White suit. White hat. Cigar between his teeth.
Stony Rushing, a county commissioner in Union County, N.C., is the spitting image of J.D. Hogg, the despotic but also bumbling county commissioner in the hit television series “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
J.D. as in Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America.
Most elected officials would spurn the comparison to Boss Hogg, especially those eyeing a seat in Congress. But not this local politician and gun range owner, who dressed as the grifter for Halloween last year, on the eve of the November election that would solidify his local following and set him up to seek higher office.
The 47-year-old Republican has been tipped to take over for Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in a North Carolina congressional contest roiled by revelations that his campaign had financed a scheme to tamper with absentee ballots. Citing health problems, the evangelical pastor from Charlotte said Tuesday he would not run in an upcoming do-over election, endorsing Rushing and calling the county commissioner an ally on “so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom.”
Rushing, who is a distant relative of Jerry Rushing, the moonshiner whose exploits helped inspire the action-comedy series, is unlike most elected officials. He embraces the comparison to the unscrupulous television character, portrayed by the actor Sorrell Booke. He has even campaigned on it, plastering his Facebook page with photographs of himself in the classic Hogg get-up, gun in one hand, cigar in the other.
“Supporting the 2nd Amendment like a BOSS,” he promised to voters during his reelection campaign last fall.
His differences start with his name.
“My name is Stony Rushing — that’s my real name,” he said in an interview on Tuesday with The Washington Post. “My father’s name is Rocky, and my mother is Connie. They were teenagers when I was born. My mother saw Stoney on 'The Flintstones’ and named me Stony.”
His parents split up when he was young, and he was raised by his father in Monroe, N.C., about 30 minutes southeast of Charlotte on Interstate 74. After college at North Carolina State University, where he studied animal agriculture, he went to work for Carroll’s Foods, a major pork producer, in nearby Scotland County.
Rushing was already interested in politics, but the county leaned Democratic, as it does to this day. When he returned to Monroe, the county seat of deep-red Union County, he found his people. He became president of the local Republican men’s club, he said, and soon decided to make a bid for the county commission. He was first elected in 2002, serving until 2006, and then was elected to another four-year term in 2014.
Rushing was the commission’s top vote-getter in his reelection campaign last fall, when he earned 20,000 more votes than Democrat Dan McCready, who trailed Harris by 905 votes in an outcome that state officials refused to certify. That edge, he said, bodes well for his race against the Marine Corps veteran and first-time candidate.
“I’ve got an extremely good chance,” Rushing said. Other Republicans have said they are considering running for the seat, and state law requires a primary in addition to a fresh general election, the timing of which remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, as he seeks to take the Republican mantle in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, he maintains that the ballot scandal — which a prosecutor said could result in criminal charges — has been “blown out of proportion."
While Harris called for a new election last week, saying public confidence was on the line, Rushing remained adamant that Democrats were to blame. “Dan McCready and his Establishment Friends Just Threw ALL of Our Ballots in the Trash!” he protested on Facebook, sharing an image with an American flag. “What are We going to do about IT?”
On Facebook, he has demonized voters who alleged unlawful conduct by the Harris operative, spread conspiracy theories about the political motivations of a former local elections chief and argued that the real voter fraud was unfolding up north in Brooklyn. In December, he called for an FBI investigation into the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which refused to validate the election results.
Rushing claimed that absentee ballots had been improperly handled by both parties, even though there is no evidence that McCready benefited from illegal conduct. He echoed Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the majority leader, who used the episode to call on Tuesday for a crackdown on voter fraud, which the Brennan Center for Justice calls “vanishingly rare.”
“The whole program needs to be tightened up,” Rushing said.
His stance is early evidence that he would be a loyal foot soldier for the Republican cause in Congress. He pledged to support President Trump’s agenda and predicted that he would align with the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus.
The cause that is dearest to his heart is guns. In 2008, Rushing and his wife opened a 50-acre shooting range called Take Aim Training Range across the border in South Carolina.
A “lifelong interest” in firearms, he said, inspired him to teach target practice and firearm safety, first with the Boy Scouts of America as a district chairman for the organization. A biography on his Web page enumerates his firearm-related decorations. He is a training counselor for the National Rifle Association, an NRA-certified pistol instructor, an NRA-certified rifle instructor, an NRA-certified “Refuse To Be a Victim” instructor, a South Carolina concealed weapons permit instructor and a North Carolina hunter education instructor, among other titles. For two years, he was one of the NRA’s top 10 recruiters, he advertises.
A zealous advocate for gun rights, the father of two is also staunchly opposed to abortion. He accused Democrats who blocked an effort to punish doctors who don’t seek to save infants born alive during abortions of favoring “infanticide.” His uncompromising position, he said, comes from his appreciation that his mother, who was 16 when he was born, went through with the delivery even though she almost died in childbirth.
Rushing is nothing if not a willing combatant in the culture wars.
In 2015, following the massacre in Charleston, S.C., of nine black churchgoers by a white man who exalted Confederate symbols, and as efforts spread to bring down the battle flag across the South, local officials removed a set of small set of Confederate flags from outside a courthouse in Monroe.
They met resistance from Rushing, who was the county commission’s vice-chair at the time.
He put forward a resolution, which ultimately passed 3-2, that designated the courthouse as a museum, allowing Confederate emblems to be displayed under certain conditions.
“I don’t have a problem with the flag or our history,” he said at the time, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Now, Rushing explains the controversy a different way. He said the memorabilia on courthouse grounds, which he aimed to protect, was mostly from the World War II era.
Asked about the Confederate flag, he said, “The government shouldn’t fly it.”
That view puts some distance between Rushing and his alter ego’s namesake, who led the cause of the Confederacy.
More from Morning Mix: