New NC lawmaker resigned hospital position last year over COVID-19 posts

Posted October 21, 2021 10:42 a.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2021 11:41 a.m. EDT

A shot of the entrance area to the N.C. Legislative Building.

— The Republican Party's pick to fill the term of a late Gaston County lawmaker resigned the chairmanship last year of a local hospital board after a series of early pandemic social media posts

Donnie Loftis is a former Gaston County commissioner, an Army veteran and recipient of the Bronze Star, a medal given for heroism or merit. He was on the CaroMont Health board of directors for eight years but resigned in May 2020 after The Charlotte Observer asked about some of his COVID-19 Facebook posts, the newspaper reported at the time.

Loftis made that Facebook page private after The Observer reached out, leaving the messages inaccessible to the general public. The newspaper said he called stay-at-home orders tyranny and posted messages about coronavirus conspiracies.

At the time, CaroMont was urging people to stay home, and one of the system's nurses was in critical condition with COVID-19, the newspaper reported. The system told the newspaper that board members' opinions were "not statements made on the behalf of CaroMont Health nor an indication of the health system’s position on any topic," and Loftis resigned a few days later.

Loftis said Thursday that Gov. Roy Cooper overstepped his authority in shutting down large swaths of the state's economy last year to reduce coronavirus transmission, and he was particularly bothered by mass gathering orders that shut down in-person church services for a time. Indoor church meetings were seen as a particular risk for transmission, partly because singing seems to put more virus into the air.

"I posted that I felt like tyranny was being deployed," he said. "I wasn't on board with shutting down the entire world."

Other posts dealt with "information that had been circulating," Loftis said.

"There were all kind of questions being asked," he said. "As Americans, we have the right, I think, to ask questions so we can comply when necessary or resist when necessary."

Loftis said he resigned to spare CaroMont controversy.

"I regret that CaroMont Health was disparaged," he told WRAL News. "I do not regret standing up and saying your personal freedoms are important."

Loftis also said he had a mild case of COVID-19 in October 2020. He declined to say whether he has since been vaccinated, as health officials recommend.

"If you've been vaccinated, congratulations, I'm happy for you," he said. "If you haven't, that is your business. ... I really get nervous when we start saying, 'We need to see your vaccination card.'"

Loftis replaces the late Rep. Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston, who died earlier this month from cancer, in the state House. The local Republican Party picked Loftis Wednesday to fill the year-plus remaining in Bumgardner's term.

He'll represent Gaston County in the House and said he plans to run next year for a full two-year term.

Loftis was welcomed to the House Wednesday evening by North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley, who congratulated him on social media and said the party looks forward to his service.

Loftis served two terms on the Gaston County Board of Commissioners, from 2000 to 2004, then from 2008 to 2012. In between, he said, he was deployed to Iraq for 14 months with a combat engineering group, where he won the Bronze Star. He was named the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners' Outstanding Commissioner of the Year in 2011, the same year he chaired state and national task forces on veterans issues.

Loftis said his top priorities in the House will be signing on to the Republican majority's budget proposal, which is being renegotiated now with the governor, passing a redistricting plan reworking the state's election maps and limiting "the tyrannical powers of the governor any way possible."

Loftis said he supports legislation the House passed Wednesday, on a near party-line vote, to limit the governor's emergency powers by requiring Council of State approval for closure and other orders that last longer than seven days and approval from the legislature for orders lasting more than 45 days.

"I spent 30 years in the military and serving to protect freedoms of individuals," Loftis said. "We've never experienced a pandemic like this, but, at the same time, freedom is just as important during a national emergency."

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