Don Rains, the six-term mayor of Princeton, said North Carolina must return to prominence in job creation, industry recruitment and education among the South, and he wants to be at the heart of that resurgence.
Rains (D-Johnston) is attempting to unseat Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) as representative for N.C. Senate District 10 which encompasses Sampson, Duplin and Johnston counties in November’s election. Jackson is seeking his third term in office.
“I was really frustrated with the direction the General Assembly was going, particularly with education issues,” Rains said in an interview with The Independent, of his decision to seek office. “North Carolina is headed in the wrong direction in education and it’s headed in the wrong direction in economic development. North Carolina was a rising star in the South and we’re at the bottom of the South now.”
Rains said it is about realigning priorities.
“We need to make sure there is revenue to pay for education and for economic development. and revenue to make sure the programs are in place to bring economic stability to our state,” he said. “Job recruitment requires that we invest in infrastructure.”
That means ensuring there are quality roads, water and sewer service and industrial parks — “all the amenities that a five-star industry would want to have to come to North Carolina,” he pointed out. Sampson, along with Duplin and Johnston, have large portions of I-40 that pass through them, a golden opportunity.
“We have the ability to transform many areas of the district into an economic success,” Rains said, “but we have to put infrastructure in to make sure that happens.”
Moving forward also means supporting the farmers of the district, who are “so important” to the state economy, he said.
“I know agriculture is something we have to continue to promote. Sampson County is the number one agriculture county in the state and agriculture is going to stay number one, but we have to have opportunities for all. There has to be a diversity of things to do. Not every high school graduate is going to find a job in agriculture,” Rains remarked.
A native of Princeton and graduate of Princeton High School and East Carolina University, where he earned a BA in History, Rains owns Rains and Associates Insurance in the Cleveland/N.C. 42 area of Johnston County. Rains grew up working in the family business, Rains Milling Company, and remains involved in farming and real estate ventures throughout the eastern part of the state.
He is married to Vicky Temple-Rains, a career educator in Johnston County Schools currently serving as assistant principal at McGee’s Crossroads Elementary. The couple have two children, Logan, a senior at Elon University, and Anna, a freshman at Campbell University.
With a farming background and being the husband of an educator, Rains said he knows the struggles and the needs that exist in both agriculture and education. The latter is in dire straits, he stressed.
“The General Assembly voted to reduce the number of teacher assistants, reduce funding for textbooks and increase the size of students per classrooms. North Carolina cannot move forward if we do not find the funding to educate our students,” he stated.
Teacher pay currently ranks 47th in the country. That needs to come up to the national average at least, he said.
“To be successful, you have to have good teachers, and teachers need to feel like they’re professionals. I certainly appreciate what the Legislature is doing in trying to raise teachers’ salaries, but a gimmick with lottery money or dismissing teacher assistants to pay for teachers … they’re not approaching it the right way. It’s a long-term solution. It’s not just this year.”
More than just teacher salaries, it’s about ensuring those teachers and their students are put in a position to succeed. Master’s degree incentives have been taken away and the Teaching Fellows program will soon come to an end, again moves in the wrong direction, Rains said. He called a Senate budget proposal that offered immediate raises for those who gave up their tenure “disappointing.”
“Teachers need to feel like they are respected because they have an amazing job,” Rains said. “We need the best and brightest in the classrooms.”
Rains said his years as Princeton mayor and as a businessman have prepared him for the state Senate.
“I know how to balance budgets and I know how to work with people. There has to be a willingness to work with people and work out compromises that are good for the state. That’s been my central role as mayor, being able to bring parties together to make good choices for our community.”
Rains is active in leadership positions with Princeton United Methodist Church, Princeton Lions Club, St. Patricks’ Masonic Lodge and the Princeton Chamber of Commerce. Rains also serves on the Board of Directors for the Tuscarora Boy Scout Council, which serves Duplin, Johnston, Sampson and Wayne.
Additionally, as Princeton’s mayor for the past 12 years, Rains said he has been able to work with various interest groups, as well as the town board and staff, to enhance quality of life for the community. In recent years, Princeton has grown in population, increased its tax base and city limits, and has attracted new businesses, while establishing its first community park, a new town hall and upgraded water and sewer service, he noted.
“We now have the capacity to grow our town by 70 percent based on some things that we have done that have been constructive. The same thing can go on with the state. Democrats and Republicans need to find common ground and I hope to be part of that solution,” he said.
Also as town mayor, Rains has been involved with regional programs such as the Triangle J Council of Governments and the U.S. 70 Super Corridor Commission, which is assisting to reshape transportation in eastern North Carolina.
As part of those programs, he knows just how important economic development and job creation — and retention — are to the region.
“At one point, national companies were moving to North Carolina because of our image. We were able to recruit business,” said Rains, who noted that image has taken a hit over the past decade. “It’s fewer and farther between. We need to return to the bright light that North Carolina had when Gov. (Jim) Hunt was governor. We’re lacking leadership.”
In about a decade from now, Rains hopes North Carolina is what it has been in days gone by — a land of opportunity.
“I hope it is where we were 10 to 15 years ago, the land of opportunity where our best and brightest are able to seek and get great jobs (and) rural areas of the state become areas where population grows, instead of shrinks,” he stated. “The area that I’ll represent, Duplin, Sampson and Johnston, has a bright future. We’ve got a lot of infrastructure in place, Interstate 40 is a beacon of opportunity and we need to capitalize on our assets.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.