- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The longest-serving current member of the North Carolina state Senate abruptly pulled out of his race Wednesday to seek re-election next year.

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, withdrew his name as a candidate in the late afternoon. He had filed on the first day of the candidacy period two weeks ago to seek a 14th term. The Cabarrus County Board of Elections website confirmed the withdrawal.

State law gave candidates until 5 p.m. Wednesday to withdraw. Candidates who withdraw after that remain on the printed ballot and votes for them are counted, and they can’t get their filing fee refunded. The filing period will close at noon Monday.

In a statement released through Senate leader Phil Berger’s office, Hartsell said he wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren and other interests. He plans to serve out the remainder of his term through the end of 2016.

“I’m 68 years old and haven’t had a weeklong vacation in 25 years,” Hartsell said. “With my wife’s recent retirement, it’s now time for me to refocus my energy on my family, local community, missionary work in Guatemala and law practice.”

Hartsell made no reference to a campaign finance investigation of him. The State Board of Elections last June referred its two-year review of Hartsell’s campaign finances to state and federal prosecutors. The board’s review scrutinized the use of campaign contributions for personal expenses.

The board is continuing to cooperate with prosecutors, board general counsel Josh Lawson wrote by email. Hartsell didn’t return phone messages at his Concord law office and home. Hartsell said last summer that he had complied with campaign laws.

Hartsell, an attorney, joined the Senate in 1991 and is considered a part of the GOP’s moderate wing. Another Republican, airline pilot Parish Moffitt, filed Dec. 4 for the 36th District seat covering Cabarrus County and part of Union County.

Berger’s news release highlighted Hartsell’s legislative career, praising him for legislation that overhauled mental health services and adoption laws. Hartsell was also involved in building the research center on the campus of the former Pillowtex mill in Kannapolis and creating a government watchdog agency composed of legislative staff.

“The General Assembly and the state will truly miss Sen. Hartsell’s genius for solving tough public policy problems,” Berger said.

Hartsell is the latest veteran Republican General Assembly member deciding against re-election. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, and Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, also aren’t running again.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, is the only senator who has served more legislative terms than Hartsell. Blue has served 16 full terms, but 13 were in the House.

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