The state Senate seat in District 11 is wide open, and two Republicans have so far filed for the job.
Benton Sawrey of Clayton and Richard Horner of Wilson officially joined the race the first week of December, looking to represent residents of Johnston, Wilson and Nash counties at the General Assembly. No Democrats have filed yet. The district is predominately Republican.
The seat is currently held by Sen. Buck Newton, a Wilson Republican, who is leaving to run for the open seat of attorney general, as Roy Cooper is running for governor.
Sawrey, 28, is a lawyer with the Narron, O’Hale and Whittington firm in Smithfied. He’s a Smithfield native and attended Smithfield-Selma High School before going to N.C. State University and the University of South Carolina School of Law.
Sawrey serves on the board of trustees at Johnston Community College and the board of directors for 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 most of his professional career was spent in the financial services industry as a former investment broker with BB&T’s Scott & Stringfellow and First Citizen’s IronStone Securities serving Southern Bank. His wife, Patricia, is a second grade teacher at Wells Elementary. They have four children.
Both candidates emphasized their interest in improving their district’s schools.
Horner described himself as a public school, home school and charter school advocate. His children went through the public school system, and Horner wants to see teachers paid more for the hard work they do.
Sawrey said that 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 the example of Novo Nordisk expanding to Johnston County as an instance where government officials 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 there, and he wants to settle there.
“I came back from law school with the intent to raise my family here,” he added. “As I grow and this community grows, these decisions will have an impact on my children.”
In the months leading up to the March primary, Sawrey said he believes in grassroots campaigning and hopes to introduce himself to every Republican primary voter in the district.
Horner, too, 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 very conservative.
“The money we bring to Raleigh needs to go back to the communities and programs and that needs to be done efficiently. I want to make sure we are not wasting money,” Horner said.
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.
He 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.