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Julia Olson-Boseman gets a frosty farewell, and an even colder welcome, as she switches parties

Chair Julia Olson-Boseman during the October 18 Board of Commissioners meeting.
Chair Julia Olson-Boseman during the October 18 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Julia Olson-Boseman, chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, recently switched her party affiliation from the Democratic Party to the GOP. But the New Hanover County Republican Party says they want nothing to do with her — or her recent legal issues, which include being held in contempt and investigations into financial mismanagement at her now-shuttered law practice. The county's Democratic Party, which seemed relieved to see her go, is calling for her resignation.

On Friday afternoon, Julia Olson-Boseman missed the deadline issued by a Wake County judge to either turn over detailed financial information or surrender to the Wake County detention center. For Olson-Boseman, who was traveling in Europe on a planned vacation, it’s the latest in a long series of legal troubles.

Related: Special Episode: Julia Olson-Boseman held in contempt

Olson-Boseman’s most recent rash of problems started last year, when she was accused of taking $20,000 from a client — a grieving father who had lost his daughter in a car crash — without providing any legal services. That situation is still being investigated by the SBI and the North Carolina State Bar. But Olson-Boseman’s problems have since multiplied and now include allegations by the state bar that she mismanaged and lied about thousands of dollars of client money.

In the latest development, Olson-Boseman has asked the state bar for a reprieve. According to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, Olson-Boseman contacted the deputy counsel for the state bar today, admitting she failed to keep proper ledgers and acknowledging she deserves to be disciplined — but asking for an order for her arrest to be lifted.

These legal issues, most of which came to light through investigative reporting from WECT, likely played a role in Olson-Boseman’s resounding defeat in the recent primary election, which has led to her unusually long lame duck period on the Board of Commissioners.

A surprising switch?

Olson-Boseman has long faced criticism as a Democrat-in-name-only from fellow Democrats on a host of issues, starting with her collegial friendship with former Republican County Commissioner Woody White during the first part of her current term.

The two had clashed in a 2004 campaign for state senate, which saw the GOP running attack ads on White's behalf. Those ads focused on Olson-Boseman’s sexual identity — she would go on to become the first openly gay member of the General Assembly — and accused Olson-Boseman of pursuing “a liberal, activist homosexual agenda.” That was a bridge too far for the StarNews, which rescinded its endorsement of White.

On the night of the 2018 election for county commissioner, Olson-Boseman pledged to ‘take the gavel out of Woody’s hand.’ But few thought that transfer of power would happen as part of Olson-Boseman and White’s unexpected partnership, which helped shepherd the county through the process of selling New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health — probably the chief, but not the only, complaint of those who labeled Olson-Boseman a DINO. Other complaints included Olson-Boseman’s role in the dismantling of WAVE’s board and her retaliatory actions towards her fellow commissioners, including Rob Zapple.

In an interview on The Newsroom in January of this year, Olson-Boseman reacted incredulously to the question of whether she would run as a Democrat — and later asked how anyone would think she would change parties given the Republican’s track record on gay rights.

But, on May 18, the morning after her defeat in the primary, Olson-Boseman said to WHQR “now I can leave the Democratic Party.” And, apparently, she meant it quite earnestly. According to documents provided by the New Hanover County Board of Elections, she registered that day as an unaffiliated voter and, two weeks later, as a Republican voter on June 4.

Olson-Boseman’s party realignment does apparently mark the first openly gay Republican to serve as Chair of the Board of Commissioners in New Hanover County. But in terms of her other politics, the county’s Democratic Party seemed relieved to see her go.

Call to resign

The New Hanover County Democratic Party has been reticent to weigh in on Olson-Boseman and, in the lead-up to the 2022 primary election, said only that the county party supported all three Democratic candidates for county commission. Even after the election, and Olson-Boseman’s defeat, the party was quiet about Olson-Boseman and how she planned to spend her remaining months in power.

That has now changed.

In a statement, Chair Andre Brown, “We note that Commissioner Boseman has changed her voter registration from Democratic to Republican. We hope she finds a home in a party that shares her values.”

The New Hanover Democratic Party also called on Olson-Boseman to resign from the Commission.

“We believe that it is in the interest of Ms. Olson-Boseman and New Hanover County for her to focus on her family and addressing the challenges she faces in her private life without the additional burden of public service,” Brown wrote.

Under North Carolina law, if Olson-Boseman were to step down, her short-lived replacement for the remaining five months of her term would be selected by the county Democratic Party – despite her change of affiliation.

No quarter

It’s unclear why Olson-Boseman changed parties, but according to New Hanover County Republican Party Chair Will Knect, it was not the result of any coordinated plan.

“The New Hanover Republican Party was as surprised as anyone by Ms. Olson-Boseman's changing her political registration. We had no conversations with her about her change to the Republican Party, nor do we plan to in the near future as she works through her legal issues,” he wrote as part of a statement to WHQR.

And Knect made it clear Olson-Boseman was no more welcome in the GOP than she had become in the Democratic party.

“We denounce her party switch. The New Hanover County Republican Party will continue to support candidates and elected officials that believe in the Rule of Law, accountability, and strong Republican values,” he wrote.

Editor's note: This article originally indicated that White's campaign ran the anti-gay ads in 2004, as indicated by StarNews's de-endorsement and reported by StarNews in 2006. White confirmed the state GOP ran the ads without his knowledge or consent.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.