It didn’t bother Gardenia Henley when lawmakers redrew her out of the 12th District, leaving the Winston-Salem native 80 miles from the new Charlotte-based district.
“People should vote for the best candidate regardless of where that candidate lives,” she says. “I probably know Charlotte better than many of the people who live there because I spend a lot of time there.”
Henley, 60, is nothing if not confident. Some critics in Winston-Salem might call her brash.
Long employed as a federal inspector general, where she says she searched for waste, fraud and abuse, she brought that penchant for sleuthing back home, where she has ruffled the feathers of politicians, bureaucrats and even clergy.
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Henley was in the Air Force in the 1970s before she went to college on the GI Bill. While in school, she says she began working as an auditor at the Defense Department. She later got a master’s degree in tax law.
She went to work for the State Department as inspector general and worked in similar positions for the Peace Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency. Those jobs took her to Europe, South and Central America and Africa.
Henley retired in 2005 at 50.
Running for office
She returned to Winston-Salem and managed a local campaign.
“That’s what got me interested in politics,” she says.
In 2010, she ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary against an incumbent state representative. In 2012, she finished a distant fourth in the primary for governor. A year later, she lost a primary to longtime Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines.
And in 2014, she lost a primary in the 5th Congressional District. Last year, she filed for the 12th District, when it actually included part of Winston-Salem.
The Henley Report
Henley has been writing The Henley Report for years as a kind of audit of her hometown and beyond.
“I know the faces of corruption all too well both in Winston-Salem, N.C., nationally and internationally,” she wrote in one.
She has targeted the mayor, the board of elections and church leaders. One was headlined, “Abuse of Power by Church and State.” Critics said her claims were rarely backed up. One local bishop called the claims “half truths.”
But Henley said she’d bring her investigative background to Congress. “I’m the only candidate who knows how to save your tax dollars,” she says. “We need a fighter.”
Education: Shaw University, bachelor’s of science; Southeastern University, master’s in tax law.
Job: Volunteers, veterans with claims, anybody with disabilities.
Politics: Ran for Congress in 2014, mayor of Winston-Salem in 2013, governor in 2012 and N.C. House in 2010.
Worth knowing: Helped organize President Bill Clinton’s 1998 visit to Senegal.