Louis Pate of Mount Olive was sworn in for his fifth term in the North Carolina Senate during a private ceremony Tuesday in the Legislative Building, only to be given an excused absence for Wednesday’s opening session.
And on Wednesday former Wayne County commissioner Steve Keen, who attended the session, told the News-Argus that Pate, a Republican, was not being sworn in on Wednesday and that a report from Lt. Gov. Dan Forest was that Pate is unable to serve this session.
Keen’s comments about Pate, who suffered an undisclosed health issue prior to last November’s election, are disputed by Wayne GOP Chairman Freeman Hardison and Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
Keen also announced that he would be a candidate for appointment to that office should Pate step down.
“As I have discussed many times over the last few years with Sen. Pate, specifically during the 2018 filing process, if and when there may be a time where illness would interfere with his service, it would be an honor for me to be a candidate in serving the citizens of Wayne/Lenoir counties,” Keen said in a statement to the News-Argus.
“I am honored to make that commitment at this time.
“Most importantly, Beverly and I are praying for Sen. Pate to fully recover and be able to continue serving. At whatever future point Sen. Pate chooses to retire or is unable to continue serving, it would be an honor to be considered as part of the appointment process to serve the citizens of Wayne and Lenoir counties.”
Ryan said it is no secret that Pate has health problems, but that comments that Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has announced that Pate is not able to serve this session are untrue.
Pate is pondering his future right now, he said.
Pate did not respond to calls to his home or office.
There has been no official notice about Pate’s future in the Senate, Hardison said.
“My official stance is until Sen. Pate tells me that he is not going to serve, he is serving out his term,” Hardison said. “The last time that I spoke with him before the holidays he was looking forward to serving his term.
“Now if he has changed his mind, I know nothing about it. But I am telling people, because I have several people coming out of the woodwork pestering me about it, that until he tells me that he is not serving that I am not going to entertain those folks.”
Pate has done a great job for Wayne and Lenoir counties, Hardison said.
If people want to run, they need to put their names out there and not do “the Steve Keen thing” coming out with a statement, he said.
“That statement has been disproved by the lieutenant governor’s office as being false,’’ Hardison said. “They did not issue that statement.”
Hardison said he thinks Keen was just trying to get his name out ahead of everyone else.
“But I am not entertaining anything from anyone until Sen. Pate tells me he is not going to serve,” he said. “That’s the official stance of the Wayne County GOP.””
Should Pate step down, the Wayne and Lenoir county GOP executive committees would get together, with assistance on the process from the state GOP, to come up with a nominee to send to Gov. Roy Cooper for approval, Hardison said.
The question of Pate’s ability to serve was raised last October in a News-Argus story on a series of questions about the campaign.
Pate did not return phone calls to his home or office asking for responses to the same questions put to his Democratic opponent, retired Judge David Brantley.
At that time, Ryan referred the News-Argus to Ray Martin, who was media director for the N.C. Republican Caucus, who asked if the questions could be emailed.
The News-Argus agreed to do so, but with a stipulation that Pate respond to questions concerning his ability to perform his duties if elected and a rumor that he planned to step down if elected.
Pate had said earlier in October that an unspecified health issue had forced him to curtail his campaigning.
“I don’t know what your sources are, but they aren’t reliable,” Martin said in October. “And if they aren’t willing to go on the record, they certainly aren’t. Sounds like another dirty rumor the Brantley campaign is spreading about Louis Pate.”
There was no further response, and the questions were not answered.
Martin was contacted Wednesday for comment about the latest development.
“I’m not with the GOP any longer — I’ve left to start my own company,” he said. “What I told you during the campaign was honest and factual. Circumstances have changed.”