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Lawmaker Takes Aim At GOP Contributor After Election Board Orders New Primary

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KINSTON, N.C. — A second Republican primary should be held for the 10th District House seat, the State Board of Elections ruled Monday, citing voting irregularities and machine troubles.

The decision means that state Rep. Stephen LaRoque and Willie Ray Starling will face off again as Starling said he did not plan to appeal the board's ruling.

Starling led by 11 votes going in to the meeting by a 913-902 margin from the May 2 primary, but the margin was cut to seven when LaRoque said he found four additional provisional ballots in his favor.

"I'm speechless. My attorneys did an outstanding job presenting our case," LaRoque said as he shook hands with supporters immediately after the board voted to authorize the new election.

Board Chairman Larry Leake said the election will be scheduled after state and county election officials from Lenoir, Greene and Wayne counties discuss the issue. The three-county election is expected to cost about $75,000.

Starling said he would not appeal, citing the cost.

"The taxpayers are the ones who will be out the money with a new election being held," he said. "There's going to be another election held based on no substantial evidence (of voting irregularities), just on conjecture and innuendoes."

Now that LaRoque has another shot at Starling, he's taking direct aim at businessman Art Pope. A group that Pope financed sent out these mailings that attacked LaRoque in the first primary, tying him to Democrat and House Speaker Jim Black and tax hikes.

"We will address those lies and half truths," said LaRoque. "We will expose Willie Ray Starling for being the puppet of Art Pope that he is."

Starling argues Pope doesn't control him. He said voters just saw him as the true Christian conservative.

"I don't profess to be one," said Starling. "I am one."

LaRoque has now stepped up his criticism of Pope and the power of money. He compared Pope's contributions to be on par with the actions of former lawmaker Michael Decker, who last week pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy. Decker admitted taking $50,000 to switch parties and help Black remain in power. Pope has used his family money to support certain Republicans.

"I think in many ways it's worse, because he's in there buying seats," said LaRoque. "He's trying to get a majority of legislative seats."

Pope called the accusation "defamatory" and an insult to him and voters. He said he and his company follow all campaign finance laws.

"It is Stephen LaRoque who is a supporter of the corrupt Jim Black," said Pope. "I've not done anything wrong. There's no basis for those charges."

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