DURHAM -- State Rep. Philip Lehman, D-Durham, a 40-year resident of Durham County, is committed to carrying on the legacy of the man he was named to replace, late Rep. Paul Luebke who died on Oct. 30, just over a week before winning re-election to his House seat.
Luebke, a District 30 Democrat who served the area for 25 years, was diagnosed with lymphoma in the fall of 2015 but actively served in the General Assembly through the 2016 short session.
His family said the return of his cancer which proved fatal in the end was unexpected.
Luebke’s name remained on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election, in which he trounced GOP challenger Elissa Fuchs 37,009-13,098 in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.
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“A democracy only works well if it is fair to average citizens,” Luebke had famously once said. “Fairness requires a level ‘playing field,’ so that a factory worker and factory owner have equal chances at getting their political beliefs translated into public policy.”
Under General Statute 163-165.3(c), a vote for Paul Luebke counted for whoever the Durham County Democratic Party Executive Committee eventually named as his replacement.
On election night, Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. told The Herald-Sun he was optimistic local Democrats would have a new member joining them in the Durham delegation, a colleague on important issues to Durham and the state.
State law allowed Durham Democrats to name someone living in District 30 to fill the remainder of Luebke’s term.
Lehman was appointed to the seat in November.
“Rep. Luebke was a close friend, and I followed his career and talked to him a lot,” Lehman told The-Herald Sun this week. “I’m honored to hold the seat.”
Lehman knew Luebke dating back to the time Lehman arrived here almost 40 years ago, and spent time with Luebke in the last couple of months when his health started to decline.
“I don’t anticipate being in office for the long-term, but I think (the committee) looked to me as someone close to Paul and somebody who would keep up his tradition standing up for voting rights and economic justice and the principles Paul had a long time,” Lehman said.
Lehman is a former Navy officer and Vietnam veteran, who received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his law degree from Catholic University of America.
After working as a legal aide lawyer in Washington D.C., he moved to the Durham area in 1975 with his wife, Judy Kincaid.
For about 27 years, he was an assistant attorney general in the Consumer Protection Division of the N.C. Department of Justice -- retiring about three years ago.
During his tenure, he focused on predatory lending, unfair mortgage lending and credit fraud.
Lehman said he will serve Durham County as long as needed and said there’s still speculation whether it will be one year, instead of two, because of court decisions regarding redistricting and early elections.
“I will do my best keep up (Luebke’s) tradition,” he said, adding working with others to repeal House Bill 2 and preserve voting rights are the foremost issues he foresees in the coming year.