WHITSETT, N.C. (WGHP) – Jon Hardister has decided to leave the upward mobility of a Republican in the North Carolina General Assembly to try to get his name into every elevator in the state.

Hardister confirmed Wednesday that he would seek the Republican nomination for state labor commissioner in 2024 and not seek re-election to the House, a decision he said two weeks ago he was “leaning towards.”

NC Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett, left) talks to a worker. (jonhardister.com)

Josh Dobson, a fellow Republican, announced his retirement in December after serving only one term in replacement of long-serving former Labor Commissioner Cheri Berry, who earned the nickname “elevator lady” after she made the change to add the commissioner of labor’s photo to NC Department of Labor notices in elevators.

“My passion for public service has remained strong over these years, and I now believe it is time to elevate my service to a new level,” Hardister said in a release posted on his campaign website.

“The Department of Labor is critical to North Carolina’s workers and employers, and I am confident that I have the skill set to perform the duties of this office in a fair, effective, and professional manner. With over ten years of experience in state government, and over twenty years of experience in the private sector, I am uniquely qualified to serve in this new role.” 

State Rep. Ben Moss (R-Moore, Richmond) (NCGA)

Hardister will be opposed in the primary by one of his colleagues: state Rep. Ben Moss (R-Moore, Richmond) who announced on Dec. 20 that he would seek the position. Moss is in his second term in the House and serves as its majority whip for new members.

“As a business owner, rail worker, county commissioner, and currently as a state legislator, I’ve spent my life fighting to advance North Carolina’s workforce,” Moss, a native of Rockingham, said in announcing his campaign. “Josh Dobson has served our state well, and I look forward to building on his efforts as we work to make North Carolina the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

No Democrats have announced their intentions to seek the post. Dobson in 2020 defeated Democrat Jessica Holmes, 50.8% to 49.2%.

What the job is

The Department of Labor is responsible for workers and their safety, including the inspections such as those that occurred at the Weaver Fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem that caught fire in February and the fines levied against the company.

The commissioner is part of what is known as the Council of State, which includes the “cabinet-level” roles elected statewide (secretary of State; state auditor; treasurer; superintendent of Public Instruction; attorney general; and commissioners of Agriculture, Labor, and Insurance) along with the governor and lieutenant governor. 

Hardister cited his experience of working in the private sector as being an advantage for his candidacy, saying he understands the importance of creating “a framework that allows businesses to grow and workers to prosper. Instead of getting in the way, government should advance policies that allow jobs to be created and wages to increase in the private sector.

“My focus as Labor Commissioner will be to support both employees and employers in North Carolina. Ensuring workplace safety, performing timely inspections, and working with industry experts to effectuate sound policies will be top priorities. My goal will be to promote a safe and prosperous workforce across our State.”

Decade in House

Hardister, 40, of Whitsett, was the GOP nominee in District 57 in 2010 (when he was 28), but he lost to Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro). In 2012 he moved to District 59, where he was won easily even as redistricting moved that district farther into eastern Guilford County.

Although his district appeared more competitive than in previous years, Hardister easily won his latest term on Nov. 8 by getting 56.4% of the vote against political neophyte Sherrie Young.

After Republicans cemented their control in the General Assembly in November, Hardister was re-elected to a fourth term as the majority whip of the House, which The Carolina Journal said makes him the longest-serving and youngest majority whip in state history.

“As the House Majority Whip, I have collaborated with leadership in the General Assembly to advance policies that have resulted in North Carolina being considered one of the best states to live, work and raise a family,” he said.

A parody Twitter account for Berry has teased Hardister that his signature would need to improve if he wants it in elevators.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article failed to include the name of Republican Ben Moss as a candidate for NC commissioner of Labor.