JOHN HOOD COLUMN: Labor race draws 4 GOP candidates

Published 3:18 pm Monday, January 22, 2024

RALEIGH — The commissioner of labor is one of 10 independently elected members of the Council of State, which constitutes the executive branch of North Carolina’s government.

Republican Josh Dobson, a former state legislator, is vacating the office after a single four-year term. His predecessor was Republican Cherie Berry, also a former member of the North Carolina House, who served as labor commissioner for 20 years.

The position is primarily a regulatory one, overseeing not only employment practices and workplace safety but also the inspection of institutional boilers, rollercoasters and other amusement rides, hoists, tramways, escalators and, famously, elevators.

Over the course of her five campaigns for labor commissioner, Berry often faced high-profile Democratic opponents, including former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, former Labor Commissioner John Brooks and former legislator Wayne Goodwin, who went on to serve as insurance commissioner and as head of the state Democratic Party. All lost to the “Elevator Queen.”

When she retired in 2020, Dobson replaced her by defeating another strong Democratic nominee, Jessica Holmes, a former chair of Wake County’s commission who is now the appointed state auditor of North Carolina and running for election to the position this year.

For the 2024 cycle, only one Democrat filed for labor commissioner: Braxton Winston, who was until last month a member of the Charlotte City Council. He’ll face one of four candidates vying for the Republican nomination.

Luke Farley is an attorney at the Raleigh office of the firm Ellis & Winters, specializing in legal matters related to construction and real estate. He formerly chaired the Durham County Board of Elections, served on the North Carolina Human Relations Commission, and interned in the state’s legislature and judiciary.

In his campaign messages, Farley endorses North Carolina’s right-to-work law, opposes vaccination as a condition for employment and calls for stronger partnerships among businesses, workers and regulators to promote workplace safety. “If we don’t want to kill jobs and hurt our prosperity,” he says, “we need an experienced, common-sense conservative to run the Labor Department.” Cherie Berry has endorsed his candidacy.

Jon Hardister has represented a Guilford County district in the North Carolina House since 2013 and currently serves as the chamber’s majority whip. The vice president of First Carolina Mortgage in Greensboro, he’s a board member of Revolution Academy Charter School and UNC-Greensboro’s School of Health and Human Services.

Hardister says he’d establish a Workforce Development Task Force and work with state lawmakers to expand career and technical education. He also promises to “oppose overreach from the federal government” and target “outdated and excessive regulations that hamper our growth potential.” He has the endorsement of Josh Dobson, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate leader Phil Berger and other legislative leaders.

Chuck Stanley serves as safety manager and superintendent of operations at a construction company in Columbus County. A former firefighter, sheriff’s deputy and county administrator, he describes himself as “a hard working family man” who has “what it takes to get the job done.”

In his current and former jobs, Stanley worked closely with agencies of the Department of Labor to promote safety. In his endorsement, Boardman Mayor Randy Williams described Stanley as a public servant “who is not afraid to get his hands dirty.” Stanley also ran for the GOP nomination in 2020, winning 38% of the vote to Dobson’s 40%.

The fourth candidate in the race, Travis Wilson, is a former missionary, retail clerk and custodian who lives in Union County. In 2022, he ran for a seat on the county commission but lost in the primary.

Wilson describes himself as “a lifelong Republican who holds conservative values and the blue-collar experience that resonates with voters.” He promises to advance free-market principles, protect independent contractors, and provide efficient and accessible service as labor commissioner.

Early voting begins on Feb. 15. The primary will conclude with in-person voting on March 5. All four GOP candidates have websites that provide additional information about their backgrounds, campaigns and issue priorities.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.