LUMBERTON — Candidates for the state General Assembly agree that among the major issues on the minds of voters in Robeson County are job creation, and adequate funding to support the state’s public schools and community college and university systems.
On Tuesday, two incumbent state legislators from Robeson County hope to win re-election by defeating challengers who both live in Columbus County.
State Sen. Michael Walters, a Democrat from Fairmont, is defending his District 13 seat against W. Bernard White Jr., a Republican from Whiteville. District 13, which consisted of Robeson and Hoke counties before the Republican-controlled General Assembly drew new voting districts following the 2010 census, now includes Robeson and Columbus counties.
Rep. G.L. Pridgen, of Lumberton, the only Republican in Robeson County’s current state delegation, hopes to hold on to his District 46 seat by defeating Kenneth Waddell, a Democrat who is the mayor of Chadbourn. House District 46 encompassed Robeson, Hoke and Scotland counties, but was redrawn to include Robeson, Bladen and Columbus counties.
Walters has served in the Senate since being appointed by Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2009 to fill the unexpired term of David Weinstein. A native of Robeson County, Walters is president of his family’s farming and timber brokering business and a graduate of N.C. State University.
Walters says that Robeson and Columbus counties, since both are rural, have similar issues that need to be addressed. His No. 1 priority is getting the economy moving again by creating good-paying jobs.
“If the economy improves, state revenues improve,” he said. “If we work, and there’s job creation, we improve North Carolina.”
Education at all levels needs to be a priority of lawmakers, Walters said. He said that education, workforce development and economic development are all related.
“This is a major concern of mine,” he said. “You can’t take your eyes off of education.”
Walters told The Robesonian that everything possible must be done to encourage the region’s growth and development of agriculture, especially bio-technology and agri-tourism.
Walters said that he believes he has been successful in Raleigh because of his ability to work with Democrats and Republicans.
“I have respect from those on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
White, 44, is seeking his first elected public office. He is the owner of Advanced Computing, a small business he has operated in Whiteville for nine years.
A Columbus County native, White grew up in Chadbourn and graduated from West Columbus High School. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
White told The Robesonian that he intends to be the “citizens legislator.”
“I’m a southern conservative and small business owner,” he said. “I feel I have something to offer if the people let me.”
Like Walters, White says that the economy is the most important issue that needs to be addressed.
“We need jobs like never before,” he said.
White contends that legislators need to do whatever they can to make it more attractive for businesses to locate in North Carolina. That includes lowering taxes, easing regulations, and offering incentives.
White admits that he is not real familiar with educational issues.
“I have a lot to learn about our schools, but I’m learning,” he said. “We need to find ways to make teaching an attractive position. Smarter kids are happier children.”
White said that he would not support any legislation that harms the schools or senior citizens.
“That’s off the table,” he said.
Pridgen, 68, is hoping to win his second two-year term in the House. A Robeson County native, he retired from Bell South after 30 years of service and started his own communications company.
Pridgen graduated from Littlefield High School and has taken different trade and business courses at Robeson Community College. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
Pridgen says he is a conservative who believes there is too much waste and fraud in government.
“You can’t spend money you don’t have. You have to live within your means whether you are an individual, a business or the state,” he said.
As a freshman in the GOP-controlled House, Pridgen lists as accomplishments: being ranked the ninth most conservative legislator in 2011; being appointed as co-chair of the House Unemployment Fraud Task Force; being the sponsor of the state’s energy independent bill; and helping to write the state’s copper theft bill.
Pridgen said that the General Assembly needs to work on limiting and restructuring regulations that govern farmers and small businesses.
“They (farmers and small business owners) are never sure what new regulations are coming out tomorrow,” he said. “We need to get the economy moving. We need growth to bring jobs and new businesses to the region.”
Pridgen also told The Robesonian that education is one of the major issues the State needs to address.
“Education is important,” he said. “We need teachers who can do well and parents who can help with
their child’s education.”
Pridgen said he believes that teachers were “treated well” during the past legislative session. He said teachers received raises and their liability insurance is now paid for by the state.
Pridgen acknowledged that his re-election bid is an uphill battle because his district has been redrawn to include more Democrats than Republicans.
“But people are being very receptive to what I’m saying,” he said. “People are seeing that the same party (Democrats) were in charge (of the General Assembly) for years and that things aren’t working. They are looking to try something new.”
Waddell, the Democratic House candidate, also touts his conservative credentials, calling himself a Blue Dog Democrat.
“The state needs to be responsible with our money,” he said. “… But I’m flexible to ideas. I’m willing to accept ideas from Democrats, Republicans or anyone who has ideas that may help.”
Waddell served on the Chadbourn Council for 24 years and is starting his seventh year as the town’s mayor. A lifelong Columbus County resident, he holds a bachelor of science degree in Animal Science from North Carolina State University and a master’s degree in Agriculture Education from North Carolina State University. He taught agriculture in local high schools for more than 30 years, and currently works with the family farming business.
“We need to focus our efforts on public education,” he said. “Schools are like surrogate parents … I don’t support charter schools and vouchers. They take away from the public schools.”
Waddell said that the economy and jobs should be a priority in Raleigh.
“My goal is to bring jobs to stimulate the economy in rural areas,” he said. “We need to get everybody employed that wants to be employed.”
Waddell suggests that a commission separate from the General Assembly be set up to pursue business recruitment. He also said that he would support reducing regulations on businesses, “but not at the expense of the electorate.”
“We should be nurturing small businesses so that we can get jobs, ” he said, “but we should not let businesses go freely and do just what they want.”
Rep. Charles Graham of District 47, Rep. Garland Pierce of District 48, and Ken Goodman of District 66, all Democrats, are unopposed on Tuesday.
As a result of redistricting, District 66 now includes a small part of northeastern Robeson County.