Lee, Chatham rivals vie in District 54

Apr. 19, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

Two local Democrats are campaigning for the N.C. House, so the winner of the May 6 primary election will go on to face Republican challenger Andy Wilkie of Goldston in the general election this November.

Lee County resident Robert Reives II and Chatham County resident Barry Burns will face off in the primary for House District 54, which covers all of Chatham County and parts of Lee County. Early voting starts April 24.

Reives is the incumbent, although he was never elected — he was appointed to the seat by local Democratic Party leaders after Deb McManus resigned in the wake of felony tax charges levied against her.

Reives, a Sanford defense attorney and former prosecutor, pointed to his background as a party officer and his lifelong involvement in politics — his father is a long-serving Lee County commissioner — in addition to the work he said he has already started in his first few months in office as reasons why he deserves the chance to continue serving.

“I’ve got the experience, I’ve got the knowledge, I’ve got the disposition and passion that I think it takes to serve in this office,” said Reives, 43.

Burns, however, said he thinks he has a better chance of defeating a conservative Chatham County challenger in November, and that he hopes voters give him that chance.

“Not saying anything negative [about Reives], I just want to make sure we have a Democrat in Raleigh,” said Burns, 71.

A retired math teacher, Burns taught in Sanford for a short time before making a long career in Chatham County Schools, including stints as principal at both Chatham Central High School and Northwood High School. He also worked in financial services and with Central Carolina Community College, as a recruiter.

His only previous attempt at public office was a 1972 N.C. House campaign, when he ran as a Republican. Burns, however, said he later grew disillusioned with the GOP and his beliefs are now in line with the Democratic Party, including opposition to hydraulic fracturing and strong support of increased funding for public education.

Reives, on the other hand, has always proclaimed a progressive bent. In campaigning to be appointed to the seat he now holds, he frequently gave a laundry list of ideals he said he’d fight for in Raleigh — women’s rights, environmental issues, teacher pay and more — and said Thursday that the two issues he’d deal with in Raleigh before anything else are increasing public education funding and fighting any bills that could harm the area’s water and air.

“Once we take care of those, we can talk seriously about other things,” Reives said. “That’s why people move to North Carolina, and why tourists come.”

Burns had similar priorities, saying he thinks voters should support him because of his “depth of understanding of the education system and the problems that are causing so many people to flee the real public school system to charter schools. That’s my primary concern. Secondary concern would be what’s happening in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, primarily with fracking.”