Leo Daughtry is a lawyer and businessman from Smithfield who was a longtime Republican legislator in the NCGA. He was appointed to the BOG in 2017. He is a former tobacco warehouse owner, wine and beer distributor, and founding partner at the law firm Daughtry, Woodard, Lawrence, & Starling.
Daughtry represented Smithfield, Clayton, and northern Johnston counties for 20 years in the NCGA: two terms in the Senate 12 terms in the House beginning in 1989. In 1994, the first year Daughtry ran for House, he won and was elected Majority Leader in his first term. He has since served as the House Majority and Minority Leader. In 2000 he lost a bid for governor in the Republican primary to Richard Vinroot. In campaign speeches he said he would bring a “conservative businessman’s approach to state government.” Later Daughtry chaired the House Judiciary Committee as well as the House Appropriations subcommittee that worked on budget cuts during the 2011 session.
Daughtry’s tenure in the legislature was hardly free from scandal. He was frequently at odds with Republican party leaders, most notably Republican House co-Speaker Richard Morgan. At one point, Daughtry, Art Pope, and the NCGOP accused Morgan of “disloyalty” and betraying party principles by forming a power-sharing coalition with Democrats. Daughtry, who opposed power-sharing, was the target of attack flyers from Morgan who accused Daughtry and others of “sleight of hand” tactics.
Daughtry was a plaintiff in multiple redistricting suits that alleged Morgan used the redistricting process to “go after his critics,” which included Daughtry. He was one of the main critics of the 2003 redistricting process and a plaintiff in a lawsuit that led the State Supreme Court finding maps adopted by the legislature in 2001 and 2002 unconstitutional. Art Pope joined Daughtry as a plaintiff. In 2003 Daughtry made a failed bid for Speaker of the House, but his colleagues accused him of “lying, bullying, and putting his ambitions ahead of the party.” Morgan said he would “do everything within my power to keep him from getting close to the speaker’s chair, he’s too slippery and slimy for me.”
Daughtry’s firm (and Daughtry himself) often represented the amusement-machine industry, which includes the video poker machine industry that dodged law enforcement throughout the first decade of the 2000s. While serving as legal counsel for a video poker gaming group that was raided by the FBI, Daughtry accepted money from the industry for his campaigns. He also represented the video poker association against efforts from sheriffs to ban the machines. Meanwhile, House Speaker Jim Black received $100,000 from the video poker group.
Daughtry defended former Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison’s daughter Paula after she was arrested for trafficking pain pills. With Daughtry’s help, she was able to strike a deal to be placed on probation instead of serving what would have likely been seven to nine years in prison for each count. Instead, Harrison was granted a “prayer for judgment continued.”
While in the legislature Daughtry voted against any plan to acknowledge the Wilmington massacre, saying, “I don’t see where it would serve any purpose…to spend money on an event that occurred a hundred years ago that didn’t affect any person living today.”
Daughtry is a vehement supporter of the death penalty. In his defense of the Racial Justice Act repeal, Daughtry affirmed “we ought to have justice that’s swift and sure” and that “if we do have the death penalty, we need to enforce the law.” He introduced a bill that would limit oversight for state execution practices and eliminate it altogether for federal executions. He also sponsored a bill to protect drug companies that manufacture lethal injection drugs from protestors. Daughtry acknowledged his bill decreased transparency, but argued that some secrecy was required in order to protect drug manufacturers, saying, “if you tell them where the drug comes from, there will be 300 people outside the building.” He said that his goal was to “speedily resume executions in North Carolina and protect drug providers from hostile public demonstrations.”
Daughtry pushed a bill that dropped the requirement that physicians be present for all executions in order to “fix some of the impediments” to carrying out capital punishment.
Daughtry said his aunt’s murder contributed to his understanding of the effect of crime on families and guided his demand that “criminals are swiftly tried and punished.” His aunt’s body’s was discovered the day he filed to run for governor in 2000. One man was sentenced to death in the case. Two additional men were convicted of murder.
While Daughtry is solidly conservative: he is pro death penalty, agrees with cuts to unemployment benefits, thinks public schools have “adequate” state funding, and favors school privatization, he clashed with more conservative members of the NCGA when he said “there are places where we don’t need guns.” Since his retirement, his legacy was cemented as a “disappearing breed of practical politicians” who helped created a “moderate” political climate in North Carolina.