N.C. Rep.Verla Insko, D-Orange, recently announced she will retire early due to her husband’s health issues.
Insko originally planned to retire at the end of her term in late 2022, but announced in a Facebook post last Thursday that she will now be leaving office March 31. She and her husband will be downsizing and moving to a retirement home.
“My attention has been turned toward home issues," she said. "It really would not be fair to my constituents to continue in office."
Following Insko's departure, the Orange County Democratic Party will appoint someone to fill her seat. A special meeting will be held on March 12 to vote to appoint Insko's replacement.
Former Chapel Hill Town Council member Allen Buansi and voting rights attorney Jonah Garson are both running for election to replace Insko's seat in House District 56 next year.
However, neither are seeking appointment to Insko’s seat in March.
"I firmly believe that no candidate for this office should be appointed to fill the remainder of the seat," Buansi said.
Garson said he is concerned about the future of democracy for the state of North Carolina and believes open primaries are an integral part of healthy democracy.
“The only fair thing, given how far along we are, is for the appointed person not to be any of the two candidates running in the primary,” Garson said.
Insko said she will not endorse a candidate for office, adding that she believes the decision should be left up to voters.
Service in office
During her 26 years in office, Insko said her biggest achievement was her mental health advocacy work. Five years ago, she won the Rep. Paul Luebke Legislative Champion in Mental Health Award for lifetime achievement in mental health work.
Despite her accomplishments, Insko said there is still work to be done in the field.
“At the time, our mental health system was in really needed an overhaul and it still does," Insko said. "It’s a very difficult field. And we never have put enough money into it. But we were able to make some major changes and make major improvements in that field. And I'm really proud of that.”
She said the role of a state legislator is to ensure that government represents all groups equally — not just those who are privileged.
“People who are mentally ill really are a disadvantaged group," she said. "Mental illness is a lifetime condition. There are a lot of people who are mentally ill who do just fine, but there are people who have severe and persistent mental illness that need long term care.”
She also introduced a bill in 2003 that repealed involuntary sterilization of young women in the state.
Insko said one of her regrets while in office was not spending more time on climate change legislation, especially given her background in biology and chemistry.
"I think that that's really a major issue now that we are not paying enough attention to," she said.
She hopes her predecessor will continue to build the community through programs that will create long-term impacts, like early childhood education.
Garson said Insko is a champion of public education.
"She has touched all areas of policy and she's fought the good fight for the past 12 years at a time when Democrats really aren't in a position to pass legislation on a lot of policy issues that we deeply care about," Garson said.
Buansi said Insko's legacy has been important for legislation in North Carolina.
“Insko has created an incredible legacy — one in which she's been responsive, in which she has raised the bar in terms of expectations for what folks should expect from their elected officials,” Buansi said.
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