Rocky Mount attorney William Solomon Jr. is challenging eight-term N.C. Rep. Joe Tolson for the District 23 seat in the N.C. House in the May 8 Democratic primary.
Tolson, 71, is a retired educator from Pinetops who is completing his 16th year serving in the N.C. House. He worked at Edgecombe Community College for nearly 28 years. Before retiring, Tolson managed the school’s continuing education program and its Rocky Mount campus.
“I have been blessed with a good life, a good education and good opportunities,” Tolson said. “This is just an opportunity for me to give back and to try to improve the quality of life for other people.”
Solomon, 33, is a political newcomer. Many of his ideas have been shaped by his experiences and the needs he has seen while serving as a criminal defense lawyer.
“My thoughts are all about making this area more attractive to employers and employees,” Solomon said. “I don’t like the idea that so many people grew up in my generation wanting to get out of here and not come back.”
No Republicans have filed to run for the position. Because of redistricting, all of Edgecombe County now is included in N.C. House District 23. In the past, part of the county was included in District 24, currently represented by N.C. Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield.
Education and job creation are among both candidates’ top priorities.
Rural areas, including many communities in Eastern North Carolina, struggle to attract industries, Tolson said.
“We have to work a little harder to convince them,” he said.
North Carolina has great community colleges, which are among the state’s best recruiting tools, Tolson said. Companies also are looking for who will give the best incentives, including tax breaks or land.
“When we talk to an industry, they know they can get their employees trained through the community college system,” he said.
In order to attract businesses, the area needs to have a viable workforce, Solomon said. He said he would like to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society by amending state law to allow certain nonviolent ex-offenders to apply to have their record cleared after a designated amount of time if they can prove they have stayed out of trouble and they have furthered their education.
Solomon proposed using a records system with a firewall in place so that the public, including potential employers, could only access one portion of it. However, courts and law enforcement officers still would have access to a person’s full criminal history. That way, if a person got in trouble again, he or she would be punished as someone who had been through the system, Solomon said.
That kind of second-chance program would allow more ex-offenders to get decent jobs and become productive residents, Solomon said, helping to reduce unemployment rates and the burden on social service programs.
Only certain nonviolent offenses would be eligible, Solomon said, and people would have to prove themselves.
Solomon said he is personally invested in the public schools system because he has a 4-year-old son who is about to start kindergarten and a 1-month-old daughter.
“Our economy is only going to be strong 20 years from now if we’re properly educating kids right now,” he said.
Tolson said key issues for him include education, technology and economic development. If re-elected, he said he would continue to support those areas.
Improving opportunities for senior citizens also is important to him, Tolson said. He said he would like the state to expand activities and services at senior centers.
As a state representative, Tolson has worked to make sure all public schools are connected to the Internet. That has helped level the playing field for students in rural areas, Tolson said. It also has allowed schools to enhance the learning opportunities they can provide to students.
“We need to continue to do the things technology-wise that will help our young people understand what it’s like to live and work in a global economy,” Tolson said.
Last year was a tough year for education because of budget cuts, Tolson said. He said he has been a strong supporter of funding schools.
Solomon said he hopes to help make this area of the state one that more people will want to move to or return to.
“I’m not new to making big decisions when the stakes are high,” Solomon said.