After Tillis 'scare,' a look at the rules of U.S. Senate appointments and NC's history of it

Seven times an N.C. governor has had to appoint a senator


RALEIGH — U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis had a scare Wednesday morning when he collapsed during a road race in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, despite early incorrect reports that Tillis had CPR performed on him, the junior senator from North Carolina posted a video from Capitol Hill saying he was fine and had received "a clean bill of health."

Tillis seems OK, but what would happen if he or another senator had to resign for health reasons?

The 17th Amendment of the Constitution, adopted in 1913, established the popular election of U.S. senators. Previously, senators were appointed by state legislatures. The amendment also put in place the procedure for filling Senate vacancies.

North Carolina is one of 36 states that gives its governor the power to fill a Senate vacancy, and that appointee holds the seat until the next scheduled statewide general election held more than 60 days after the vacancy occurs.

But there is a wrinkle in North Carolina: it is one of four states (along with Arizona, Hawaii and Utah) where the governor must appoint a replacement from the same political party as the senator who vacated the position.

In 2009 members of the North Carolina General Assembly, like legislators from 11 other states, attempted to change the law to require an earlier special election, but the measure failed in N.C.

If today a sitting U.S. senator in North Carolina were to vacate his position — be it by death or another cause — Gov. Roy Cooper would be obligated to fill the spot with a Republican, since both of the state’s senators, Tillis and Sen. Richard Burr, are from the GOP.

The vacancy would still require an election for the seat to be held in the next statewide election, which currently would be 2018 when the seats in the N.C. General Assembly are all on the ballot.

There have been 174 instances of U.S. senators’ seats being filled by appointees, including seven in North Carolina. The first in N.C. was in 1930 and the most recent in 1986, and all but one on the appointees were Democrats.

Here’s a history of U.S. Senate appointees in North Carolina, including their experience both before and after taking over as senator.

Cameron A. Morrison, appointed Dec. 13, 1930

The first person appointed to a North Carolina U.S. Senate seat, Morrison replaced Lee S. Overman. Overman, the first N.C. senator elected by popular vote per the 17th Amendment, died from a stomach hemorrhage while serving his fifth term in the U.S. Senate.

Morrison, born in Rockingham, was previously governor of North Carolina from 1921-25, and he held the Senate seat until 1932. He was defeated in a Democratic primary runoff by Robert R. Reynolds, who went on to win the general election and was senator until 1945. Morrison later served one term as a U.S. representative from 1943-45, and later lost another Senate bid in a Democratic primary in 1944.

Morrison died in 1953 at the age of 83. Morrison Residence Hall at UNC Chapel Hill, built in 1965, was dedicated to him.

William B. Umstead, appointed Dec. 18, 1946

Born in Durham County, Umstead was a U.S. representative from 1933-39 before choosing not to seek re-election to instead serve as chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. Umstead was later appointed by Gov. R. Gregg Cherry to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Josiah Bailey in 1946 following his death. Umstead’s re-election efforts in a special election failed when he was defeated in the Democratic primary by J. Melville Broughton in 1948. Broughton died after just three months in office.

Umstead then ran for governor in 1952 and won, but suffered a heart attack just two days after he was inaugurated. He served less than two years as governor, appointing Sam Ervin as a U.S. senator in June 1954 after the death of Clyde Hoey, but himself died in office Nov. 7, 1954, at age 59.

William B. Umstead Park in Raleigh was named after him in 1966.

Frank Porter Graham, appointed March 29, 1949

Graham was the first president of the consolidated University of North Carolina system, starting in 1932, and stayed in that role until 1949 when Gov. W. Kerr Scott chose him to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat. Graham, born in Fayetteville, had never held political office when he replaced the aforementioned Broughton when the latter died.

Graham ran for re-election and led a three-way race in the Democratic primary, but fell just short of the 50 percent needed at the time to win. In a runoff against state Speaker of the House Willis Smith, Graham lost a tight race. Smith wound up winning the Senate seat, and Graham did not run for office again.

Several buildings at UNC system schools are named for Graham. Graham was also the older brother of Dr. Archibald Wright Graham, who was immortalized in the film “Field Of Dreams” and is better known as Moonlight Graham. A middle school in Charlotte is named for their father, Alexander Graham.

Alton A. Lennon, appointed July 10, 1953

Lennon was appointed by Umstead, then governor, to fill the seat vacated by Smith’s death in 1953. Born in Wilmington, Lennon was an elected judge and served 16 months in the U.S. Senate before losing an re-election bid to Scott, the former governor who had previously thrown his weight behind Graham in the race versus Smith in the Democratic primary.

Lennon later ran for the U.S. House in 1956 and won, holding his representative’s seat for 16 years before opting not to run for re-election on the 1972 ballot.

Lennon returned to law after his public service, but crossed party lines to assist Republican Sen. Jesse A. Helms with his re-election campaign in 1978.

Sam Ervin, appointed June 5, 1954

Ervin became the first appointed senator to earn re-election in North Carolina. Ervin, a native of Morganton and an associate justice on the state Supreme Court at the time, was appointed by Umstead in June 1954 after the death of Hoey, who died in his Washington, D.C., office at the age of 76.

Ervin, a Democrat, won re-election later that year and served in the Senate for 20 years. He is best known for his efforts against Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist McCarthyism, and also for his part in the Watergate investigation that led to the resignation of Republican President Richard Nixon.

Ervin resigned from the Senate in December 1974 and practiced law and wrote books until his death in 1985 at age 88. His son Samuel James Ervin III was a federal judge, and two grandsons have been North Carolina judges.

B. Everett Jordan, appointed April 19, 1958

Jordan was appointed by Gov. Luther H. Hodges to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy left by Scott, the former governor and the husband of Jordan’s first cousin, in April 1958. Jordan, a Democrat, won re-election that fall, defeating Republican Richard C. Clarke Jr. handily.

Jordan was re-elected twice, in 1960 and 1966, but lost the Democratic primary to Nick Galifianakis — the uncle of comedian Zach — in 1972. Galifianakis then lost to Helms, who would hold the seat for three decades.

Born in Ramseur, Jordan died less than two years later at the age of 77. B. Everett Jordan Lake in Chatham County is named for him.

Jim Broyhill, appointed July 14, 1986

Nearly 30 years passed before the next North Carolina appointee to the U.S. Senate, and Broyhill was the first — and so far only — Republican to earn that distinction. Born in Lenoir and the youngest son of a furniture magnate, Broyhill served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 25 years before winning the GOP primary to replace John P. East, who had decided not to run for re-election.

However East — who, according to the New York Times, used a wheelchair due to suffering from polio in his 20s and was in ill health — committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage on June 29, 1986. Fifteen days later, Gov. Jim Martin named Broyhill to take East’s seat, hoping to give Broyhill a boost in the election against former Gov. Terry Sanford. But Sanford won a tight race over Broyhill.

Broyhill, who will turn 90 in August, later served as N.C. secretary of Commerce under Martin.


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