LINCOLN TIMES-NEWS STAFF
One race leading up to Tuesday’s primary may have gotten a bit more contentious this week.
A dispute has arisen in the past few days regarding a letter of endorsement for a candidate for the N.C. House of Representatives from District 97.
Jim Klein, a current member of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and Republican candidate for the seat, alerted area news media via email on Saturday to the situation, which stems from a letter endorsing N.C. Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, allegedly by N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.
Klein has found fault with the letter, based on a previous conversation he had had with Tillis regarding what involvement the speaker would have during primary campaign races and fundraising.
According to a March email correspondence between the two, Tillis made it clear that he would not be supporting a specific candidate in the primary, with the stipulation that the candidates running “must be in good standing with the House Republican Caucus.”
However, a letter dated April 27 and appearing to be signed by Tillis that was sent to a group of conservative Lincoln County voters seems to show otherwise.
“I am reaching out to you today in support of Rep. Jason Saine from the 97th District,” the letter reads. “I ask for you to support Rep. Jason Saine by making a financial contribution to his campaign today.”
Klein confronted Tillis about the letter via email over the weekend and asked him to confirm its authenticity, to which Tillis replied that the letter was not authorized by him.
“This is the first time I have seen it,” wrote Tillis. “The caucus has my authorization to use my letterhead in noncontested primaries, but this should not have happened.”
Since then, it appears the nature of the letter’s origin is in dispute.
“I have been made aware this morning that Jim Klein is attempting to portray a fundraising letter that was sent out on Speaker Thom Tillis’ approved letterhead on my behalf is somehow me being disingenuous,” Saine wrote in an email Sunday morning to local news media.
“The letter and letterhead was approved by staff after a request by my fundraiser person for such a letter,” he added.
Tillis has also decided to weigh in regarding the controversy, releasing a statement Sunday evening.
“Yesterday, I was made aware of a situation regarding a campaign communication from my office that suggested support for Rep. Jason Saine’s campaign for N.C. House,” he wrote. “When I was contacted by Mr. James Klein regarding his concern about a communication, I promptly replied that it was an honest mistake.”
“I now know that it was truly an honest administrative error, however I required my staff to personally apologize to Mr. Klein. I also offered to issue a public statement acknowledging the error. Unfortunately, it appears Mr. Klein has chosen to exploit an honest mistake for his own benefit, and I must oppose this.”
He concluded by saying that Klein has not responded to a House Republican Caucus request for information that would allow him to be a candidate “in good standing.” But he added that, should he do so, the caucus will determine whether he satisfies the necessary criteria.
Until then, Tillis stated that Saine is the only candidate in the race with that distinction and offered him his support.
“I fully endorse and support Rep. Saine in his campaign for the North Carolina House of Representatives,” he concluded. “I hope you will support Rep. Jason Saine in his efforts to represent you in 2013.”
Saine issued a statement to the Times-News on Tuesday, following Tillis’ official endorsement.
“I am proud to have the endorsement of the Speaker of the House and believe it is unfortunate that Mr. Klein has acted in such a manner,” he said.
“I believe it clearly demonstrates who has the abilities to best represent the interests of Lincoln County in the legislature. Mr. Klein has already ostracized himself before ever taking office should he win. That’s bad public policy for the people of our district.”
Klein told the Times-News Thursday that he had never received the caucus questionnaire and wished there had been more effort on behalf of staff to follow up regarding it. He has received one now and returned it, confirming the caucus is in receipt of it.
However, he said his issue with the situation centers more on the letter itself than the matter of his good standing.
“I considered it, and still do (consider it), more than an error,” he said in reference to Tillis’ explanation regarding the letter, also adding that there was “more to it than I know.”
Nonetheless, Klein said he has decided not to pursue it any further and will not file a complaint with state elections officials.
If elected, he is confident that he and Tillis will have plenty of time to “shake hands and make up.”