State Senate Candidate Faces Challenges Over Loan, Residency

By Don Carrington
Carolina Journal News Service

RALEIGH — In an apparent attempt to answer concerns about a controversial home loan, Democrat J.D. Wooten may have raised questions about where he lived when he filed documents to run in state Senate District 24, in Alamance and Guilford counties.

Wooten, a Greensboro lawyer, is one of six Democratic candidates in “Republican-leaning” Senate districts the left-wing 501(c)4 group Education Now is boosting. The goal? To help Democrats take control of the state Senate. A confidential fundraising document Carolina Journal obtained shows how Education Now plans social media and digital ad campaigns to flip Republican-held seats in Senate Districts 1, 7, 11, 13, 24, and 31.

Wooten also moves a lot. CJ’s review of voter registration, campaign finance, and real estate records concludes that since August 2016 Wooten has used at least five Guilford County addresses.

He drew media scrutiny for possibly violating the terms of a Veterans Affairs loan. He used the loan in March 2019 to buy a house at 101 South Lindell Road in Greensboro. Reports in late July from Triad television station WXII-12 and The Insider, a political newsletter published by McClatchy, questioned whether Lindell lived up to the terms of the VA loan. The deed of trust for the property said the house must be his principal residence for at least a year “unless extenuating circumstances exist which are beyond Borrower’s control.”

Wooten admits he doesn’t live there now. He rents the house to a tenant.

State Board of Elections records show in October 2019, when Wooten filed to run in Senate District 24, he listed his residence as the address on his voter registration forms: 4817 Redland Court, McLeansville. The McLeansville house is in District 24. The Greensboro house is in District 28.

By state law, a member of the General Assembly must reside in the district he serves for at least one year.

Wooten ran in 2018 for District 24 and lost to GOP incumbent Sen. Rick Gunn. Gunn chose not to run this year. Republican Amy Galey, a lawyer and chairwoman of the Alamance Board of County Commissioners, is Wooten’s November general election opponent. The district covers all of Alamance County and the eastern third of neighboring Guilford County.

On July 28, in an apparent attempt to address discrepancies, Wooten filed an amended campaign finance report covering Jan. 1 through June 30, 2019. Wooten changed his address on 10 expenditures and 10 in-kind contributions from a rental property on Hargrove Road in District 24 to South Lindell Road in District 28. He never used South Lindell Road as his voter registration address even though he now claims to have lived there though most of 2019.

CJ contacted Wooten on July 29 to ask about his loan and residency issues. He passed the request to Brigid Godfrey, deputy communications director for the N.C. Democratic Party. “J.D. is unavailable,” Godfrey told CJ. But she offered some background information attributed to Wooten’s campaign organization. Wooten’s real estate attorney said Wooten fell under the “extenuating circumstances” clause and that Wooten complied with the terms of the loan.

When Wooten bought the South Lindell Road home in March 2019, Godfrey said it was Wooten’s primary residence and he intended it to remain so. “Circumstances changed and Wooten moved in October 2019,” she said. She said Wooten hadn’t planned to run for the Senate again. He moved to be closer to his Greensboro office. After reflection, she said, Wooten still felt strongly about serving his community and decided to give it another shot.

But if Wooten had filed from his Lindell Road address, he would have been in District 28. It’s represented by Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Democrat who’s running for her sixth term. Instead, Wooten’s running as a Democrat in District 24, even though he may not meet residency requirements.

Wooten is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, a 10-year Air Force veteran, and an intellectual property attorney with the Womble Bond Dickinson law firm.

Wooten recently has changed his voter registration address several times. In August 2016, he registered as unaffiliated at a Greensboro address in Senate District 28. In January 2017, he reregistered as a Democrat. In February 2018, Wooten changed his voter registration address to an apartment in District 24. The next month he changed his voter registration address to another location in District 24. In October 2019, he changed his address to a third location in District 24.