After Nov. 8, a new senator will represent N.C. Senate District 11, either Democrat Albert Pacer or Republican Rick Horner. Change is assured because the current officeholder, Republican Buck Newton, is running for attorney general.
Pacer, a veteran and retired county planner, is making his first bid for public office. Horner is an agribusiness insurance agent who spent nearly a decade on the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education. Horner won a March primary to make it on the November ballot; Pacer was the lone Democrat to file for the seat.
Senate District 11 is made up of northeastern and central Johnston County and the majority of Nash and Wilson counties.
Pacer, 71, has lived most of his life in Florida but was born in Wilmington and currently resides in Zebulon. He said he entered the race in an attempt to pump the brakes on some of the actions of North Carolina Republicans, whom he said are ruining the state he loves.
Horner lives in Bailey, about 12 miles from where he grew up in Wilson. In 2000, he staged an unsuccessful bid for the seat and said he entered the race again because he saw the opening with Newton’s departure and wanted to further his career in public service.
The district has pockets of prosperity and gaps of stagnation. The two candidates agree that a robust private sector is the best way to add jobs, but they differ as to how much of a helping hand government can offer.
“The government doesn’t make jobs; it takes money through taxes,” Horner said. “The way government can assist in creating jobs is to make an environment that’s friendly for businesses, reducing regulation and making it easier for companies to hire workers.”
Pacer sees a North Carolina on the other side of the recession, but he thinks it took this long to get out because too many people were out of work. He pointed to New Deal-era programs like the Works Progress Administration as necessary in times of crisis. He would also like to see greater attention paid to on-the-job training.
“Relying on just the private sector hasn’t worked well in times of recession,” Pacer said. “Put people to work, doing infrastructure projects or even the arts, so people are able to use their skills to contribute to the overall well-being of the country. The area of northern Johnston County is ripe for growth to take place. When industries are concentrated in one place, like the Triangle, growth has to spread into areas where it hasn’t been done before.”
In describing education as a priority, Horner points out that he is married to a teacher, spent nine years on a school board and is currently on the board of trustees of Wilson Community College. North Carolina’s teacher pay has come under fire in recent years, and state education funding ranks second to last in the Southeast, based on National Education Association data. Horner pointed to recent teacher pay raises as a step in the right direction and said he thinks lawmakers can take money from other states programs and funnel it to education.
“I don’t think anyone in North Carolina wants to be average in anything,” Horner said. “Our goal should be to reach number one in the Southeast and number 20 in the nation in teacher pay and not stop until we get there. ... When I was on the school board, I could always find money and ask the county to match it. Most people will go along with that.”
Pacer said he grew up in the Wilmington projects and views education and hard work as his saviors. He worries too many students in the state aren’t being given a fighting chance, and he thinks a graduated income tax is the way to beef up education funding.
“Most teachers have families, and in cases where that’s the only income, $50,000 is simply not enough to live on,” Pacer said of the state’s recent pay increase. “It’s not enough to exist on, and it’s not enough to thrive on. When people are just making it by, their quality of life goes down.”
House Bill 2, North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill,” has led to millions of dollars leaving the state. Pacer is in favor of a full repeal and says the sooner the better.
“Get rid of it, simply and totally,” Pacer said of HB2. “It’s absurd to start with; it doesn’t just limit the ability of localities to determine where people are able to go to the bathroom, but there are other, more onerous provisions. It’s a contradiction in Republican philosophy. Republicans are supposed to believe in not interfering in local bodies.”
Horner acknowledges the bill has upset a lot of people, but he doesn’t support an immediate or total repeal, believing whatever happens should come after the election.
“Obviously there are a lot of people that are pretty upset,” Horner said. “I don’t think anything needs to be done prior to the election; then we reassess exactly what they want, whether it’s a full repeal or something else.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson
Family: married for 31 years, four children
Education: bachelor’s degree in business administration from East Carolina University
Occupation: commercial insurance agent, previously international tobacco dealer, stockbroker
Family: previously married
Education: bachelor’s degree in American history from Wilmington College (now UNC-Wilmington), master’s degree in political science from Appalachian State, master’s in political science from the State University of New York at Albany
Occupation: retired, previously a county planner in Broward County, Fla., and budget director for Albany County, New York
Senate District 11
In Johnston County, the following precincts are in Senate District 11: Archer Lodge, Beulah, East Clayton, North Clayton 1, North Clayton 2, South Clayton, West Clayton 1, West Clayton 2, North Cleveland 1, Flowers Plantation, Micro, North O’Neals, South O’Neals, Pine Level, East Selma, West Selma, East Smithfield, North Smithfield 1, North Smithfield 2, South Smithfield, North Wilders and Wilson’s Mills.