Retired Chief District Court Judge David Brantley will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican state Sen. Louis Pate of Mount Olive in the Nov. 6 general election.
Barbara Dantonio, the current Democratic candidate, has withdrawn from the race.
Brantley, who retired in March, said he was not looking for a job, but did not feel like Pate should be unopposed in the race. He also said there should be some opposing voices that are heard.
Brantley said his decision to seek the nomination is the result of actions taken over the past year by legislators, including the decision not to expand Medicaid.
"All last year, it seemed like the legislature had picked groups to pick on," he said.
Since the district includes all of Wayne and Lenoir counties, a regional Democratic committee will meet to select a replacement candidate, Wayne County Elections Director Dane Beavers said.
The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Wayne County Democratic Party headquarters on Center Street.
The meeting is open all Democrats, and any Democrat in the district can offer themselves as a candidate.
The committee is made up of four members, two representing the Wayne County Democratic Party and two representing the Lenoir County Democratic Party.
The vote will be weighted in Wayne County's favor by probably two-thirds to one-third because of its larger population, Dantonio said.
Dantonio submitted her paperwork withdrawing from the race to the state Democratic Party Thursday. It was presented to the state election board on Friday.
She also sent an email to the Wayne County Board of Elections making it aware of her action.
"I was not opposed in the primary election, so I am the only certified Democratic candidate for this position," Dantonio wrote. "It has been a privilege and honor to serve my party in this position.
"At this time, I am serving my notice of withdrawal as a candidate and request that the appropriate district committee of the Democratic Party meet to nominate my successor whose name will appear on the general election ballot."
However, until that happens, Dantonio remains the candidate of record, Beavers said.
Dantonio, who is chairman of the Wayne County Democratic Party, said she had been serving as a "placeholder" candidate.
"I knew I might have to run because they (state Democratic Party) told us in January that party chairs would run if they can't find somebody," she said. "Believe me, I looked. Whoever is appointed will step forward and be the candidate."
However, Dantonio said that she could not step down and have someone appointed until after the state completed the statewide canvass of the May primary. That was not completed until mid-July.
"I had fun with it. I enjoyed it, but it is hard to wear two hats," she said. "I learned a lot. I have worked on a lot of campaigns, but I have never been a candidate.
"Now, we can move forward and support all of our good candidates and turn Wayne County blue."
Brantley, 66, said he had been considering filing, but that by the time he made his mind up it was too late to do so.
Judges can't just stop, he said.
They have to complete orders and other duties or cases would have to be retired, he said. Brantley said he did not want to happen.
Also, a judge has to step down as soon as he or she announces their intention to seek another office, he said.
"When they (Republicans) first went in there, they were really going after education," Brantley said.
Brantley said he had an interest in education because he has three children who went through the public education system, his wife is a retired teacher, his sister is a teacher, and his father was a principal.
It was disconcerting because of some of the things that happened, particularly to the career or veteran teachers, he said.
It was seemingly just criticizing public education, which is unusual since it makes up the largest part of the state budget, Brantley said.
"Having said that, I was just an interested observer at that point," he said. "They went after and they got rid of career status, as they call it, as if there wasn't some to get rid of teachers who were not performing well anyway. But clearly there is. There is a way to do that."
Next, they eliminated longevity, and educators are now the only state employees who do not have longevity pay, he said.
"So every time you see an article about how teachers got this raise, it is not including any longevity pay," he said.
After teachers, legislators sort of went after other groups, he said.
Brantley said that he watched as a number of unconstitutional laws were passed.
For example, this will be the fourth election using gerrymandered districts that the state has not been forced to redraw, he said.
Last year, it seemed that legislators really came after the judiciary, including efforts to redraw judicial districts, shorten the terms of office, making races partisan and eliminating judicial primaries, Brantley said.
Next, the legislators began to talk of merit selection of judges -- a vague concept, he said.
"Who is going to be deciding who merits appointment and retention?" he said. "Does that take care of your judges who are already there? Are they grandfathered in?
"Who's on this committee that decides who is meritorious. So we were on edge about that because it is unusual."
The proposal would have excluded lawyers from being involved in the process -- another unusual move, he said.
The feeling was that any decisions would be up to the legislators similar to what they were trying to by stripping powers away from the governor, Brantley said.
They have a veto-proof majority in both chambers and are going to start picking judges, too, he said.
Brantley is concerned as well about legislators' action this past week to wrest control of writing language for several proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot from a long-established process.
"You think too much control by one of the three branches of governments and total control by one party seems not what we have been accustomed to in the past," he said.
Born in Pine Level in Johnston County, Brantley earned his bachelor's degree from Wake Forest University in 1974, and his juris doctorate from the same school in 1977.
He first became an elected official in 1984, when he became the clerk of Superior Court for Wayne County.
Brantley served in that position for 12 years, before being elected district court judge in 1996. He would later become chief district court judge in 2009, and win re-election unopposed in 2016.
Over the course of his career, Brantley has presided over all types of courts -- criminal, juvenile, domestic and just about anything else.