Gloves are off: Cook swings at Evans

Published 7:28 pm Saturday, February 18, 2012

The local race to be one of North Carolina’s 50 state senators just got combative.
In an interview last week, state Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, said his Republican opponent would win the May 8 primary election “over my dead body.”
Cook, a retired electric-utility executive and Cypress Landing resident, is giving up his House job to run for Senate in the 1st District, which includes Beaufort County.
He chided Realtor Jerry Evans of Washington for running against him without telling him in advance.
“If he wins this primary it will be over my dead body,” Cook said.
The lawmaker said he was unaware Evans was going after the Senate 1 office until Feb. 11, the Saturday before the filing period began for North Carolina candidates.
“Somebody called me and said they had heard that somebody might do something,” Cook said, recalling rumors that ran rampant before the filing period kicked off.
Cook saw and spoke with Evans during the East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival, and even shook his fellow politician’s hand.
“We talked for a couple of minutes,” Cook continued. “Did he mention (his candidacy)? No. Maybe I’m weird, but I’m pretty up straight. If I’d have been him I’d have said something to me, so I didn’t take that real kindly. And I’m not sure what he’s thinking.”
Then Cook referred to Evans’ party switch, perhaps foreshadowing an emerging campaign theme.
Evans ran for Beaufort County commissioner as a Democrat in 2010. Later, he switched to the GOP, explaining he had been a Republican before and identified with the party’s philosophies.
“It certainly is not a way for somebody who was a Republican, then they were a Democrat and now they’re a Republican — that’s not a real good way to make the party want to support you,” Cook said of Evans. “And I think that’s going to hurt him quite a bit.”
Asked to respond to Cook’s “over my dead body” comment, Evans said, “I don’t know that I’ve got a response to that.”
Evans said he had announced he would run for state House in District 6, Cook’s old seat, after the representative made it known he would try for the Senate slot.
“The more research I did I decided I wanted to do the most I could for the people of eastern North Carolina,” Evans continued.
As for shaking hands with Cook at the wildlife arts festival, “I think the rumor’s been out that I was looking at the Senate, and I think he knew that before the wildlife show,” Evans said.
Evans added he hadn’t made a final decision about his Senate run until he and his wife sat down to discuss his options the Sunday afternoon before filing, after he saw Cook at the festival.
The 1st District winner of the primary will advance to the Nov. 6 general election, likely facing incumbent Sen. Stan White, D-Dare.
Last year, a Democratic Party committee appointed White to serve out the unexpired term of longtime Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare.
District 1 includes eight northeast counties, among them Hyde, Dare and Beaufort.
Cook and Evans also seem to be warring for the support of legislative leaders whose public endorsements or behind-the-scenes advice or backing could help their campaigns.
Evans has said senators contacted him about making a bid for the 1st District slot. He has declined to name those senators.
Cook also claims some legislators’ support.
His point about having connections in Raleigh was illustrated during the interview when he paused to take a cellphone call from Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, House majority leader.
Cook was elected to the House in 2010, when he unseated Rep. Arthur Williams in the old House District 6. Evans has never held elective office, but has been working to build connections with the area business and political community.