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New House district brings new faces to Pitt County elections

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Court-ordered changes in North Carolina's legislative maps have reshaped Pitt County's representation. House Districts 8 and 9 are now located solely in the county and District 12 links all of Lenoir County with southwestern Pitt County.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Court-ordered legislative redistricting has changed the map in Pitt County and that means voters in Ayden, Grifton and other points south will see new names on the ballot come November.

Pitt County, which currently shares two state House seats with Wilson County, will now share one seat with Lenoir County.

House District 12, which encompasses all of Lenoir County, also will include small portions of Greenville and Winterville, all of Grifton and Ayden and a large swath of southwestern Pitt County.

The district is currently represented by Democrat George Graham of Kinston, who is running for a fourth term. So far no Democrat has filed to challenge Graham, but Chris Humphrey, a Kinston businessman, has filed as a Republican candidate for the seat. If no other candidates file for the seat, Graham and Humphrey will face off in the Nov. 6 midterm election, giving both men ample opportunity to introduce themselves to Pitt County.

Candidate filing for ends Wednesday for state and local offices as well as Congressional seats.

The redrawn district lines, part of a long-running legal battle over the constitutionality of 2010 redistricting process, may leave voters wondering who to call if they need assistance from a state legislator, but at least one local elected leader thinks Pitt County benefits from the change.

County Commissioner Glen Webb represents District 6, which encompasses most of southern Pitt County. About half of his district is located in House District 12.

“There is a bigger connection between Greenville-Kinston than Greenville-Wilson. It’s just a regional thing, especially for the people I represent,” Webb said. “Think about it, you are more likely to go to a Wood Ducks game and Mother Earth (Brewing) or Chef and The Farmer than go over to Wilson.”

Southern Pitt County and Lenoir County also have similar issues, Webb said. Both struggle to steer economic development to their areas. Grifton and Kinston also battle flooding issues, Webb said.

Graham and Humphrey have both served on the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners. Graham is a Kinston native and Humphrey grew up there.

After obtaining degrees from Fayetteville State University and North Carolina State University, Graham returned to work in the community college system and the Department of Health and Human Services. He is now retired.

Humphrey graduated from Lenoir Community College and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He owns an AllState agency with offices in Kinston and Goldsboro and served on the La Grange Town Council prior to becoming a county commissioner.

Humphrey ran for the state Senate in 2010 but lost in the Republican primary. He decided to step back from politics at the time and concentrate on his business and serve on the Lenoir Community College Board of Trustees.

Humphrey said he started thinking about making another run for the legislature when he saw the latest map. Rep. John Bell IV, R-Wayne, the House majority leader, also talked to him about a run.

“I enjoy serving people. I enjoy trying to troubleshoot, not point fingers but try find solutions to problems,” Humphrey said.

Republicans have a majority in the House and Senate, Humphrey said, so he believes the District will be better served by having a Republican representative.

“Rural eastern North Carolina needs an effective voice in legislature,” Humphrey said.

Graham said he wants to ensure eastern North Carolina is getting the resources it needs to grow.

“We need school and community college funding so that our kids can get the education they need and our community can attract more and better-paying jobs,” Graham said. “It is also important we continue the work to recover from Hurricane Matthew. Our community needs to work with Gov. (Roy) Cooper, state lawmakers of both parties, and our bipartisan congressional delegation to make sure we get the federal and state money we need.”

Graham also said he believes good opportunities can come from the new alignment.

"Lenoir County and Pitt County have been closely tied together and have worked together on projects over the years," he said. The communities have many similarities, such as prioritizing both public education and their respective community colleges. Both counties also are actively seeking businesses and industries that will provide jobs with good wages.

"We both have a sizable amount of poverty we are trying to address by providing additional training, better jobs and more jobs," Graham said.

Graham said he would focus on working through the state commerce department to target potential recruits. He also believes the Global TransPark still has a role in the region's development.

"It's been there for a while, and maybe we have missed some opportunities to develop it," Graham said.

"But I understand now they have a team of experts working out of the Raleigh (commerce) office and some stationed at the Transpark who are beginning to look at what we can do and how we can do it in terms of creating and developing jobs at the TransPark," Graham said. "It's a great piece of real estate and has a lot of infrastructure there. We just need to determine how we can take advantage of it and make it grow."

Graham said along with economic development he wants to work on expanding local services for veterans. The state needs to expand those services.

He also believes more services are needed to help individuals leaving incarceration.

"We need to look at what we can do to assist them, help them, so they can become productive citizens and not go back to that drug connection that creates so many problems," Graham said. He sponsored legislation to establish re-entry programs and secured about $300,000 in funding. Re-entry programs work set up people who are about to be released with jobs or training, housing and other activities that give them a focus along with post release support.

Humphrey said he believes a key to addressing the region’s slow economic growth is better education.

Local boards of education need more autonomy. Less emphasis should be placed on “teaching for the tests,” he said. An educated, technically savvy workforce is what will bring good-paying jobs to the region.

Humphrey said he’s long been a supporter of charter schools and that competition does encourage school systems to work harder for their students. However, a recent slate of charter school closings brought on financial problems, including several in Kinston, has left him believing the state needs more financial accountability from these institutions.

Democrats have a majority in the district, 53 percent, compared to the 25 percent of registered Republican voters and nearly 21 percent of declared unaffiliated voters.

Based on 2010 U.S. Census numbers, which were used to draw the most recent legislative maps, nearly 22 percent of the district’s population is located Pitt County.

However, between 2010 and 2016 Pitt County’s population has grown by an estimated 9,000 people while Lenoir County’s population has decreased by 1,100, according to U.S. Census estimates. It’s unclear how much of Pitt County’s population growth has occurred in the district and how much of Lenoir County’s loss is attributed to relocation caused by Hurricane Matthew.

Legislative districts are redrawn after every U.S. Census to account for statewide population changes. The district changes made following the 2010 census divided Pitt County between three state House districts.

Only one of the House seats, District 9, was located solely in Pitt County. The two other districts, 8 and 24, shared the remainder of Pitt County with Wilson County. Since 2012 representatives from Districts 8 and 24 lived in Wilson County.

When the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld a ruling that the 2011 legislative districts were unconstitutional and new ones had to be drawn, Pitt County remained divided between three House Districts, but Districts 8 and 9 were located wholly in Pitt county and the county was drawn out of District 24 and drawn into District 12.

Pitt and Lenoir counties have shared state legislative districts in the past. In the 1990s, House District 9 fell in portions of Pitt, Greene and Lenoir counties.

Pitt County is currently divided between two state Senate districts, 5 and 7, which each include portions of Lenoir, Pitt and Wayne counties. Senate District 5 also contains Greene County.

Under the most recent legislative maps, which are being used in the 2018 election, Pitt is now in one Senate District, 5, along with Greene County.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com and 329-9570.

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