Our Opinion: Nielsen’s sexism disqualifies him from state Senate

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A Republican state Senate candidate is making headlines throughout North Carolina for all the wrong reasons.

Dennis Nielsen was served with a domestic violence protective order after wife Karen Nielsen accused him of abusive and controlling behavior, including pushing her down the stairs, The Wilson Times reported on Jan. 17. The allegations are not criminal charges and Nielsen has denied the claims. While we can’t say whether he’s an abuser, subsequent reporting by Carolina Public Press leaves little doubt that Nielsen is a chauvinist who holds women in low esteem.

Nielsen joins state Rep. Lisa Barnes, R-Nash, and Johnston County Commissioner Patrick Harris in seeking the GOP’s nomination for retiring Sen. Rick Horner’s District 11 seat.

Barnes told the nonprofit news service that Nielsen considers the primary contest to be a battle of the sexes.

“He said I wasn’t qualified to run because I was a woman,” Barnes said. “I believe I am the most qualified of the candidates when you look at my experience and background.”

Nielsen denied speaking ill of Barnes in an interview with Carolina Public Press. He also wouldn’t admit that he asked to speak with a male journalist rather than a woman when he visited The Wilson Times to share a copy of the court order.

Nielsen requested that a man conduct the interview because he felt a woman wouldn’t understand his plight. He referenced the #MeToo movement and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

We believe Representative Barnes, who’s never given the public or press a reason to doubt her honesty.

Nielsen’s domestic troubles form a key plank in his campaign platform.

“We need to have laws that protect men to make sure they don’t become the victims of women who make up these stories and who get control of the houses and control of men’s property and everything,” Nielsen told Carolina Public Press. “They don’t have to prove anything.”

Nielsen’s words drip with sexism and his poor delivery dilutes his message — that respondents should have more robust due process rights.

Court officials issue emergency domestic violence protective orders on the basis of ex parte testimony, which means only the accuser’s side of the story is initially heard. The accused can present a defense when a hearing on the temporary order’s renewal or expiration is held. That can be days or weeks later.

Nielsen said the court order forbids him from going home or operating his business — the candidate owns a gun shop and while the protective order’s in place, he cannot possess firearms.

Our criminal justice system strives to balance both parties’ rights in domestic violence cases, and while emergency protective orders have surely saved lives, they’ve probably also harmed people of both sexes who were innocent of the claims made against them.

If an honest broker sought to retain protections for accusers while limiting restrictions placed on the accused or require expedited hearings on the protective orders’ merits, we wouldn’t be unsympathetic.

Nielsen, however, lacks the credibility to pursue any such reforms. He’s driven by personal grievance and evident hostility toward women. He doesn’t deserve the privilege of representing Nash and Johnston counties in the North Carolina Senate.

This newspaper does not endorse candidates for public office. We leave the choice between Barnes and Harris to Republican primary voters in District 11. But given Nielsen’s troubling words, we feel it’s warranted to ask that he withdraw from the race.

Barnes told Carolina Public Press that Nielsen’s prejudice against women shocked her.

“In 2020, I find that very, very surprising and disappointing that he would make that kind of statement, and then to learn that he has this domestic violence issue, too, is very concerning,” she said.

We call on Dennis Nielsen to remove his name from the March 3 GOP primary ballot. The Nash County Republican Party and Johnston County Republican Party should echo that call and publicly ask Nielsen to withdraw.