Our political process at work

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nobody said we’re perfect as a nation, but when we set our form of government into gear, it’s a sight to behold.

Bright and early on Monday morning while most of the Roanoke-Chowan area was just reaching for that first cup of coffee on a national holiday, News-Herald staffer Thadd White and yours truly were sitting inside the comfortable confines of Jernigan Auditorium on the campus of Roanoke-Chowan Community College. There, our journalistic duty n not to mention that our personal interest was peaked n was to cover an information forum of the local counties attached to the North Carolina Democratic Party’s First Congressional District.

Democratic Party representatives, as well as a handful of other interested individuals, from Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton and Perquimans counties were on hand to make sure they fully understood the job that has been laid in their respective laps.

That job is a grim one….to name replacements to fill the unexpired terms of North Carolina District 5 House of Representative member Howard Hunter Jr. and North Carolina District 4 State Senator Robert Holloman. Both of those veteran politicians died during the weekend of Jan. 6-7.

Out of respect for the Hunter and Holloman families, state Democratic Party officials waited until this past Monday to formally launch the effort to name the replacements.

Monday’s meeting was presided over by First Congressional District Party Chairman Don Davis. He doubles as the Mayor of Snow Hill in Greene County. Davis, in my opinion, is extremely apt at his job as a Democratic Party official. He handled that meeting with precision and grace.

It was also pleasant to see that our political system does work. I knew very little about how the replacement process works until Monday’s meeting. Mr. Davis was the right man in the right place to explain how the system works and he conveyed that message in layman’s terms.

But enough about the accolades. The proverbial $600,000 question on everyone’s lips is who will fill the two vacant seats?

I’m glad you asked because I’m about to offer one man’s opinion.

The Senate District 4 seat is a lock, much to the dismay of the likes of DuPont Davis, Patricia Ferguson, Alvin Basnight, Kenny Pitts, Willie Riddick and Jean Reaves.

Ed Jones of Halifax County will become our next District 4 State Senator. The retired North Carolina Highway Patrol First Sergeant currently serves as the State House Representative from District 7 (all of Halifax County and a small portion of Nash County).

Jones has the numbers to back him in his effort to switch from the House to the Senate. With the voting process set-up by county population (the local Democratic Party committee members charged with selecting the two replacements receive one vote for every 300 residents of their respective county), Jones’ home county of Halifax proverbially carries a gun to this knife fight.

The two Halifax County committee members have a combined 191 votes to cast. If the Northampton County committee members commit their 74 votes in Jones’ favor, as I’ve been led to believe they will, then he’s the man.

To earn the Party’s nomination, a candidate needs 264 votes (which represents 50 percent plus one of the district’s 527 votes). Halifax and Northampton combine for 265 votes.

Even if the committee members from each of the remaining five counties comprising Senate District 4 decide upon one candidate to put their weight behind, that person will come-up three votes shy of Jones’ predicted total. Between them, Bertie (66 votes), Chowan (48), Gates (35), Hertford (75) and Perquimans (38) total 262 votes.

While the Senate nomination is a lock, I can see no clear cut winner, at least on the first ballot, for the House District 5 nomination. There are too many strong horses running in this field.

The sentimental favorite going into Thursday’s “decision time” meeting in Windsor is Howard Hunter III, the son of the late Howard Hunter Jr. However, “Little Howard” has some stiff competition from the likes of Windsor Town Commissioner Hoyt Cooper, Winfall Mayor Fred Yates and Gates County businessman John Lane.

The key to this race is which county will tag-team with another to send one candidate over the top. There are only four counties within House District 5 n Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Perquimans. They each have the same number of votes as in the Senate selection process.

If each county initially backs their individual candidate – Cooper (Bertie), Lane (Gates), Hunter (Hertford) and Yates (Perquimans) – then there’s no clear cut winner on the first ballot. It takes 108 votes to earn the nomination (50 percent plus one of the district’s 214 total votes).

If Gates joins with Hertford, then Hunter is the choice with 110 votes. Even if Bertie and Perquimans decide to join forces and head off Hunter’s nomination by backing one candidate, their combined total checks in at 104 votes, four less than the 108-vote minimum threshold.

Gates could abandon Hunter and join Bertie and Perquimans to back a certain candidate, but I just don’t see that happening. Over the years, Gates County has been a loyal Howard Hunter Jr. supporter. I can’t see them turning their back on his son.

But then again, stranger things have happened in politics. We’ll see on Thursday who emerges as the choices to forward to Gov. Mike Easley who will make the final decision on both vacancies.