Republicans Share More Details About Filling Vacancy; Former Commissioner Could Apply

By Cece Nunn, posted Mar 28, 2023
Skip Watkins struggles to keep his emotions in check when talking about Deb Hays, the New Hanover County Commissioner who died Saturday. 

Watkins, a former commissioner who lost his bid to join the board again in 2020 with 500 fewer votes than Democrat Jonathan Barfield, said he is interested in applying for the vacant seat and finding out more about the process. But tears well up when he thinks about his friend and fellow Republican. 

"Not only was she a conservative fiscally, but she was also a compassionate individual," Watkins said Tuesday. "I don’t know how we replace her."

Local Republican Party officials are planning to start taking applications for the seat Thursday, according to a party statement. Originally, they thought the process might start Tuesday but announced the change Monday evening. Hays was elected in 2020 to a four-year term.

"Out of love and respect for the family and friends of Deb Hays, the New Hanover GOP will be taking applications for those interested in finishing her term beginning Thursday, March 30, and will close the application process Monday, April 3. The goal is still to get a name to the commissioners by April 14," said Nevin Carr, chairman of the NHC Republican Party. "This is such a difficult time as we grieve Deb and yet fulfill our responsibilities, and the situation is a fluid one."

Watkins was previously a New Hanover County Commissioner from 2014 to 2018 before he was ousted by then-Democrat Julia Olson-Boseman in the 2018 board of commissioners election. Olson-Boseman was defeated in the primaries last year and switched her affiliation to Republican after the loss.

Asked via text if Olson-Boseman plans to apply for the open Republican seat, she texted back, "No."

Applications are expected to be available on the party's website, officials said Tuesday.
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