With the incumbent chasing higher office, the District 11 N.C. Senate seat is wide open, and so far, two Republicans have filed for the job.
Benton Sawrey of Clayton and Richard Horner of Wilson officially entered the race the first week of December, hoping to represent Johnston, Wilson and Nash counties in the General Assembly. No Democrat has filed yet. The district is predominately Republican.
Sen. Buck Newton, a Wilson Republican, currently holds the seat, but he is stepping aside to run for attorney general, as Roy Cooper is running for governor.
Sawrey, 28, is a lawyer with the Smithfield law firm of Narron, O’Hale and Whittington. A Smithfield native, he graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School before earning a bachelor’s degree from N.C. State University and his law degree from the University of South Carolina.
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Sawrey serves on the board of trustees of Johnston Community College and the board of directors of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. His wife, Beth, is a pharmacist at WakeMed in Raleigh.
Horner, 58, moved from his hometown of Bailey to Wilson in 2009 and is a commercial insurance agent. He serves on the board of trustees of Wilson Community College and is a member of the Wilson Elks Lodge. Horner went to Southern Nash High School and East Carolina University.
He served on the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education for 14 years and spent most of his professional career in financial services as investment broker with BB&T’s Scott & Stringfellow and First Citizen’s IronStone Securities serving Southern Bank. His wife, Patricia, teaches second grade at Wells Elementary School. They have four children.
Both candidates emphasized their interest in improving their district’s schools.
Horner described himself as an advocate of public schools, home schools and charter schools. His children went through the public school system, and Horner wants to see teachers paid more for the hard work they do.
Sawrey said a good education system is one of the keys to growing the economy. Bringing more jobs to the district is his main goal.
“If you give somebody a good-paying job, that makes a tremendous impact on the economy and their lives,” Sawrey said.
He cited Novo Nordisk’s planned expansion in Johnston County as an instance where government partnered with the private sector to bring almost 700 new jobs to the county.
“Our district is in such a growing, transitive stage, and there is real opportunity,” Sawrey said. “There is a lot of growth. I'm excited that I would be able to help shape that growth.”
He emphasized how invested he is in the success of his district because his parents are here, and he has settled here.
“I came back from law school with the intent to raise my family here,” Sawrey added. “As I grow and this community grows, these decisions will have an impact on my children.”
With the March primary just months away, Sawrey said he believes in grassroots campaigning and hopes to introduce himself to every Republican primary voter in the district.
Horner, said he would be making an effort to understand the issues of the neighboring counties in the coming months. He said in office he would be fiscally conservative.
“The money we bring to Raleigh needs to go back to the communities and programs, and that needs to be done efficiently,” he said. “I want to make sure we are not wasting money.”
Asked about the recent sales-tax redistribution, Horner said it’s a fair idea and helps those in the poorer areas.
“We need to find a way to share some of the sales-tax revenue with those folks,” he said.
Horner added that when he lived in Bailey, he bought most of his kids’ school clothes in Wake County. Though some of the cities didn’t like the redistribution, he thought it was fair.