Incumbent Democrat faces GOP challenger

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Staff Writer

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Republican challenger with no political experience is looking to take the House District 23 seat from a longtime incumbent.

State Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, 74, is looking to serve the district that also includes Martin County for a third term, while businessman Claiborne Holtzman,70, is seeking his first term in office, giving Willingham an opponent after he ran unopposed in the prior election.

Willingham first served in the House District 23 seat for a half term in 2002. He later was elected to the seat in 2014 and has remained there since. 

Willingham said because of his experience and familiarity with the district that voters should continue to cast their vote for him in the upcoming election.

Willingham also said he has been a key contributor in helping bring new industries to Edgecombe County and he is a member of the Select Committee on Disaster Relief in helping aid hurricane relief efforts for Eastern North Carolina.

“I know the district and I know what is going on and what is needed,” he said. “I know what needs to be done to continue to push the district forward. I feel I’ve done a good job representing the people by supporting hundreds of bills that have helped the citizens. When people are calling the state and can’t get any answers for an issue they have, the citizens need to know that I will continue to be accessible and will respond to help them with their concerns. Even as a Democrat, I have good relationships with the current leadership in place in the House of Representatives that helps in trying to get things done and to not have that would be a big loss in the area.”

Holtzman, who has been in the health food retail industry for more than 20 years, is co-owner of a health food store in Rocky Mount called “Remedy This ... Naturally!” along with his wife Jennifer. Holtzman said he once ran and lost eight years ago in the House District 22 race. 

He added it was important to put his name in the hat because with Willingham having no competition in the past, people need another choice. 

“Shelly and I have different thoughts and different approaches on change,” he said. “I feel right now that I don’t believe the voter’s voice is being heard and people have the tendency once they get to Raleigh to start listening to lobbyists or special interest groups. They leave out the people that they went to Raleigh for. It’s not about affiliation, but representation. I am going to be representing all of Edgecombe and Martin counties.”

Willingham said his focus is on education and mental health.

“We need to have more mental health care providers here,” he said. “We need to make sure these services are being provided in the school system, which we are working on doing, and in the community as a whole. We’re lacking or have shortage in that area and that is a major thing that I’m working on to improve.”

Holtzman said his platform is restoring respect, dignity, peace and safety in the schools, churches, businesses and neighborhoods. He said he also places heavy emphasis on improving the health care system.

“I would like to help with health care when it comes to prevention,” he said. “I want to make it attainable for people to have prevention and not wait until sickness. The insurance cost needs to be attainable to all people.”

Holtzman said he believes he has what it takes to build confidence with the public..

“When you talk about health and wellness, that’s getting pretty close with people,” he said. “They trust me with asking me questions and they know with my expertise and knowledge that I share with them information that I feel will benefit them. I believe I have what it takes to earn people’s trust.”

Willingham said his track record has shown that he isn’t just about doing what is best for Edgecombe and Martin counties, but the entire state.

“I tell people that I’m not just an Edgecombe or Martin counties representative, but I’m a North Carolina representative,” he said. “I deal with people that I don’t represent and that would be a big loss if I’m not here.”

Willingham said he knows how significant the November election is for Democrats to break the GOP hold on government statewide and nationally. Republicans hold a super majority in the General Assembly, limiting the ability of Democratic legislators and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to influence how North Carolina is run.

“We need to break the super majority because right now they don’t need any Democrats to pass bills, and they can override any veto issued by the governor,” he said. “We need to be in position to fight some things and have checks and balances because I don’t think one party should control everything.”

Early voting has already begun and Election Day is Nov. 6.