During his two terms as a state senator, Sampson County native Brent Jackson said, he’s worked hard to bring rural and agricultural issues to the forefront.
A farmer himself, the 56-year-old Republican said the industry took a backseat in the General Assembly for too long, something he fought to change by helping form the Agricultural and Rural Caucus and sponsoring bills like the N.C. Farm Act.
Princeton Mayor Don Rains, the first Democrat to challenge Jackson in the redrawn N.C. Senate District 10, says his opponent also helped the GOP push a conservative agenda skewed too far to the right. With an endorsement from popular former Gov. Jim Hunt, the 60-year-old Rains said he wants the state to return to being a “bright star,” not just a “flicker.”
“I’m running to get North Carolina back to the middle, to be a progressive state again,” Rains said. “We are sort of the laughing stock of the country because of the lack of leadership in the state.”
Jackson and Rains will square off at the polls on Nov. 4, when voters in Sampson, Duplin and Johnston counties will pick a winner.
In Johnston, District 10 includes the Cleveland and McGee's Crossroads communities and other areas east of N.C. 50, excluding Benson. The district also includes Meadow, Four Oaks, Kenly, Princeton and Pine Level.
Jackson won an open seat by about 2,100 votes in 2010, when the legislature flipped Republican. In 2012, he did not have a challenger. He said he’s running today for many of the same reasons he ran four years ago.
“We have started a lot of programs to promote agriculture in rural North Carolina,” Jackson said. “I want to see those programs through fruition.”
The Farm Act, which he co-sponsored in 2013, reduced liability for producers and provided more than a dozen other regulatory breaks for farmers and landowners. He said like the Farm Act, his bills that have won approval have had support from both sides of the aisle.
“I have always tried to be bipartisan and look at all the issues and benefit the citizens of our district and the state, rather than look at party lines,” he said.
In addition to serving on the agriculture, environment and natural resources committee, Jackson is co-chair of the appropriations committee.
He owns Jackson Farming Co. in Autryville, is married to his wife of 36 years, Debbie, and has three sons and three grandchildren.
Seeking middle ground
Rains, who owns Rains and Associates Insurance, has served as Princeton’s mayor for 12 years.
Like Jackson, he said that in the largely rural District 10, looking out for farmers is key, as is creating diverse jobs in agriculture.
But his top priority is public education, including making sure that teachers are paid closer to the national average. His wife of 20 years, Vicky, has worked in the Johnston County schools for 38 years, and education is something the whole family is passionate about, he said.
“The bottom line is that students have to have a successful school environment to learn in,” Rains said.
Rains is interested also in helping create a better tax plan, one that treats middle-class workers more fairly. In addition, he said he’ll fight to secure funding for local road projects, not just those in urban areas.
Johnston County is divided among three Senate districts, and none of the current senators are from Johnston County. Rains said he hopes to change that.
Both for pipeline
Portions of Johnston and Sampson counties are included in a plan for a natural-gas pipeline that would likely cut through local farms and other private tracts of land. Both candidates say they support the estimated $400 billion Dominion Resources project, which would stretch from West Virginia to North Carolina.
“I realize that we have got to have natural gas to these areas,” Jackson said. “If we stand the chance of new plants and new jobs, it’s going to require that infrastructure.”
Rains said he is in favor of a plan to bring more natural gas to the state, but not fracking on North Carolina soil.
“I’m all for energy, but not for fast-tracking and not knowing what we are putting in the ground,” Rains said.
Jackson sees the pipeline project and the future of fracking as different issues.
“We do not have any company that is chomping at the bit to drill for natural gas here,” Jackson said. “I see that as a much longer-range plan than the pipeline.”