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Labor Group Collects 30,000 Signatures To Put Kissell Challenger On Ballot

Opponents of 8th District Congressman Larry Kissell have collected what they hope will be enough signatures to put a third-party candidate on the November ballot. However, the candidate they've chosen isn't saying yet whether he'll run. It takes 17,000 signatures from registered voters to put an independent candidate on the 8th district ballot. North Carolina Families First has submitted twice that, but they still have to be verified. The effort is funded by the Service Employees International Union and State Employees Association of North Carolina, which are upset that Democrat Larry Kissell voted against the health care bill. But the man they've chosen to challenge Kissell - Concord resident Wendell Fant - still won't say if he plans to run. "As of right now I'm really flattered by the effort, but I haven't committed to running," says Fant. To commit before all the petition signatures have been certified by election officials, would be "putting the cart before the horse," Fant says. Why put Fant's name on the petition without a firm commitment? "You don't have the opportunity to always go out and recruit and do everything you would like to do," says Chuck Stone, the chairman of North Carolina Families First. Stone says the state's election laws for getting a third party candidate on the ballot didn't allow much time to find a candidate. Some Democrats in the 8th district recommended Wendell Fant. At the time, Stone says he did not know Fant had recently been forced to resign from the staff of Congressman Larry Kissell. Fant served in the Iraq War and used his Congressional email account to follow up with a friend in the Veteran's Administration about his own application for military benefits. Fant says that was a mistake, but he chose to resign rather than be fired. "Personally, I don't think it was that big of a deal," says Fant. "If I had sent it from my personal email it would not have been an issue. The only difference was it was from a house account, so they felt I was trying to get personal gain, which was not true. The decision had already been made. I wasn't trying to influence anyone." In a letter to House Ethics leaders, Kissell says Fant broke Congressional rules by advocating on his own behalf using office resources. He also alleges Fant used his Congressional email to seek help getting a loan modification for his home. Again Fant says he was just emailing his bank to check on the status of his loan. The head of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, Dana Cope, says the allegations are trivial. "This is nothing but Washington trumped up stuff going on here," says Cope. "We're gonna elect a real person that comes with all the bells and whistles of being a real human being. We're gonna try to put a real working family voice in Congress." Cope says Fant has promised to support health care reform and other issues important to labor unions, if he decides to enter the race. Fant has never held public office, but did run unsuccessfully for Cabarrus County Commission in 2008.