Horner to run in reshaped Senate district

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A second term means a bigger bullhorn for state Sen. Rick Horner.

The freshman Republican lawmaker says he’ll work to become a leading advocate for public schools in the GOP’s Senate caucus if voters return him to Raleigh, where the benefits of seniority and majority party membership translate to greater influence.

“I’m hoping to get more seniority and leverage on the education issues,” Horner said. “I’ve gotten in the room in some of the decision-making processes. It’s very important we have someone strong on public schools from the Republican Party on the education committee.”

Horner announced his bid for re-election in Senate District 11 on Monday and is renting his longtime family home in Bailey in order to reside within the new district boundaries, which shifted during the 2017 court-ordered legislative redistricting process.

The current District 11 includes portions of Wilson, Nash and Johnston counties. When the new map takes effect in 2019, that district will consist of northwestern Johnston County and all of Nash County.

“I’m hoping I’ll still be able to look after Wilson,” said Horner, who noted he still owns houses in Wilson and Emerald Isle while living in “my home where I raised my children, where I grew up.”

The N.C. State Board of Elections lists Horner’s address on Peele Road in Bailey. Nash County tax records show Horner and his wife had sold the property to his sister in May 2008.

Redistricting split Wilson from District 11 and combined it with Edgecombe and Halifax counties in the new Senate District 4. Voter registration in those three counties gives Democrats a 15 percentage point advantage, while the makeup of the new District 11 gives the GOP an edge.

“It is a privilege to serve those in Senate District 11, and I look forward to representing our community next session as we continue to improve the quality of life for everyone across North Carolina,” Horner said in a news release announcing his re-election campaign.

Horner represented the Bailey area on the Nash County Board of Education for 14 years before relocating to Wilson in 2009. He won the District 11 state Senate seat in 2016 when its former occupant, Buck Newton, ran as the Republican candidate for state attorney general.

In his first term, Horner was appointed to the Senate’s education and higher education committee and also serves on the health care, judiciary, pensions, retirement and aging and state and local government panels.

Horner has sponsored 33 bills and was primary sponsor of 11 in the 2017-18 session, but he’s also worked behind the scenes to improve policies for the state’s public schools, his centerpiece issue.

He quoted The Washington Post columnist George F. Will’s 2009 profile of U.S. Senate powerbroker Ted Kennedy, noting, as Will wrote, that “95 percent of the work is done off the floor, away from committees, out of sight, where strong convictions leavened by good humor are the currency of accomplishment.”

A critic of the North Carolina Education Lottery’s revenue split, Horner said a plan is in place to shift lottery dollars back to school construction over the course of four to seven years. Designating more lottery money for capital expenses will ensure that it increases the state’s education budget instead of becoming a substitute for other funding.

“The only way to keep it from supplanting money is to fund something either 100 percent or fund something that isn’t even in the (state) budget like capital,” he said.

Horner is also working to expand the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, which provides college scholarships to educators who teach in economically distressed counties, and fix an unfunded mandate capping class sizes that would result in some school districts cutting art and music programs to make more classrooms available for lower-grade homerooms.

“I’m just trying to do my part,” Horner said. “I’ve made very good inroads with the House education leadership. I’ve built up a pretty good level of trust there.”

Horner had $16,774.57 in his campaign war chest as of Jan. 25 when the State Board of Elections received his 2017 year-end semiannual report. He raised more than $143,000 in the successful 2016 campaign.

Candidate filing begins Monday, Feb. 12 and concludes on Feb. 28. Horner said he plans to file his paperwork Monday at the Nash County Board of Elections office.

“This is an exciting time to serve our people in Raleigh because what we’ve been doing with taxes and regulation is working for our state,” Horner said. “We’re at the top of every national list whether you’re looking for quality of life or of business-friendly states. There’s no question about it, North Carolina is the place to be.”