Big names weigh runs

Published 1:31 am Friday, July 8, 2011

The 2012 elections are a long way off, but not too far away to discourage some local politicians from thinking ahead.

In interviews this week, three of those politicians indicated they’re interested in running for state House or Senate next year.

These past and possibly future candidates said final decisions on their candidacies could hinge on the outcome of this year’s legislative redistricting.

Former state Rep. Arthur Williams apparently isn’t ruling out another run for public office next year, but the four-term representative won’t say which office he might seek.

“I’ve been asked to do a lot of things, and I have thought about running,” Williams said Wednesday. “Am I running? I probably am.”

Asked whether he would consider running as a Republican, Williams, a longtime Democrat, replied, “I didn’t say that, either.”

Questions about Williams’ political intentions followed reports he had been seen in Raleigh and was thinking about re-entering the field.

“I don’t have anything else to say,” Williams commented. “I haven’t committed to anybody to do anything. I’m my own man. There’s a lot involved in those things, so I would have to wait and see what’s going to happen.”

He said his decision could turn on how lawmakers redraw legislative district maps this year.

A Washington resident and a former commissioner on the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Williams was first elected to the House in 2002.

In 2010, he was unseated by political newcomer Bill Cook, who now serves as Beaufort County’s state representative. Cook is a Republican.

Williams threw his hat in the ring as a potential nominee to replace state Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, after Basnight announced he would step down from the Legislature early this year.

In late January, a Democratic Party committee in the 1st Senate District chose Stan White to succeed Basnight. White now serves as the senator from District 1, representing Beaufort County and seven other counties in the northeast.

One possible candidate who said he might test the waters next year is Robert Cayton, a Democratic Beaufort County commissioner.

“I’m interested in running for the state House if the district is one that lends itself to a successful candidacy,” Cayton said. “You don’t just run. You offer yourself to the people, and if they want you, they want you; if they don’t, you don’t (run).”

In March 2004, Cayton was nominated to fill the unexpired term of the late Commissioner Frank Bonner, an Aurora resident who had served in that position for 30 consecutive years.

Later, Cayton won the post outright. He has been elected to two full terms.

His current term on the county board expires next year, so Cayton will have to choose between running for re-election and seeking higher office.

Like Williams, the commissioner said redistricting would play into his decision-making. Cayton added he’d prefer to see Beaufort County remain whole and intact in one state House district, as opposed to seeing it divided among one or more districts.

“A divided Beaufort County’s not a strong Beaufort County,” he said. “A strong Beaufort County is one that can go to the table as equals with the other counties. And if we are carved up, then what you have done is made Beaufort County subservient to other counties.”

Still, a divided Beaufort County wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker for a would-be House candidate, Cayton suggested.

“You have to look at the other counties,” he said, adding that, if the county were divided through redistricting, it would be better off paired with rural areas from neighboring counties that have something in common with Beaufort County.

Another prospective office-seeker eyeing a place in the state capital is Republican Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson.

Richardson ran for Senate last year against Basnight, but didn’t capture the seat.

“I’m going to run for something,” Richardson said. “I will not make a decision until the redistricting is over with.”

Richardson has won three four-year terms on the county board. He was the top vote-getter in the commissioners’ races of 2004 and 2008.

Like Cayton and Williams, Richardson made it known redistricting may be a factor in whether his candidacy blossoms or stays dormant.

“The whole redistricting thing, they’re really a long way from even having a map on redistricting,” he said. “They may come out with some stuff. I think they still have to fine tune the maps they have.”

Richardson added he’d heard the legislative and congressional redistricting maps released so far favor Republicans, but he doesn’t especially endorse some lawmakers’ justifications for the way the maps were shaped.

“I don’t like what the Democrats did 10 years ago, and I really don’t necessarily like what the Republicans are doing because they’re using the Voting Rights Act as their excuse for doing these things,” he said, referring to the way majority-minority districts were crafted.

One thing Richardson was adamant about: He won’t confront his first-term representative, Cook.

“I wouldn’t run against Bill,” he said. “If Bill wanted to run again, that wouldn’t be in the cards.”

Cook has said he expects to run again.

Richardson has half-jokingly stated he would run for governor if someone paid his filing fee, but implied state Senate is a more attractive possibility.