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Sen. Rick Horner won't seek reelection in 2020; Johnston commissioner announces candidacy

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State Sen. Rick Horner says his legislative district’s ever-shifting boundaries have led him to bow out at the end of his second General Assembly term. 

Horner, R-Nash, announced on Sunday that he will not seek re-election in Senate District 11 next year. Johnston County Commissioner Patrick Harris declared his candidacy for the District 11 seat on Monday. 

“I have been blessed with an incredible opportunity to serve the citizens of Nash, Johnston and Wilson counties in the Senate,” Horner said in a statement. “Unfortunately, District 11 has changed shape three times in three elections and the 2020 Census is certain to bring yet another change. Much to my regret, it simply is not in the best interest of my family to seek re-election in 2020.” 

Horner lived in Wilson when he won his first two-year Senate term in 2016, succeeding former Sen. Buck Newton. Court-ordered redistricting drew Wilson County out of District 11 the following year, so Horner moved back to his childhood home in Bailey, which fell within the old and new district boundaries. Horner won re-election in 2018 and now represents all of Nash County and the western portion of Johnston County containing the towns of Clayton and Kenly.

Harris, a Smithfield Republican who represents District 5 on the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, retired as Smithfield’s emergency services director, overseeing the fire and EMS departments. He also worked as a health care executive from 2011-17. 

“While it was not in my immediate plan to run for Senate, Senator Horner’s announcement has made me look carefully at the future and how I can best continue to serve the people and where I can do the most good for Johnston County and now Nash County,” Harris said in a Monday statement. “I am a firm believer that God opens doors that we could never open and blesses us with opportunities that we cannot imagine.”

Horner said he is not endorsing a candidate for his seat at this time, noting that other Republicans still have the opportunity to file. 

A Bailey native and 14-year Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education veteran, Horner didn’t forget his former home of Wilson when it was drawn out of his district. The senator secured a $200,000 allocation for new Wilson County Animal Shelter construction in the 2019-20 state budget and he and Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, led House Speaker Tim Moore on a tour of the current animal shelter, which is structurally deficient and slated for replacement.

“During my entire political career, I have tried to be both responsible to our taxpayers as well as a strong advocate for public education,” Horner said. “I’m satisfied my record in the North Carolina Senate reflects that commitment and I will continue to work in the coming year, free of the political distractions, on this important work for our state.” 

Horner’s expertise in education policy led to his appointment as co-chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Higher Education in January, a leadership post he relished. In a statement following Senate leader Phil Berger’s announcement, Horner had called the position “the opportunity of a lifetime.” 

Horner also chairs the state and local government and general government and information technology appropriations panels and is a member of the health care, judiciary, pensions, retirement and aging, base budget appropriations and education appropriations committees. 

Announcing his plans to leave office, Horner thanked his District 11 constituents for the opportunity to serve.

“The future of North Carolina has never been brighter,” he said. “I want to thank everyone for their trust and support that has allowed me to serve our great state.” 

Horner isn’t the only Republican member of the GOP-majority Senate stepping down. Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said last week that he’d retire at the conclusion of his eighth and current term.