HILLSBOROUGH - The race for House District 55 pits challenger Kathy Hartkopf, a Republican from Hillsborough, against Democrat incumbent Gordon Allen of Roxboro.
Allen is seeking his fourth term in the state House of Representatives, although he currently represents District 22. Allen also was a North Carolina senator for three terms in the 1970s.
The General Assembly created the new District 55 this year as part of the redistricting that changed the house districts in Orange County and also cost the county one of its two seats in the North Carolina Senate.
District 55 includes all of Person County and 12 precincts in central and northern Orange: Hillsborough, West Hillsborough, Grady Brown, Cameron Park, Eno, Cedar Grove, Caldwell, Cheeks, Efland, St. Marys, Tolars and Carr.
Allen easily defeated Democrat challenger Kenneth Rothrock, a lawyer in Hillsborough and northern Orange resident, in the Primary Election earlier this fall. Rothrock got about 600 more votes than Allen in the Orange precincts, but Allen swamped Rothrock by nearly 4-1 in his home county of Person.
Rothrock made a push for district representation for the Orange County Commissioners one of his campaign themes, and Hartkopf has sounded that same theme. She contends that many northern Orange voters feel they don't really have a voice among the county commissioners, who are elected at-large rather than by districts.
In particular, she says that northern Orange residents are more fiscally conservative than the current commissioners, on questions such as property taxes and spending.
"I do not believe that the majority of people of northern Orange County believe that the commissioners who happen to live in [unincorporated] Orange County are representing their needs," she said. "That is the thing that I hear continually when I talk to people in the county.
"District representation for Orange County would not be reinventing the wheel," she said. "There are counties all across the country that do elect their commissioners by districts. It's not like the people of northern Orange are asking for something that's never been done before."
In general, Hartkopf said that a taxpayer protection act is something she would work for if elected. Such an act would put a percentage limit, based on inflation, on the amount that state taxes could be raised each year.
"I believe that North Carolinians deserve the best schools in the nation, a balanced budget without the added burden of new tax increases, a return to our triple-A bond rating, a taxpayer protection act, and a representative who will really listen," she said.
"We all deserve a representative whose chief concerns are the needs of their district, as opposed to the leadership of their party or the lobbyists who visit their office," she said.
Hartkopf herself has visited North Carolina legislators' offices in recent years to talk about various issues, although Hartkopf said she's done so as a concerned volunteer, and not a paid lobbyist.
Hartkopf, 35, grew up in Pamlico County, graduated from Peace College and was a fellow at the Institute of Political Leadership at UNC-Wilmington.
She lives on Uphill Court in the Cornwallis Hills subdivision with her husband, Al, and two daughters. She has been the spokesperson for Citizens for A Better Way, which formed last year in opposition to the $ 75 million bond referenda, and she helped establish a local chapter of the Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group based in Washington, D.C., that calls for lower taxes and limited government.
Allen, 73, lives on Crestwood Drive in Roxboro and was principal owner of the family insurance business, Thompson-Allen, until recently when his son took over ownership. He and his wife, Betsy, have five children and 17 grandchildren.
Allen is co-chairman of the House Finance Committee and serves on the Education, Environment and Natural Resources, Legislative Redistricting, Rules and Transportation committees. He also is a member of the subcommittee on community colleges and a trustee of Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, which he helped create about 30 years ago.
Education has been a focus in Allen's campaign over the past few months.
"I'll keep fighting for education funding and the best teachers in our classrooms," he said Wednesday. "Budget crises come and go, but our children only have one chance at a quality education. I have voted to increase teacher salaries and lower class size. I was the founding chairman and got the first appropriation for Piedmont Community College."
Allen said he strongly supports the effort by Durham Technical Community College and the Orange County Commissioners to create a satellite campus in Orange for Durham Tech.
In general, he has argued that northern Orange and Person face many of the same challenges, and that he therefore is well qualified to represent that part of Orange.
He also touted his ranking as the seventh-most effective legislator, and his co-sponsorship of a bill that Gov. Mike Easley was expected to sign into law on Thursday, providing incentives to attract employers to the state.
"We've lost our competitive edge to states like South Carolina and Alabama," Allen said. "This new act will hopefully put us back in business.
"You've got to be competitive," he said. "Everybody's trying to attract industry."
Allen was a platoon leader during the Korean War as an Army lieutenant, and he received the Bronze Star. Asked Wednesday about a defining moment in his life, he mentioned his realization, while in Korea in 1953 as a 24-year-old, that he wanted to settle down for good in Roxboro and raise his family there.
He was born in Roxboro and came back there in 1944, after moving with his family to Wilmington and Sanford. But Allen said it was during the war that his attachment to Roxboro really hit him.