Hilton won't seek re-election

N.C. Rep. Mark Hilton won't seek a seventh term in the N.C. House, and he said the decision was driven by a desire to spend more time with his family — not by growing suspicions surrounding loans he received from an economic development company operated by a fellow legislator.

"The time has come for me to spend more time with my family," he said.

"When I first got elected, I wasn't married, and I had no children.

Since then, me and my wife have been procreating and having children biannually. We have three and we are going to stop there."

Now that Hilton's party is in the majority in the General Assembly, the Republican legislator said he stays busy with his duties as chairman of the important education appropriations subcommittee and vice-chair of the appropriations committee.

"It is supposed to be a part-time job with very little pay," he said of his job as legislator. "Being in the majority and chairing a major committee, it is turning out to be a lot more than a part-time job.

"It is in the best interest of my family and providing for them and having the time they need," he continued. "We can get somebody to go to Raleigh and do what I do there, but only one person can be a husband to my wife and a father to my three children."

As Hilton said his decision is driven by a need to help his wife Allison raise children ages 8, 6 and 4, he also denies that the published results from a recent investigation by N.C. Policy Watch motivated his decision.

Hilton received two, low-interest U.S. Department of Agriculture loans valued at a combined $165,000 through Republican N.C. Rep. Stephen LaRoque's non-profit economic development company, Piedmont Development Company, according to the organization operated by the N.C. Justice Center.

Hilton told The O-N-E he used those loans to purchase mobile homes that his company, Hilton Ventures, was managing at the time. The real estate deal helped supplement income he made as a part-time legislator and his occupation as a police officer.

"I got the loans in 2007, and Stephen LaRoque wasn't in the House at the time," Hilton said of the current co-chair of the N.C. House Rules Committee, who was voted out of office in 2006, but re-elected in 2010.

"Stephen, at one time, was in the House, and I met him there. Then when I was looking to get the loan, another friend of mine in the state House recommended Stephen and said he was trying to get his business off the ground."

Hilton re-iterated that LaRoque was not a legislator at the time he sought the loan.

"I know it is all legal," he said. "There are no special favors or anything. It is completely above board."

Hilton said he obtained the $165,000 through LaRoque's company as commercial business loans with terms of six years and an interest rate of about 6 percent. He also said he and his father put up their homes as collateral for the loans.

"We have all but less than a third paid back," he said of the loan, adding the lender is "making money off of us."

With proceeds from the loan, Hilton said he purchased mobile homes.

Hilton Ventures currently has one piece of land listed in the Catawba County Geospatial Services (GIS) database, a lot at 434 25th St. Pl. SW in Longview.

Catawba County's Property Tax Information system lists seven property items on four different addresses under Hilton Ventures with a combined value of $70,000.

Among those properties is Highland Park, a mobile home park valued at $10,640. While Hilton appears to own the mobile home park, according to Catawba County tax records, the land at 12th Street NE in Hickory is owned by Collie Investments LLC.

"Ray Allen Collie had an investment company with his siblings, and that is who we purchased the mobile homes from," Hilton said of Collie Investments. "For most of them, he still owns the land underneath them."

In the wake of N.C. Policy Watch's investigative report, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis referred LaRoque's dealings to the House Ethics Committee to determine whether an investigation is warranted. In addition to loans to Hilton and N.C. Sen. Debbie Clary — who, this summer, told The Shelby Star she plans to retire — N.C. Policy Watch reported that LaRoque's two economic development companies were operated by directors within his immediate family, a violation of Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.

The Aug. 3 investigative report cited other apparent improprieties.

Hilton said the N.C. Policy Watch's report is politically motivated.

"I don't consider them very credible. They are an arm of the Democratic Party. They attack any kind of capitalism or business. The only legitimate thing they see is any kind of socialism," Hilton said. "We have done nothing wrong."

Instead of the maelstrom surrounding the N.C. Policy Watch report and loans he received from LaRoque, Hilton said he wants constituents to remember his service.

"For the 12 years I served," he said. "I would like for the press and everyone's attention to be focused there instead of this liberal group."

During his time in office, Hilton said he has served as a "consistent conservative voice for the county." He counts new legislation allowing citizens to carry firearms in parks, restaurants and bars — "one of the best castle doctrines" in the nation — and an unborn victims of violence act, among his chief legislative successes in the most recent legislative session.

"I have tried to do things that I look at a cost-benefit analysis to help business," he said. "I tried to do what we could to remove obstacles businesses did have so they could be able to grow their business."