Sen. Tillis challenger Garland Tucker III grew up in Wilson

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For Garland Tucker III, political roots grew out of discussions at the family dinner table in Wilson in the early 1960s.

The businessman, author and entrepreneur has announced a campaign to challenge Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who is up for re-election in 2020.

“I grew up having an interest in politics,” Tucker said in a recent phone interview. “My father never ran for office, but he was very interested in politics. I remember in the 1960s, he was a Goldwater supporter and I got very interested in the Goldwater campaign. That was 1964 and I guess became a pretty committed conservative at that point and it was a conversation that we frequently had around the dinner table, so I learned a lot of my politics right there at home.”

Tucker, a graduate of Harvard Business School, grew up in a Nash Street home right across from Dick’s Hot Dog Stand.

“I was actually born in Raleigh but I really grew up in Wilson. Until I went off the college, I was right there in Wilson,” Tucker said. “It is a great place to grow up. My wife is from Rocky Mount, so that area means a lot to us even though we have been in Raleigh since 1978. We still feel like we are from eastern North Carolina.”

Tucker’s grandfather, Garland Scott Tucker, started Tucker Furniture in 1886 in Raleigh.

“My father’s name was Garland Tucker Jr. and he married Jean Barnes, who was a Wilson native,” Tucker said. “My father died about six years ago and my mother died just last year. My father came to Wilson in 1940. He was planning to stay in Wilson a year or so, but it turned out he stayed for about 50 or 60 years. My mother is from Wilson, so they were married in the late ‘40s. He raised the four of us. I have three siblings, one of whom is still in Wilson and still running the furniture company. My brother in Wilson is Edwin Tucker. Edwin is still right there running the furniture company, so we very much feel like we have a continuing connection with Wilson. The connection with my mother’s family goes way back to Wilson County before Wilson was even a town, so we have got some pretty deep roots in Wilson.”

Tucker, 71, said he has fond memories here — playing tennis, riding horses and riding his bike around town.

“It was the kind of place that my parents were totally comfortable with me going anywhere,” Tucker said. “I could spend the night with any classmates or pretty much do anything I wanted to growing up because they were totally confident that if I got into any trouble, they would hear about it immediately from the parents of anybody I was with.”


Tucker, a Republican, filed May 6 and announced May 8 that he would run against Tillis, a Republican, who has represented the state in the U.S. Senate since 2014 when he unseated incumbent Kay Hagan, a Democrat. Tucker will face Tillis in the 2020 Republican primary next spring.

Right out of the gate, Tucker was immediately attacked by Tillis supporters.

“It was kind of funny,” Tucker said. “The first day somebody called me an out-of-touch liberal and somebody else called me an archconservative ‘Never Trumper’ or something. I don’t think any of those are accurate. I like the characterization that somebody else said that I was an old-fashioned conservative. I think that’s the best definition thus far.”


Tucker said he decided to run because he was tired of politicians seeking office on a conservative platform and then changing their stripes once they got to Washington.

“I think that happened to Sen. Tillis,” Tucker said. “I was a Tillis supporter back in 2014. He ran on a very good platform, a conservative platform. One of his slogans that I remember very well was ‘cap, cut and balance’ and he was talking about cutting spending and balancing the budget. Well, if you look at what he has done since he has been up there, he has voted four times to increase the ceiling on our national debt and he has also voted four times to break the spending caps that were set by Congress in 2011. He has opposed President Trump when Trump proposed cutting foreign aid in the State Department 30%. Tillis voted against that.”

Tucker said the nation and state of North Carolina need “more backbone” in Congress.


Tucker said he thinks immigration is one of the two key issues in the Senate race and nationwide.

“The wall is part of the discussion, but it is not all of it. I think it’s the start of it,” Tucker said. “The start of the immigration solution is to secure the border and the wall is a big part of that, so I am totally behind President Trump. We have got an emergency there. We have got to secure the border.”

Tucker said he opposes a bill Tillis has proposed to offer the “dreamers,” children whose parents brought them into the country illegally, a path to citizenship.

“I think that just sends a message around the world if we do that to come on to the U.S.,” Tucker said. “‘If you get in illegally, we’ll figure out how to make you a citizen.’”

“From an economic standpoint and a social standpoint, we need immigrants,” Tucker said. “We need good people to come into the U.S. who want to be here, who will be productive, who will become assimilated into our society and who will be good American citizens, so the answer is not to restrict immigration, but is just to get control of it.”


Tucker said he believes President Trump is “taking the long view, which I support him 100%” on tariffs.

“He has repeatedly said that his ultimate objective in all of this and his trade policies is to get to zero tariffs,” Tucker said. “He is using the threat and the reality of imposing tariffs in the short term to get our trading partners to reduce the tariffs that we face in exporting goods into those countries. I think it is our best chance of being successful.”


Tucker said there’s no question that Iran and North Korea pose serious threats to world peace.

“I totally support the president’s getting out of the Iran deal that President Obama couldn’t get through Congress,” Tucker said. “I supported Trump in that and I think that he is appropriately putting pressure on Iran letting them know that we’re not going to back down and we are not going to let them export terrorism around the world. The same thing with North Korea. It is a difficult, very sad situation in both countries where you have got dictators who are severely oppressing their own populations, but the president is absolutely standing firm, and I think that is the thing to do. We have got to exert all the pressure we can and ultimately those regimes will fail, but in the short run, all we can do is apply sanctions and every bit of economic pressure that we can do and just wait for them to collapse, because ultimately they will.”