A woman who has served on the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education is challenging a long-time incumbent state senator for the District 3 seat.
Lifelong educator Florence Arnold Armstrong of Tarboro is challenging Clark Jenkins in the Democratic primary for the seat on May 8. No Republicans have filed to run against the winner of the primary election.
Armstrong, an Edgecombe County native, said it is time for a change in leadership for the Senate district plagued with many problems.
“I’m concerned about the conditions in District 3, the living conditions of District 3,” Armstrong said. “This is a highly impoverished district with a high unemployment rate. Even though there have been some jobs added, there is still high unemployment in the area. I’m concerned about employment, business opportunities.”
For 39 years, Armstrong was an educator, working as a teacher and in administration.
“I want quality education for our children,” she said. “For businesses or industries to locate here, those industries or businesses may require skills, and we need to know what those skills are so we can prepare our citizens for those jobs. We need to offer a quality education, not just from K-12, but at the community colleges.”
A quality education is essential for students to be competitive, she said.
“We want world-class schools,” she said. “When students graduate from high school, we want them to have global skills. No longer can we afford for our children to just have local skills.”
Armstrong said the N.C. General Assembly and local governments should also do everything in their power to help people have access to affordable health care.
“When we go to the doctor, it’s local,” she said. “And some of the costs seem quite excessive to me. I have health insurance, and the deductible continues to go up. The cost of health care prevents many citizens form having a quality of life.”
She said the economy and poverty are issues affecting the district.
“Everyone says, ‘Create jobs.’ But there is more to it than creating jobs,” she said. “We’ve got to grow and revive some of the businesses that exist so that we can create more jobs.”
She said not enough has been done to eradicate poverty.
Jenkins is running on his experience and record. He said a freshman senator in their first term can’t accomplish much.
“I can tell you this from my 10 years experience in the General Assembly, making a statement such as, ‘When I get there, I’ll do so and so’ is a waste of time,” Jenkins said. “There are 50 senators and 120 House members. You’ve got one vote out of 170. A freshman’s voice is not heard as loudly.”
With seniority comes clout in the Senate, which helps bring funding and projects to the district, Jenkins said. He is a member of several Senate committees, including Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources, Appropriations on Department of Transportation, Finance, Judiciary, Pensions & Retirement and Aging, Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness and Response and Transportation.
Jenkins said in his years in the Senate, he’s helped secure funding for projects such as the East Carolina Heart Institute and the East Carolina School of Dental Medicine. He said he’s also brought funding to community colleges and the transportation system.
“Under my watch, the N.C. Department of Transportation funded construction of U.S. 64 from Raleigh east,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins pointed out that he also has served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has served as chairman of Finance Committee for the N.C. Senate, which handled a $20 billion budget.
“I have been ranked as number one business friendly Democratic senator,” he said.
He also said he’s gotten top grades in a report card issued each year by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“I serve on the N.C. Black Legislative Caucus scholarship committee,” he said.
If re-elected, he said, he would continue to fight Republicans in their attempts to cut education.
“When they cut $800 million out of education, it hurts,” he said. “They could have easily left the one-cent sales tax in place.”
He criticized Republican-led cuts to educational programs for youth.
“(Republicans) also cut programs like pre-Kindergarten and Smart Start,” he said. “If we don’t start with building blocks with young folks, what are we going to do? The biggest stumbling block we have, other than national economy to recruiting jobs in our area, is having a qualified work force.”