WNC Republican luminaries gathered in the Expo Center at the Crowne Plaza Resort for the 26th annual Charles H. Taylor Holiday Dinner earlier this month. The evening featured U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, Congressman Elect Mark Harris, and N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell as the master of ceremonies.
Folwell was sworn in as State treasurer of North Carolina in January 2017. As such he is responsible for a $100 billion state pension fund that provides retirement benefits for more than 900,000 teachers, law enforcement officers, and other public workers. Under his leadership the pension plan has been rated among the top five highest funded in the country.
“For 25 years this dinner has been sponsored by Congressman Charles Taylor and his family to recognize outstanding heroes in politics and small business, and to encourage people who love their nation and work hard to keep it free,” the program stated. “The annual event provides an opportunity to meet the people who represent them, or want to represent them, and to recognize the small businesses which provide tens of millions of jobs, and the small business heroes who have the courage to fight the onerous taxes and regulations that threaten the nation’s livelihood.”
Among the highlights of the evening, Forrest Earl Jarrett was presented with the 2018 Individual American Eagle Award for Public Service. Governor Pat McCrory previously presented him with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine—the state’s highest civilian honor—after he saved the historic train depot in Marshall from demolition. The Marshall Depot is now a venue for weekly celebrations of mountain music and dance.
Jarrett spent decades as the Director of Police for Southern Railway and later Norfolk Southern after the merger. He established pistol ranges for use by the police and FBI, and worked with Congressman Taylor to purchase property for a 500 acre lake and hunting preserve. That effort was stalled by the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, but with Jarrett’s continued efforts and the assistance of Judge Alan Thornburg, the property was acquired and turned over to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Today, the Sandy Mush Game Lands are open to the public for hunting, fishing, camping, bird watching and other such activities.
Buncombe County entrepreneur Mike Summey was given the 2018 Individual American Eagle Award for Business. He built a multimillion dollar outdoor advertising company spanning two states, while building a real estate empire with more than 500 properties that generates several million dollars in annual revenue. He is the author of four best-selling financial books, and produces audio programs on investments. Governor Jim Hunt has previously awarded him the prestigious Order of the Long Leaf Pine for his extraordinary service to the community.
Tillis is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He also sits on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Judiciary Committee, and the Senate Special Committee on Aging. He was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2006, and was selected by his peers to serve as Speaker of the House from 2011 to 2014.
Although Harris has previously been Tillis’ opponent, Tillis was quick to note that Harris has distinguished himself as a fine person of character that he counts as a good friend. Tillis thanked everyone for their patience with him while he was Speaker of the House. “I tell everybody that when you’re Speaker of the House, one thing you may have to do is make everybody at either end of the political spectrum mad.”
Tillis said his job can be very challenging, but also very rewarding. He listed among his achievements three names, “Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Andrew Brunson.” Tillis said it was exactly four years ago that Senator Mitch McConnell approached him about his committee assignments. Tillis requested three, Senate Armed Services, Veterans’ Affairs, and Agriculture. McConnell granted his request and suggested two more, the Committee on Aging, and the Judiciary Committee because of Tillis’ business perspective.
Tillis said he had no idea what he would witness as a result of making that decision, seeing two extraordinarily well qualified justices confirmed, and dozens of circuit court judges.
“We are literally transforming the courts. The number of circuit court judges and district court judges that we will confirm through the end of this next congress will be unparalleled in U.S. history.”
Tillis had been working “under the radar” for over a year to secure Pastor Brunson’s release from Turkish custody. When a 62 page indictment with bogus charges against Brunson came out, Brunson was concerned that the American people and congress would read it and turn their backs on him. Tillis went twice to the Turkish prison to assure Brunson that he will never be forgotten, and that he will be released.
Seventy U.S. senators sent a bipartisan order for his release. “Those same senators ended up voting for a provision that went in a national defense authorization that for the first time caught Turkey’s attention.” It was passed, sent to the president, and three months later Brunson was released.
Harris served as a trustee for the Southeast Baptist Theological Seminary from 1999 to 2009, and Chairman of the board from 2005 to 2007. He also served on the Board of Directors for the Biblical recorder from 2006 to 2010. N.C.G.O.P. Vice Chairman Michelle Nix introduced Harris to the audience.
Harris said, “I want to tell you tonight that I am proud and honored to have been invited to speak here this evening because I think I have been given one phenomenal role model in what it means to be an effective congressman in the U.S. House, not only in the way you carry yourself, but in the way you build respect and love among people. I just want to say thank you once again to Representative Charles Taylor and what he means to this community.”
Harris spoke about his father’s service during World War II, and his hardships as a Nazi prisoner of war. He said his parents provided him with a foundation that taught him the importance of faith, family and freedom. “Those are the things that we cherish and hold true. Those are the things we need instilled in the hearts and minds of our leaders.”
Harris said he has recently heard a theme that he genuinely believes.
“It’s restored hope in Americans. It’s restored joy in a lot of Americans. It’s restored a whole lot of confidence in a lot of people in our system of government once again. That thing I’ve been hearing, and maybe you’ve heard it, is ‘promises made, and promises kept.’ That very theme is exactly what we’re seeing in our nation. That is the theme that I don’t think you and I should be able to get enough of,” Harris said.