Retiring Kerr: County will still have a strong voice
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 4, 2008 2:14 PM
Although state Sen. John Kerr has said he is ready to retire for a multitude of reasons, most notably a desire to slow down and spend more time with his family, he has also said that the decision was made easier by the fact that he feels there are several qualified candidates ready to step in and take his place.
"Hopefully we'll have some good representation," he said. "We've had a history in this county of having strong representation in the House and Senate."
In fact, for 30 years, one of the Senate's leading members has been from Wayne County, beginning with Democrat Henson Barnes who, after one term in the House, served from 1977 until 1992, spending the last four of those years as Senate President Pro Tempore.
It was in his footsteps that Kerr, a Democrat, followed when he was elected to the Senate in 1992 after three terms in the House. Currently he is considered one of the most influential state senators, serving as co-chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and as a member of the highly regarded Senate Appropriations/Base Budget Committee.
"Wayne County's had a long run now," Kerr said. "I think we've been lucky to have people who have worked for their constituents."
But, he continued, that doesn't necessarily mean somebody from outside Wayne County can't do a good job.
Senate District 5 is comprised of all of Greene, part of Wayne and part of Pitt counties.
So far, of the candidates who have declared their intention to run, two are from Wayne, one is from Greene and three are from Pitt.
They are, former Wayne Community College President Dr. Ed Wilson of Goldsboro, state Board of Education member Kathy Taft of Greenville, former state Rep. Charles Johnson of Greenville, former state Sen. Tony Moore of Winterville, and Snow Hill Mayor Don Davis. All are Democrats.
The only Republican who has announced is state Rep. Louis Pate of Mount Olive.
"I don't think geography is very important. There are some legislators who don't even go to parts of their districts and then there are some who do," Kerr said. "I think it's who really wants to help people and who really has the ability to go to work. It's easy to sit up there, but only a few make a difference. It all depends on the person.
"You've got to have people who can get along with people, people who can establish trust and people you can depend on."
And, he continued, in today's General Assembly, those qualities are more important than ever, especially for somebody coming in with little to no legislative experience.
"The legislature has changed a lot in the last 20 years," he said. "When I first went to the House, it was something you had to work your way up through. It was something of a hierarchy.
"I think today, the legislature is more open, and I think that a person who is willing to work and become an expert on some items ... I think the opportunities are there."
But, he continued, if his successor isn't a representative for the entire district, then his or her willingness to work won't matter.
"If you're not responsive to your people, you're not going to be re-elected, and I think they know who's responsive to their requests and who's not," he said.
He explained that since redistricting in 2004, he has not just tried to be an advocate for Wayne County, but also for issues in Greene and Pitt counties, particularly East Carolina University in Greenville.
But, he continued, he hasn't done it by himself. He's had help from the other legislators in the district, as well as from constituents.
"You've got to work together and try to divide up the issues. Everybody can't do everything on every issue. Nobody can spread his or herself too broadly. Just pick an issue," he said.
And, he added, be sure listen to the people.
"Every good idea I've ever had is not mine. It came from a constituent," he said. "This is a great district.
"The constituents have become more involved in recent years. I think you have more input from a broader spectrum and I think people are more interested in local government and state government than they used to be."
Fortunately, Kerr continued, he has confidence in the candidates who have announced their intentions so far.
"I'd say we're in good hands," he said. "Things are going to be fine."
He does, however, seem to be backing Wilson's campaign.
"I certainly think Wayne County has some special issues and I think Wayne County needs representation. I'm certainly supporting somebody from Wayne County. I think Wayne County has a strong candidate. But I don't want to get into any kind of fight about that now," he said. "We've got some good people who want to run."
But whoever eventually wins should plan on John Kerr still being involved.
"I'll be around. I'll have an opinion. And I'll be working with people to see what we can do, including the new senator," he said.
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