customer from one to five, and allowed breweries to sell 32-ounce crowlers from their premises.
“Craft distilleries and breweries have become a major part of our economy,” said Hardister, who serves as vice chairman of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee. “We need to help these businesses operate so they can create jobs, promote tourism and grow our economy.”
McDaniel is focusing on one issue: Hardister’s vote with his fellow Republicans to expand the sales tax into services like auto repair, plumbing and air-conditioning repair, as part of the 2013 overhaul that reduced personal and corporate income rates.
“The fact that this so-called Republican gave birth to a new tax — the sales tax on services, which never existed in the history of North Carolina — this is a dangerous and fatal flaw for voters of all kinds,” McDaniel said. “It’s a misery tax. It’s a tax where if you get your car repaired you have to pay for the labor cost…. They’ve broken through a barrier that heretofore in our history was never broken. If you have a thousand-dollar labor bill because you had to get your transmission fixed, you have to pay $70 in sales tax.”
Hardister has hit back, accusing McDaniel in a recent Facebook post of being “dishonest” and “running a campaign that is based on distortions and scare tactics.”
“Here’s the truth: The tax burden in North Carolina has been reduced by over $4 billion,” Hardister wrote. “Income taxes have been reduced; corporate taxes are down; standard deductions are tripled; the estate tax is eliminated; and we cut the gas tax.”
Hardister acknowledged in the post that “the sales tax was expanded into certain services.”
McDaniel said the demographics of the Republican base has shifted.
“This is no longer a country-club party; it’s a party of working people and small businessmen,” he said. “The concern that I also have is that this is an attempt at a tax shift that will expand this into healthcare and veterinarian care — all kinds of things we buy. That would be ruinous. We would have to change our logo from an elephant to a mammoth because we would be just as extinct.”
Hardister vowed in his Facebook post that he would never support a tax on medical services.
“This is an outright lie and it is also a scare tactic,” he wrote. “I do not and never have supported a tax on medical services.”
Albright said when she realized she was running against two fellow Republicans she tried to withdraw, but she missed the deadline. She said the staff at the Guilford County Board of Elections told her that regardless her name will be on the ballot but advised her that she could “keep a low profile.”
Since then, Albright said she’s decided to make a go of the campaign.
“This is not about me,” she said. “When I spoke to the police department, I said, ‘I don’t have any idea what you need. With my legal background here, you can tell me what you need, and I can go to Raleigh and vote on it.’ Like they teach you in paralegal school, what you feel is not really important.”
While her campaign pitch is light on policy objectives, Albright described herself as “a touch liberal.”
When asked to elaborate, Albright said, “With the issues on immigration, I eat at a Mexican restaurant. I love everybody in there; they’re great. My husband and I have dinner. I have acquaintances that are Latino. That’s a touchy, touchy subject. I guess where I’m more liberal is I have a kind heart and I believe in sharing.”