Wednesday night, Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy followed in the footsteps of other statewide politicians on both sides of the political spectrum in asking N.C. Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, to consider resigning his position.
LaRoque, who was handed eight indictments by a grand jury Tuesday on accusations he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal government, was advised earlier in the day by N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, that it would be a wise decision if LaRoque stepped down from his legislative seat.
Tillis told The Associated Press his advice wasn’t based on whether he believes LaRoque is guilty or innocent but in protecting the institution of the House.
Murphy, the first Republican mayor in Kinston since Reconstruction and a politician who was closely aligned with LaRoque earlier in Murphy’s political career, agreed with Tillis’ sentiments in a press release.
“As a constituent of the 10th House district and the Chief Elected Official of the City of Kinston, I echo the statement from the North Carolina Speaker of the House in advising Representative LaRoque to consider stepping down,” Murphy said in the press release. “I believe in due process and innocence until proven guilty, however it appears to be in the best interest of the 10th House district to be removed from the shadow of this indictment.”
When contacted for further comment Wednesday night, Murphy didn’t stray from his press release.
“The statement I’ve made is purely based on the best interest of the people of the city of Kinston,” Murphy said. “Rep. LaRoque represents 22,000 people in the city of Kinston and I believe the Speaker was right. As the chief elected official (of Kinston), I feel a sense of obligation to publicly acknowledge my agreement with the Speaker.”
In September, state Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Chatham, requested “fuller examination of the allegations” against LaRoque. Hackney reaffirmed that request in an open letter to House Speaker Tom Tillis on Wednesday that was sent to The Free Press.
“Following the eight-count federal indictment issued against Rep. LaRoque on July 17, I am renewing my request for an ethics investigation into the allegations against him,” Hackney stated in the letter. “It is past time for the members of this chamber to consider whether he is qualified to continue representing the people of his district.”
The call for LaRoque’s resignation may be moot and purely ceremonial, though; the legislature isn’t expected to reconvene and LaRoque narrowly lost to John Bell in May’s GOP primary for the District 10 seat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.