A Sampson native who educated students in multiple counties for more than three decades is seeking to represent the people at the state level, with specific goals of spurring economic growth and looking out for teachers. He also had choice words for a midterm party swap move by his potential opponent.
On Monday, Martin (Tony) Denning officially announced his candidacy as a Democratic candidate for N.C. House District 22, which consists of most of Sampson and Bladen counties and a small portion of Johnston.
Denning currently resides in Bladen County but is a native Sampsonian, graduating from Lakewood High School in 1975, from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1979 and completing post-graduate work at Fayetteville State. Denning is married to wife Kim Daughtry Denning and they have two adult children, daughter Marilee and son Kenan.
“It has been my pleasure to serve as an educator in Sampson, Bladen and Cumberland counties for over 30 years,” said Denning. “For most of those years, I also served as women’s basketball coach and football coach at the high school level.”
While Denning concedes that the cares and concerns of the citizens of District 22 likely reflect those of many North Carolinians, he has as his goal to bring specific development and growth to the area.
“District 22 has fallen behind other areas of our state in economic growth, infrastructure improvements and educational resources due to, among other reasons, a lack of vision and action by our current representation,” said Denning.
If elected to the N.C. House, Denning said he will work to secure the completion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in an environmentally safe way so some of that economic development can be realized in southeastern North Carolina.
The natural gas pipeline, a 42-inch line extending for roughly 600 miles between West Virginia and eastern North Carolina, has been in the works for more than four years now. Its construction can be accomplished while protecting the environment and being “an engine to spur economic growth,” Denning attested.
The longtime teacher said he will also strive to secure benefits and retirement programs for educators and provide adequate and responsible compensation packages to keep experienced teachers in this state. He wants to see that incentives, including the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program, are extended to prospective teachers and competitive starting salaries are offered to new ones.
“I will also address criminal justice issues and seek to keep partisan politics out of the process for electing judges. I will work with local law enforcement agencies to help secure the resources they need to serve and protect our communities,” Denning said. “I will challenge any attempt to make our courts a partisan controlled system that potentially limits our citizens access to a fair and equitable legal system.”
“Political gerrymandering has negatively impacted our Legislature,” he continued. “We dare not let that happen to our court system.”
Denning was originally expected to make a public announcement on Tuesday in Roseboro, however due to the North Carolina Legislature and courts still determining the new district lines, that formal announcement was held off.
“The citizens of N.C. House District 22 deserve a representative who will speak for all of the people; work to provide economic and educational opportunities; promote the continual improvements of the infrastructure needs of District 22; and hold true to the promises made during the campaign,” Denning stated.
The current District 22 N.C. Rep. William D. Brisson was elected unopposed in November 2016 for his sixth term in the House. That two-year term expires at the end of 2018.
Brisson announced his decision in October to change his political party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
At the time, N.C. Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin said the party switch did little to change anything as Brisson “rarely caucuses with Democrats and votes more than nine out of 10 times with the Republican majority.”
Goodwin called District 22 the “reddest Democratic-held seat in North Carolina,” consistently voting for Republican national candidates and has “gotten more conservative over time.” In 2012, the district voted 56 percent to 44 percent for Mitt Romney. In 2016, the district voted 59 percent to 40 percent in favor of Donald Trump.
“Our party remains committed to fighting for every seat possible in order to retake the majority by 2020,” Goodwin noted in October. “Under fairer maps in 2018, we are confident we will break the Republican supermajority.”
Upon the announcement of his party switch, Brisson shook off any notion that the move was about “partisan politics.”
“This step is about getting things done for House District 22,” he said then. “As an admitted conservative, I cannot continue to be part of today’s liberal Democrat Party.”
Denning eschewed the idea of party politics and pandering, chiding the party swap move.
“I am a conservative Democrat. I will address every issue on the merits of the law and not to follow in lockstep with any political party. However, I will not abandon a party label in the middle of an elected term to ‘fit in’ to a party structure. garner partisan support or promote my own political future,” Denning stated. “I seek the support of those within House (District) 22 who are not concerned about party politics, but concerned about the economic growth for the region and the prosperity of all of the citizens of House 22 and the state of North Carolina.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.