The race for the N.C. House seat representing Chatham County will now feature a Republican primary, with former Chatham County Commissioner Walter Petty facing political newcomer Craig Kinsey, who signed up for the race on Friday’s final day of filing.
The winner of the May 17 primary will face incumbent Rep. Robert Reives II for the Dist. 54 seat, which includes all of Chatham County and a small section of Randolph County, in November.
Kinsey originally announced his intention to seek a seat in Congress in the 4th Congressional District in 2021. But after several gerrymandering court cases in late 2021 and early 2022, Kinsey said he decided to file for the N.C. House instead.
“I really feel you should live where you represent,” he told the News + Record on Tuesday. “If you’re a representative for a district you don’t live in, how can you truly represent those people? So that’s why I did not try to run in other (congressional) districts.”
Kinsey has held a couple of town hall events in Chatham County during his time as a congressional candidate. At one of these events in Pittsboro, Kinsey talked about his platform, which focuses on education, limiting the powers of the government and election integrity.
“When a politician gets elected, it seems they forget about the people who elected them, and that’s not something I want to do,” he said during the Pittsboro Town Hall event. “I want to be different, and that’s why I want to listen to what people have to say.”
This week, Kinsey said he felt compelled to run for the 54th district seat after looking at the bills Reives had voted for during his tenure.
“I started to look at Chatham and I have some disagreements with Mr. Reives, and I thought this may be a good fit because I can still help the future generations at the state level,” he said.
Petty, a Republican and lifelong resident of Siler City who’d served as commissioner since 2010, made his announcement about the Dist. 54 race on Thanksgiving, stating his intent to file for the seat held since 2014 by Reives, who lives in Goldston.
“Serving as a county commissioner provided me the opportunity to see that many of the challenges facing us can only be solved at the state level,” Petty, 63, told the News + Record in November. “My intentions are to leverage the relationships I’ve built with House members and leadership to accomplish the goals I’ve had for the district since first getting elected in 2010.”
Petty filed for the House seat on Feb. 24.
He stepped down from his post as a Chatham County Commissioner in the middle of a four-year term back on April 15, 2019, citing the pressing time demands of his business — Atlantic Power Solutions, which sells and services generators for agricultural and industrial use — which was experiencing a period of rapid growth.
At the time, serving in the Dist. 5 seat since 2010, Petty was the lone Republican on the five-member board. His appointed replacement, Andy Wilkie, lost in the November 2020 election to Franklin Gomez Flores. In the process, Gomez Flores — who won by just 322 votes over Wilkie — became Chatham’s first Latino commissioner. (Gomez Flores has filed for the Dist. 5 seat and will faces Republican challenger Peyton Moody in November.)
Petty told the News + Record his decade-long history of serving Chatham County made him an ideal candidate for the position in the General Assembly.
“My message to Republican voters is the same as my message to all voters in the district,” he said. “Experience and results for the residents in the district are critically important. ... Talking points are good, but results are better. I kept my promises to the citizens of Chatham and I will do the same for the district.”
Petty said the “common sense approach to governing” that made him effective as a county commissioner would also make him the better choice for Chatham County while serving at the state level.
“Although I was told it couldn’t be done, under my leadership, we were able to increase funding for our schools, increase the local supplement for teachers, and funded a unique incentive plan to pay educators more,” he said. “By streamlining our government, we were able to increase support for law enforcement and economic development without raising taxes. While doing all of this and more, we upgraded the county’s bond rating to AAA, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in borrowing costs. I will take this same common-sense approach to Raleigh.”
Petty said he’d attended some events with Kinsey, but didn’t know him.
“I’m asking everyone who is eligible to vote in the Republican Primary to vote for me because I’ve proven I can get results,” Petty said. “With my experience, voters know they are getting someone who can deliver results. There is no one that will work harder for the district.”
When it comes to facing his opponent, Kinsey said he wants to learn more about Petty and his beliefs and see what they agree and disagree on.
“I’ll have to learn more about Walter when we talk, have debates and things like that,” Kinsey said. “But to me, it’s all about the future generations and making sure they have the options and freedoms that we have today.”
Voter registration for the statewide primary ends April 22. The one-stop, in-person early voting period begins April 28 and ends May 14. The deadline to submit an absentee ballot request form is May 10.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that District 54 included all of Chatham and a portion of Durham County. District 54 includes all of Chatham and the northeast portion of Randolph County. The News + Record apologizes for the error.
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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