Who will represent us in Raleigh? Horner predicts judges will approve new districts

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Sen. Rick Horner told a group of business leaders Tuesday that recently redrawn legislative maps "will probably stick."

Horner, a Republican representing Senate District 11 including portions of Wilson, Johnston and Nash counties, made the comments in front of about 40 attendees at the Eggs and Issues breakfast sponsored by The Action Group at the Wilson Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

Rep. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, also spoke at the event. Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, and Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, had been invited but were unable to attend.

Martin said the redistricting process was court-ordered. 

"It wasn't something that we chose to do," Martin said.

Horner said that the state constitution requires that counties be kept whole to the greatest extent possible. 

"I believe strongly in whole counties and keeping our government united," Horner said. "I campaigned on it because you don't want to split counties up any more than you have to."

Under an algorithm developed through the redistricting process, the average House seat should represent 79,482 people plus or minus 5 percent and the average Senate district should contain 190,710 plus or minus 5 percent.

"Because of the population of Wilson, it's just the right size to be a House district," Martin said. "We're not going to have two people who are split between Wilson and Pitt County. We're going to have one person for all of Wilson County."

"Jean Farmer-Butterfield and myself are in the House now and as we move forward, there will only be one House district," Martin said. "It will be House District 24."

Horner expressed confidence that the maps approved by the Republican-led legislature will be approved by a federal three-judge panel.

"Even if it is contested or the judges change it, we feel very strongly when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to redo these things, Clarence Thomas was the deciding vote," Horner said. "He voted with the other side because he didn't think race should be included at all. They were saying we did too much for too little. So we haven't included race at all this time, so we feel pretty confident that when it comes back, if it gets to the Supreme Court, they are going to uphold our maps and Thomas is going to go back over to the other side because we did what he said. We didn't include race here. So these maps will probably stick, is my point."

Under the proposed plan, Wilson, Edgecombe and Halifax counties form a single cluster that will receive one Senate seat.

"It's the same cluster that we had in 2011," Horner said.

"This is supposed to be about business and things that are important to Wilson today," Horner said about Tuesday's meeting, largely attended by members of the business community in Wilson.

"You don't have a single thing, I don't believe, more important than making sure that that House seat is held by a pro-business candidate for Wilson County," Horner said. "It shouldn't be about social issues or ideological things. If you want a businessperson, now is the time to make sure you get behind somebody who is going to represent us in the House and the Senate that will be business-oriented."

The Senate is going to be a tougher task, Horner said. 

"You're grouped with Edgecombe and Halifax County. You'll be a small piece of that pie," Horner said. "That's going to be a really hard one for you to have much influence on and that's what makes the House so critical to Wilson. That's your guy or gal. That's your shot."

After each legislator spoke, Wilson City Councilman A.P. Coleman asked about access to broadband, referencing Wilson's Greenlight venture.

"I can understand why private enterprise would say 'It's our responsibility.' When the city of Wilson went into it, we didn't use taxpayers' money. We borrowed the money to do it and it's doing well" Coleman said. "I'm looking at it simply. I can understand if it's business's responsibility to provide for broadband. Fine, but somewhere down the line, people are hurting. One of us needs to do it.  If private enterprise won't do it, allow government to do it. It needs to be done one way or the other, either jointly or individually. Do you think it will happen during my lifetime? And I'm an old man. It needs to be done pretty quick."

"We did make some progress. It was very enlightening for me to get in the middle of what turned out to be a very decisive issue," Martin said. "This is a really good example of the special-interest groups and the power and the money at work and it was shocking really, to see, but I think a lot of legislators really started to get a better idea of what the needs are."

"A number of years have been passed now since Wilson was grandfathered in and allowed to provide their broadband, but no other municipal broadband systems are allowed in the state and really we are an exception because most of them financially have not done well and there is just the exact right climate here where we have Wilson Energy and we have the skills and the technology, but most who have done it are doing poorly financially."

Martin said that one can philosophically agree with both sides of the argument on who should be providing the service, whether it be the government or the private sector.

"The taxes would be unbearable if government decided to do all of those services. Yes, I totally agree that government should not be doing those things, but on the other side, the broadband is now critical infrastructure," Martin said. "It's not a luxury just for TV and entertainment. It's used for education. It's used for heath care. It's used for emergency services. It's something that, if we are going to be competitive for economic development and for jobs, we need to have those services. All of our citizens really need that and that is where you come to the other side where government provides the infrastructure."

Martin said a bill that legislators are working on provides for public-private partnerships where government could install the infrastructure but perhaps not provide the service. 

"Then private companies could be the users of the infrastructure and be the provider of the service," Martin said. "It will be interesting to see how Greenlight is able to participate. I think there will be ways that benefit Wilson in the long run, but for now it would kind of have to leave Wilson in its own little box and work for the rest of the state. How we are going to do that?"

Martin said North Carolina is ultimately going to be one of the first states in the country to have all of its schools connected with broadband internet access.

"Those traditional providers, they will not play in this environment because they do not want to share," Martin said. "They want to have their own highway and only they touch it. That's why it's cost-prohibitive for them to get out to these rural communities."  

Horner said it is the local chambers of commerce in eastern North Carolina who ought to be championing Greenlight.

"It is you who can say that we are being economically sytmied in by not having this," Horner said. "We need high-speed internet for these kids. You need a broader coalition."

"It's not just you against the cable providers. Quite frankly, I don't care who gets to see the Discovery Channel," Horner said. "That doesn't bother me at all, but if it stops a small business from operating, I've got concerns there. I think more people in the General Assembly in our group would have concerns if you could show demonstratively that it's going to slow down business development in areas. I think that's where you missed out by not showing a more less self-serving argument."