RALEIGH — State representatives Jimmy Dixon and Efton Sager have a lot in common, and even call each other friends, but the two incumbents have been drawn into the same district, meaning one will have to give up his seat in 2013 after Tuesday’s Republican primary.
Dixon – who lives in rural Duplin County – says he would do a better job at representing the entire newly drawn House District 4, which includes portions of Wayne County and Duplin County. Meanwhile, Sager — who lives in Goldsboro — says the district should be represented by a Wayne County resident, since that’s where most of the people live.
Both candidates say jobs and the economy are their top priorities, but each has a different plan for getting things moving.
Dixon – a turkey farmer from Warsaw – said he wants to reduce all tax rates, reduce energy costs and cut regulations. He said he supports reintroducing the Energy Jobs Act Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed last year.
“We need to vigorously explore fracking,” Dixon said. “We need to encourage the feds to do everything possible to open up the [Keystone XL] pipeline. We need to immediately form coalitions with Virginia and South Carolina and begin to look at drilling for our own natural resources off of our coast.”
The Republican majority made a good start on regulatory reform last year, he said, which “we need to continue so that our small businesses and developers can move forward uninhibited by the extraordinary amount of time it takes to get permits, and to allow them more liberty in starting new projects.”
In order to be able to reduce all tax rates, Dixon said the state needs to cut spending.
“I’m convinced we don’t have revenue problems,” he said. “We have spending problems.”
As examples of things that could be cut from the state budget, Dixon listed:
• $300,000 to continue to study Blackbeard’s pirate ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which he said was in the budget before last.
• More than $1 million appropriated to build walking trails around community colleges. “We have a lot of sidewalks already and most folks have an area around their homes if they need to walk.”
• An unknown number of state-owned vehicles — “If we don’t even know how many vehicles we own and don’t even know where they’re at, how do we possibly know if we need them all?”
Dixon said the agricultural community in Eastern North Carolina is hard-hit by regulations proposed by environmentalists and animal rights advocates.
“For example, there’s a movement afoot that would keep our farmers from tilling their ground when a certain level of dust is produced,” he said. “There was a federal movement that an individual could not use his own children to do certain tasks on the farm. There are movements to declare the water, which is under the land that we own in Eastern North Carolina, does not belong to the owner of the land.”
As a producer of “several hundred thousand turkeys each year,” Dixon said he is prepared to fight those kinds of “radical” regulations.
Sager — a retired manager of a logging company — said his jobs plan centers around developing North Carolina’s ports — especially in Morehead City — and related infrastructure.
“My concern is trying to get the infrastructure and the port in Morehead City completed — trying to get the port dredged out, so we can get the super container ships that will be coming through the Panama Canal in 2014,” Sager said.
He said he also would push for rail infrastructure coming out of Morehead City, that would lead to distribution centers, he thinks should be “set up” across Eastern North Carolina.
Sager said he’s been in talks with the North Carolina Department of Commerce secretary about plans to develop the Morehead City port. It’s uncertain whether funds to dredge and expand the port there on in Wilmington — or to build a new deepwater port in Southport — will be available.
“We’re trying to get the economic developers on board, so we can all work together,” he said.
If the state doesn’t develop the port and a distribution system to unload the container ships Sager envisions soon will arrive from the Panama Canal, he says, “we’ll be losing billions of dollars to Norfolk and Charleston.”
The best man for the job
“Representative Sager and I probably vote as close alike as any two representatives in the legislature, and he and I are friends,” said Dixon. “But I have a better vision for Eastern North Carolina.”
Dixon said Sager thinks about District 4 mostly in terms of Wayne County. “We’re not representing counties, we’re representing districts,” he said.
Because of the population shift, Eastern North Carolina lost five seats in the state House during redistricting last year. That means representatives from that part of the state will be representing larger geographic areas.
It’s important for the person who’s elected to represent District 4 to understand the interests of all Eastern North Carolinians, Dixon said, not just those from Wayne County.
“We need someone who can form coalitions with other representatives from Eastern North Carolina to form voting blocks that represent Eastern North Carolina, in order to get a seat at the decision making table with the power base that’s west of [Interstate] 95,” Dixon said. In my opinion, I present a stronger, more forceful voice than Representative Sager.”
Sager countered that it’s important that the representative chosen for District 4 lives where the population lives.
“I’ve got a tremendous amount more of voters in my county than what he has,” Sager said. “Wayne County’s population is 122,000, compared to about 70,000 in Duplin County.”
Sager said he’s a better candidate primarily because of his experience, which includes two years on the Wayne County Board of Elections, eight years as a county commissioner, and before that, 21 years in the Air Force. He also has served on the Eastern Carolina Council of Government.
“The main thing is working with local governments, he said. “I know some of the obstacles they face probably more so than my opponent does.”
The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Delores Kennedy – who has no campaign website – and Libertarian Kevin Hayes – who calls himself a constitutional conservative – in November.
Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.