N.C. House District 12 (All of Lenoir County, and southwestern part of Pitt County that includes portions of Greenville, Winterville, Grifton, and Ayden.)

  • George Graham, Democrat (three-term incumbent). Occupation: Retired educator. Education: Fayetteville State University, bachelor’s of elementary education. N.C. State University, master’s of education. Career highlights: Served 30 years as Lenoir County commissioner. Lenoir Community College director of Adult Basic Education. State Department of Health and Human Services personnel and program services employee.
  • Chris Humphrey, Republican. Occupation: Owns insurance businesses in Kinston and Goldsboro. Education: Attended Lenoir Community College, finished bachelor’s of political science at UNC-Chapel Hill. Career highlights: Former Lenoir County commissioner, La Grange Town Council member, Lenoir Community College Board of Trustees member, president La Grange Chamber of Commerce.

It may take years for the newly redrawn and mostly rural House District 12 to recover from the economic losses caused by Hurricane Florence’s wind and flood damage.

Incumbent Democratic State Rep. George Graham of Kinston thinks his experience makes him the best candidate to guide the district through these tough times.

But Republican challenger Chris Humphrey of Kinston thinks a Republican majority in the General Assembly would give him more clout in Raleigh.

“We’ve got some challenges, and I think rural North Carolina needs an effective voice, and a seat at the table,” Humphrey said. “I’m hoping that the Republicans keep the majority [in the General Assembly], and If I’m elected, I’ll have a seat at the table, and I’ll be able to ask for funding maybe another person won’t be able to, and get the attention of the leadership.”

Democrats comprise 53 percent of registered voters in the district, compared to 25 percent of registered Republican voters. Nearly 21 percent of voters in the district are unaffiliated. Yet the district is rated competitive by the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, which closely tracks state elections and voter behavior patterns.

This is the first general election since the shape of the district was redrawn in 2017 as a result of a federal lawsuit that challenged 28 legislative districts as racial gerrymanders.

Graham said his political experience and ability to get things done is what sets him apart from Humphrey.

“One of the most recent things I’ve done was to create a situation where we were able to do the [Veterans Administration] nursing home in Kinston and Lenoir County,” Graham said. “I was primarily responsible for making that happen.”

Humphrey said he’s better equipped to serve district residents because he’s a small business owner who knows what it’s like to have everything on the line.

“He’s a lifelong politician,” Humphrey said about Graham. “I know what it’s like to have everything at stake. If I don’t make a sale or I don’t take care of a customer, then that affects how I’m paid. I’ve got a lot of skin in the game, whereas he’s been a government employee all these years.”

Graham said storm recovery, education, health care, and jobs are major issues in District 12.

“All of the above are things we’re going to have to work to resolve to make us whole again,” Graham said.

Humphrey said there’s a rural divide in North Carolina, and education is one way to narrow the gap between districts like the 12th and the state’s more prosperous urban districts.

Graham said the expansion of broadband internet to North Carolina’s rural communities is critical to economic development, better jobs, and improved educational opportunities for children.

“Our kids have to have that technology or otherwise they can’t compete with kids from Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, and Greensboro,” Graham said. “We’ve got to do a much better job and make sure our kids are prepared.”

Graham acknowledged that he and Humphrey may agree on some district priorities. But he said the two likely disagree on traditional party issues such as Medicaid expansion.

“I come from the basic Democratic mold, and my opponent is of the other party,” Graham said. “Even with that, at the end of the day, we want to do what’s best for our county and the other counties that we serve, and the people who work and try to make a living there.”

Humphrey said he’s demonstrated that he can work with people with different political beliefs while serving on town council in La Grange and as a Lenoir County commissioner. He said both bodies were majority Democrats.

“We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but you’ve got to be able to work with people, compromise, and find common ground to get things done,” Humphrey said. ”It won’t be lip service with me. I want to fight for rural North Carolina. I don’t care what political party anyone belongs to.”

Graham said he also has the ability to work in bipartisan fashion.

“Since I’ve been [in office], I’ve worked across party lines, and made acquaintances and made friends across party lines, and we’ve worked on projects together,” Graham said. “No man or woman is an island. You can’t go into the General Assembly and think that you’re going to get it done without working across party lines. There’s no getting around it.