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Accused lawmaker should resign

Rob Schofield

Rob Schofield

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

By many of the usual political metrics, State Rep. Cody Henson ought to be an up and comer.

Henson, a young Republican from western North Carolina is an ex-Marine with a winning smile. His biography on the website VoteSmart.org reports that he was an infantry machine gun team leader in the Marine Corps Reserve who then found work as a call center supervisor with a global marketing company.

He is described as a member of Midway Baptist Church whose favorite quote if from Ronald Reagan: "I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life."

Meanwhile, the list of contributors to his campaigns reads like a "who's who" of the modern North Carolina political establishment: House Speaker Tim Moore, $5,200; State Rep. Mitch Setzer, $5,000; State Rep. Julia Howard, $3,000; Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, $1,250; N.C Beer and Wine Wholesalers, $1,109.10; Duke Energy, N.C. Home Builders Association, N.C. Association of Realtors and N.C. Farm Bureau, $1,000 each.

Unfortunately, there is, by all appearances, a dark and troubled side to Rep. Henson. As multiple news outlets have reported in recent weeks, Henson is the subject of a domestic violence complaint by his estranged wife, Kelsey Henson.

In February, a judge issued a domestic violence protective order under the state's 50B statute in which he directed Henson to have no contact with his wife for one year.

Last week, Henson made his first appearance before a judge in response to being charged with criminal cyberstalking. At that hearing, a judge ordered Henson to turn over all of his firearms. According to a report by Carolina Public Press, the prosecutor in the case informed the judge that Henson — who has been accused of repeatedly sending his wife harassing texts after being asked to stop — "posted an image of firearms to social media the morning after a heated argument with his wife in early 2018, which she perceived as a threat of violence."

A trial date in the criminal cyberstalking case has been set for May 2. Not surprisingly for an elected official, Henson's troubles have already led to political ramifications. The lawmaker announced last week that he will not seek re-election in 2020 —though, as so often seems to be the case in situations like this, he made no mention of his legal troubles and talked only of a desire to spend time with his young children.

The hard and sad reality of the matter, however, is that a promise to leave office 21 months from now simply isn't good enough. Henson needs to resign now and if he won't, House Speaker Tim Moore needs to publicly demand it.

It's true, as some have argued, that Henson has not yet been convicted of a crime and that he is innocent until proven guilty. When it comes to the privilege of serving in public office, however, the bar needs to be significantly higher. Henson is an important public official who will, if he stays in office, be asked to vote on all manner of important proposed laws in the coming months — many of which are related to issues of violence, safety and firearm regulation.

(Last year, Henson actually sponsored legislation to further loosen state gun violence laws by making it easier for persons with "concealed carry" permits to bring their firearms on to the grounds of college campuses and places of religious worship.)

This year, Henson is a member of the House Select Committee on School Safety — a committee created in the aftermath of the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida. Meanwhile, he serves numerous constituents who will almost assuredly want to reach out and talk to him about proposals like House Bill 454 — a proposal introduced this past week to authorize the issuance of "extreme risk protection orders" that allow judges to temporarily restrict an individual's access to firearms when there is evidence presented that the person in question may pose a danger of physical harm to themselves or others.

How in the world will that work out? What is Henson going to do — recuse himself from taking a position on the legislation due to a potential conflict of interest? And how is a constituent — say, a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence — going to feel any degree of safety and peace of mind when she tries to speak to the lawmaker on such an issue?

And even if that weren't an issue, how can someone adequately represent his constituents when he's busy preparing to defend himself in a criminal trial?

The bottom line: Rep. Henson's situation is tragic for his wife and children, his constituents and him. One can only hope that he and his family get the help they need. But for the good of all involved — particularly the people of the 113th House District — Speaker Moore should demand his resignation.

Rob Schofield is director of NC Policy Watch.

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