Republican state Sen. Tom McInnis expects a “Trump Bump” to send him back for a second term in the North Carolina legislature. But Democratic challenger Dannie Montgomery is counting on a large early voting turnout to smooth any groundswell of support for McInnis.
The candidates are competing in District 25, comprising Richmond, Scotland, Anson, and Stanly counties, as well as a small portion of southern Rowan County. The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, which tracks state elections, rates the district competitive. The rating is based on conventional voting behavior since 2008.
McInnis, an auctioneer from Ellerbe, said the 25th District has a conservative streak that has responded favorably to the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. He thinks that will help his re-election bid.
“It is a diverse district when it comes to its needs in education, tax relief, and desire for limited government,” McInnis said.
“There already has been a heavy vote by what I call the ‘Silent Majority for Trump.’ They’re voting for Trump because they’re the folks who don’t do polls,” McInnis said. “They don’t put signs up. They don’t respond to phone calls. But they’re showing up to vote because they see what the alternative to Donald Trump and Mike Pence is. I know my district is good with both of those.”
Montgomery, a middle school teacher at Anson Elementary in Wadesboro, is a lifelong Anson County resident from Lilesville. Montgomery is making her first run for office, but she’s not a political novice.
Montgomery has been an activist for the Democratic Party in Anson County, where she served as the local party chair. She was a vice chair in the North Carolina Democratic Party, as well as a superdelegate in 2008 to the Democratic National Convention that nominated Barack Obama.
“There is a crisis in the public schools, and that’s why I am running for the Senate,” Montgomery said.
“Teacher pay matters. How you treat school employees matters,” she said. “There are 7,000 teacher assistants gone out of the classroom. Education made a difference in my life, and I want it to make the same difference so all children can have an opportunity for a great education.”
Montgomery has direct classroom experience and has taught more than 200 students computer application skills.
McInnis served on the Richmond County Board of Education for eight years before he was elected to the state Senate. He’s the son of a public school teacher, and his wife, Janice Russell-McInnis, is a teacher at Richmond Early College High School.
McInnis said he was proud of working to raise teacher pay, especially for starting teachers. Montgomery countered that not all teachers have received raises, and that the Republican-led legislature has exaggerated the pay-raise claim.
Montgomery said her three main priorities are expanding North Carolina’s Medicaid system using federal money available through the Affordable Care Act, improving education by decreasing class sizes, and enacting additional environmental safeguards.
Montgomery wants to turn back the clock in restoring the state’s reputation since the passage of House Bill 2, better known as the “Bathroom Bill.” The law restricts use of public bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers to people whose biological birth anatomy corresponds to those facilities.
“We lost millions of dollars in jobs because of H.B. 2,” Montgomery said. “It’s probably going to turn into billions if we don’t get it straightened out.”
McInnis said he would like to continue the work he’s accomplished as a member of the Judiciary II, Commerce, and Agriculture committees. He wants to see more research about the effects of expanding Medicaid before deciding to support or oppose it.
“I am hoping to move up to a vice chair in one of my committees,” McInnis said. “I like my committees. I don’t care about moving from those committees. I fit well with those, and I don’t have any problem staying on those.”
He intends to tackle an opioid epidemic, which has emerged because of the availability of highly addictive prescription painkillers.
“They’re being so loosely prescribed by doctors and dentists,” McInnis said. “We’ve got people addicted, and it is an absolute epidemic. Once that happens, and they can’t get any more, they turn to the black market to get them or the heroin that has gotten so cheap.”
The North Carolina Forestry Association recently recognized McInnis as Legislator of the Year.
The candidates are happy their race has been positive.
“I am grateful that it hasn’t turned out to be what we’re seeing at the national level,” Montgomery said. “We are bigger and better than what we’ve seen, and I am glad it hasn’t shown up in our race.”