A new Democrat will likely represent Cumberland County’s newly drawn House District 44.
Incumbent Billy Richardson did not refile for the seat, which also did not draw any Republican candidates for the May primary election.
Cumberland County natives Terry Johnson, 56, and Charles Smith, 30, are facing each other in the Democrat primary.
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District 44 includes areas of Fayetteville west of US 401 and south of NC 295 to include the Bonnie Doone and Haymount and Evergreen Estates neighborhoods. Also in the district are areas near Morganton, Skibo, and Murchison roads and a portion of Country Club Drive.
This is not Johnson’s first campaign.
He ran against Richardson in the March 2020 primary, receiving 4,693 votes to Richardson’s 5,109.
Johnson is a Fayetteville native who describes himself as a community volunteer, small business owner, veteran, family man and man of God.
After graduating from Westover Senior High School, he enlisted in the Army and spent almost 10 years in the military, including six years in the North Carolina National Guard.
A graduate of Fayetteville Technical Community College who also is taking classes at Fayetteville State University, Johnson is a mortician and owner of Terry Johnson Funeral Home. He also owns a vehicle storage business.
He is a member of Insoul Fellowship Church and past president of Firefox Homeowners Association. He has been married to his wife, Claudia, for 22 years and is a father and grandfather.
Medicaid expansion and education are Johnson’s platforms.
“They’re personal for me,” Johnson said.
He said that before a COVID-19 vaccine was developed, he contracted the virus and was hospitalized for eight days and on a respirator.
As a result, Johnson said, he racked up $88,000 in medical bills because he did not have insurance and did not qualify for Medicaid.
While the bills were eventually paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Johnson said the experience emphasized his concern for others who “fall in the gap.”
Examples he noted were his wife paying $2,000 a month for a prescription for an inflammatory disease and a friend paying $7,000 for lupus infusion shots.
Johnson said he also thinks that expanding Medicaid would bring in more money for the state’s economy and it would create more jobs and help rural hospitals stay open.
Equitable pay for teachers and compensating educators for continuous training and education are important issues to Johnson who volunteered in Cumberland County Schools for about 10 years, became a substitute teacher and taught at Westover for three years.
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Johnson has also been opposed to using state funds for a Civil War and Reconstruction History Center.
“I put people above politics, period,” he said. “I’m a Fayetteville native, and these things affect me, my household, immediate community and (residents) of Cumberland County.”
Smith is a graduate of Fayetteville Academy, Emory & Henry College, and the University of North Carolina.
His wife, Mary Kelly, is also a Fayetteville native, and Smith said wanted to raise a family in a community they are connected to.
He’s previously served as an assistant district attorney for Cumberland County and works at The Charleston Firm handling contract law.
Smith said during his time with the district attorney’s office, he prosecuted domestic violence and child abuse cases. He said he also served on Cumberland County’s Domestic Violence Task Force and provided input when the Fayetteville Police Department created its domestic violence unit in 2019.
Smith said being a domestic violence prosecutor taught him to listen.
“That is something I want to carry over in my service to this to this community,” he said.
One of Smith’s platforms is endorsing “red flag” laws that would temporarily block access to firearms for people deemed unfit by a judge.
“I think that people have a right to own guns safely and responsibly,” Smith said. “Red flag laws take an individualized approach that reduce any person’s access to firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others.”
Smith said it would not be an indefinite seizure, and other states that have enacted a similar law usually seize the firearm for about 10 to 45 days and allow the individual to defend themselves.
Smith’s platform also focuses on education and Medicaid expansion.
His wife is an elementary school counselor for Cumberland County Schools, and he said he’s heard from her ways that the public education system can be improved.
Smith said every North Carolinian also has a right to quality affordable healthcare.
He said Medicaid expansion would help with overcrowded emergency rooms by allowing individuals to see a primary care physician, and it would also help hospitals from performing uncompensated work.
Smith said other matters he considers important are ensuring the mental health system is funded to meet people’s needs; evaluating fines and fees for lab testing or expert witnesses for defendants in court matters, and increasing minimum wage.
He said that based on community watch meetings he’s attended, he’s also heard local concerns about neighborhoods that lack grocery stores, leaving residents with no ready access to fresh foods.
“I understand the importance of the art of negotiating. I do it every day,” Smith said. “In an increasingly divisive political climate, I’d love to be able to use my negotiating experience to advocate for the people of District 44.”
Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3528.
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