As they did in many national races, Republicans dominated the mid-term elections in Johnston County on Tuesday.
Across the state, Republican Thom Tillis’ win over Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan grabbed most of the attention. But closer to home, the most contested race was for Johnston County clerk of court.
Michelle Ball, a 44-year-old paralegal from Micro, defeated Democrat Michelle Denning by 65 to 35 percent, according to unofficial vote tallies by the State Board of Elections.
Ball, who defeated fellow Republicans David Ford and Keith Branch in the May primary, said she’s overjoyed that a year’s worth of hard work paid off.
In the run-up to the election, Ball’s large signs, handouts and stickers made her a familiar name in households throughout the county. She also became known for popping up at town board and civic club meetings, local events and area businesses, where she said she made personal connections with voters.
“When we saw people at the polls and out and about, they were quick to say, ‘I met her in Smithfield’ or ‘I met her in Wilson’s Mills,’ ” Ball said. “We felt good as the polls were getting ready to close and even better when we saw the positive results.”
Denning, a Smithfield resident who ran unopposed in the primary, stepped up her campaign this summer, focusing on her experience as an attorney with the N.C. Industrial Commission in Raleigh.
In a statement, Denning said she was proud of her professional, honest and hard-fought campaign.
“The voters have cast their ballots, and we respect their decision,” Denning said. “We should now come together to make Johnston County a better place to live, work and play.”
Ball said she will be sworn in on Dec. 1, her first day on the job. She will succeed Will Crocker, who has held the post for more than 30 years.
McGee’s Crossroads native David Rouzer will become the first Republican to represent North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District since the late 1800s.
Voters in southeastern North Carolina picked Rouzer over Democratic candidate Jonathan Barfield of Wilmington, 59 to 37 percent.
Rouzer referenced breaking the long drought for Republicans in the district during his victory speech at Gregory Vineyards in Johnston County.
“It’s a historic moment tonight, but it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about you and doing what’s right for America and moving the country forward.
“I promise you this,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to protect the Constitution of the United States. I will always do what’s right, and I will always do what’s in the best interest of the country.”
District Court judges
Incumbent District Court Judge Caron Stewart of Dunn will keep her seat on the bench for Johnston, Lee and Harnett counties. She defeated attorney Ken Jones of Coats 58 to 47 percent. Jones has a law practice in downtown Smithfield.
Stewart became a judge in 2012 after Judge Winston Gilchrist left the bench in the middle of his term. The bar associations of Johnston, Harnett and Lee counties voted 99-22 for Stewart to fill the seat. She was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Bev Purdue.
Stewart said she is excited to continue her work as a judge.
“I am very, very grateful to everyone who helped me and voted for me,” Stewart wrote in an email. “I know that I am very blessed to have the support I received in all three counties.”
She continued: “I am happy to continue serving everyone in Johnston, Harnett and Lee counties, fairly, impartially and professionally.”
Joy Jones of McGee’s Crossroads won retiring Judge Andy Corbett’s seat on the District Court with 53 percent of the vote. Her opponent, Benson attorney LeVonda Wood, got 47 percent.
Jones, who has her own law firm in Smithfield, focused her campaign on her extensive legal experience of 32 years across three states. Before the election, she said that she felt becoming a judge was a natural next step for her.
“I feel very good about it all,” she said after election day. “I had a great team of people – friends, family – I could not have done any of this without all of those people. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by all these people.”
N.C. Senate races
In District 12, which covers Harnett and Lee counties and a swath of southwestern Johnston, incumbent Republican Sen. Ronald Rabin won his seat with 56 percent of the vote. Democratic candidate Joe Langley, a software developer from Angier, received 44 percent.
Rabin said this campaign was hard because of what he called misinformation about fracking, and he said he was glad he could continue to serve his district.
“I'm just enthusiastic about continuing the progress the Republican majority has put together since 2011,” he said. “It’s a team effort, and I’m proud to be part of that conservative team.”
Rabin said creating jobs and improving the economy and education will be his top priorities going forward. He wants to reduce regulations on small businesses and create new jobs and cheaper energy through fracking.
“If we can continue to reduce taxes on businesses and people, people will have more money to spend in their pockets and businesses will have more money to expand,” he said. “We need to create that business environment that we need so we can have the vibrant economy in North Carolina that people deserve to have.”
In District 10, Sen. Brent Jackson, a Republican, also retained his seat, beating Princeton Mayor Don Rains, a Democrat, 62 to 37 percent. Jackson, a farmer from Autryville, said this campaign was different, mostly because of the “admirable” challenge posed by his opponent.
“I plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Jackson said. “I have always taken my campaign seriously; it’s hard to outwork myself and my team.”
As co-chair of the Senate’s Appropriation Committee, Jackson said he wants to continue helping rural areas and small towns thrive and grow. But he’s also interested in Medicaid reform.
“When we look at the numbers, there is much more Medicaid assistance in rural areas (than urban areas),” Jackson said, adding that he wants to look after those who can’t help themselves.
“If they can help themselves, we need to find a way to help them do that.”
N.C. House District 22
In District 22, which stretches across Bladen, Johnston and Sampson counties, incumbent Democrat William Brisson will keep his seat. He defeated ordained minister Ken Smith of Clinton with 52 percent of the vote to Smith’s 48.
Brisson, a farmer from Dublin, was first elected to the General Assembly in 2006. He focused his campaign on helping the elderly and disabled, supporting rural communities and eliminating regulations on businesses.
Board of education
Voters reelected three incumbents to the Johnston County Board of Education.
Chairman Larry Strickland, Vice Chairwoman Dorothy Johnson and Butler Hall received 32, 25 and 25 percent of the vote, respectively, defeating challengers Kurt Bienias (9 percent) and Dade Sherman (8 percent).
“Anytime we have an election, it’s a moment in time where there is a referendum on the direction that the citizens’ school system is going in,” Strickland said.
“The results indicate we are heading in the right direction,” he said. “Of course we need improvement, but I think in large part the citizens of the county are satisfied with the direction we are going in.”
Soil and water
Incumbents John Langdon and Douglas Lee finished ahead of challenger Daryl Norris in the race for two seats on the Johnston County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.
Langdon, a hog farmer from Benson, and Lee, a sweet potato farmer from Four Oaks, had 46 percent and 36 percent of the vote, respectively. Norris, a Selma resident who works for the City of Wilson, had 17 percent of the vote.
Langdon and Lee will continue to serve alongside three other supervisors who also sit on the board.