Grange Gets Jump-start On House Seat

By Jenny Callison, posted Oct 7, 2016
Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover, was unopposed in November for the state House District 20 seat. (Photo by Michael Cline Photography)

Even though she has yet to be officially elected to her new post, one local legislator is already at work.

Holly Grange will appear on the November ballot as the unopposed candidate for representative of N.C. House District 20, which includes the northern part of New Hanover County. But she currently serves in that position, having been appointed to the chamber Aug. 29 to replace Rick Catlin, who had declined to seek reelection and who then resigned as District 20 representative Aug. 15.

“He stepped down for my benefit,” Grange said, explaining that Catlin wanted to turn his full attention to running his environmental engineering firm. Since no Democrat chose to run for the seat, when Grange defeated her Republican primary opponent, she faced no opposition in the general election.

The early start is giving her additional time to learn the ropes and meet with colleagues before the 2017 legislative long session begins in January. Catlin is also a resource, she said.

“Rick and I speak frequently to ensure a smooth transition,” she said. “I intend to call on him for advice during the session.”

Grange said that, while she does not have any specific bills she plans to introduce once the legislature convenes, she does want to focus on several issues.

“One is business development because of the growth this region is experiencing,” she said. “We need good jobs. We need to encourage businesses – a full spectrum of businesses, including businesses to populate the [U.S.] 421 corridor.”

Transportation is another priority for Grange, who served on the N.C. State Ports Authority board before being appointed to succeed Catlin. She cited the number of things happening with the regard to the ports, including CSX’s announcement that it will build an intermodal facility in Rocky Mount that will link to the Port of Wilmington.

“I’m excited about the CSX’s intermodal facility. That will continue to be important – again, because of population growth,” she said. 

“Because I’m a veteran, I’m very interested in national security and in veterans benefits,” Grange continued. “We have a lot of veterans in our community.”

Education – specifically K-12 education – also is high on the new representative’s list. She says that, while state legislators have made “great strides” in education-related matters such as the recent increases in teacher pay, things can always be better.

“We are seeing improvement but can’t rest on our laurels,” she said. “There’s more that can be done with teacher pay. We’ve gotten it back up. We want to be sure students graduate from high school and can pursue the paths they choose, that they are prepared to be successful. Teachers need help with supplies and books.”

Grange is concerned about what she considers a top-heavy bureaucracy in North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction.

“I’m a Republican. I believe in small government,” she said. “We don’t want to take money from children for the administration.”

Grange does not seem daunted by making herself an effective presence in the N.C. General Assembly, where less than one-quarter of legislators are women.  After all, she’s been thriving in male-heavy institutions since she enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The academy began admitting women in 1976, and Grange was among the early female cadets. It wasn’t easy, but her experience as a “military brat” had familiarized her with military life and its expectations.

“I followed a piece of advice my father gave me. He told me to go into a field where I would be held up against men, rather than women,” she said. “So I went into the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers, where I was held up against men.”

After serving in the Corps of Engineers for nine years, she enlisted in the Army Reserves and remained there for another six years. During the first Gulf War, Grange was an environmental engineer assigned to Fort Bragg while her Army officer husband, David, was deployed to the Middle East.

Following the war, David Grange’s Army career took him many places in the U.S. and abroad. The family, which included two young sons, moved every one-to-two years. Then, in 2000, David retired and the family moved to Illinois, staying there for a few years. Holly Grange took advantage of the stretch of time and went to law school in 2003, graduating in 2006 and practicing law in Illinois for another three years. She is still a member of the Illinois bar.

Change came again in 2009, when David Grange was hired by PPD. The family picked up once again and moved to Wilmington, where both husband and wife have sunk roots and plan to remain, she said.

During David Grange’s time with the contract research organization and subsequent launch of his own business, Holly became a real estate broker with Century 21 Sweyer & Associates and got involved in the community. She also helped David build his company, Osprey Global Solutions, which provides consulting, security, training and logistical support to organizations with operations in remote areas of the world.

Holly Grange’s board service wasn’t limited to the ports authority. She was on the boards of directors of the USO of North Carolina and the Cape Fear Community College Foundation, and was vice chairwoman of the Coastal Horizons Center board. She served on the advisory board of the Swain Center for Business and Economics at University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Along the way she became good friends with Catlin.

“When he decided not to run again, I saw [serving as representative] as a way that I could contribute,” she said. “I felt I was well qualified for the job.”

While her new role as representative is Holly Grange’s first time in elected office, she believes that her wide-ranging life and career experiences have helped prepare her to analyze and tackle the kinds of complex issues she will face as a House member.

“I think I’m good at looking at the big picture and putting all the elements together,” she said. “And I believe in this community.” 

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