Butterfield: 'Time for me to retire' | The Wilson Times
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Butterfield: 'Time for me to retire'

Posted on November 18, 2021

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Rep. G.K. Butterfield shakes hands with a Barton College student before giving a speech on civic engagement in April 2017.

Drew C. Wilson | Times file photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield shakes hands with a Barton College student before giving a speech on civic engagement in April 2017.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield appears with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a July 2016 campaign rally.

Contributed photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield appears with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a July 2016 campaign rally.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield addresses a Wilson church congregation in August.

Drew C. Wilson | Times file photo

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield addresses a Wilson church congregation in August.

President Barack Obama autographed a picture showing him and Rep. G.K. Butterfield sharing a moment of conversation.

Contributed photo

President Barack Obama autographed a picture showing him and Rep. G.K. Butterfield sharing a moment of conversation.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield addresses a Wilson church congregation in August.

Drew C. Wilson | Times file photo

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield addresses a Wilson church congregation in August.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield delivers the commencement address to Beddingfield High School graduates in 2007.

Gray Whitley | Times file photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield delivers the commencement address to Beddingfield High School graduates in 2007.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield meets with regional housing authority directors at the Wilson Housing Authority office in September 2011.

Gray Whitley | Times file photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield meets with regional housing authority directors at the Wilson Housing Authority office in September 2011.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield speaks during a Black History Month celebration at Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church in February 2017.

Drew C. Wilson | Times file photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield speaks during a Black History Month celebration at Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church in February 2017.

G.K. Butterfield addresses supporters during an early congressional campaign.

Times file photo

G.K. Butterfield addresses supporters during an early congressional campaign.

G.K. Butterfield breaks into a smile after receiving news that he'd been elected to the U.S. House in 2004.

Keith Barnes | Times file photo

G.K. Butterfield breaks into a smile after receiving news that he'd been elected to the U.S. House in 2004.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield shakes hands with a Barton College student before giving a speech on civic engagement in April 2017.

Drew C. Wilson | Times file photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield shakes hands with a Barton College student before giving a speech on civic engagement in April 2017.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield appears with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a July 2016 campaign rally.

Contributed photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield appears with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a July 2016 campaign rally.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield appears with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a July 2016 campaign rally.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield addresses a Wilson church congregation in August.
President Barack Obama autographed a picture showing him and Rep. G.K. Butterfield sharing a moment of conversation.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield addresses a Wilson church congregation in August.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield delivers the commencement address to Beddingfield High School graduates in 2007.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield meets with regional housing authority directors at the Wilson Housing Authority office in September 2011.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield speaks during a Black History Month celebration at Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church in February 2017.
G.K. Butterfield addresses supporters during an early congressional campaign.
G.K. Butterfield breaks into a smile after receiving news that he'd been elected to the U.S. House in 2004.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield shakes hands with a Barton College student before giving a speech on civic engagement in April 2017.

cfriedman@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7813

Wilson’s “man in Washington” is coming home.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield will retire from Congress instead of seeking reelection in a redrawn district, capping an 18-year career that saw him elevated to House leadership while remaining a fixture in his hometown.

In a video posted to his congressional office’s YouTube page on Thursday, Butterfield said he will serve the remainder of his term, which expires in December 2022.

“It is time for me to retire and allow the torch to be passed to someone who shares the values of the district and can continue the work I have labored so hard for the past 18 years,” Butterfield said.

Democratic Women of Wilson County President Nancy Hawley said Butterfield notified local party leaders of his decision on Wednesday.

“He’s served us well,” Hawley said. “He’s been true to his purpose. He comes from a family of service, and I believe his legacy speaks for itself. He is a dignified man of integrity. I think those of us in Wilson and Wilson County will miss having him serving us in Congress.”

NEW HOUSE DISTRICT

Butterfield, 74,  is in his ninth term representing North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. He faced the prospect of running in the reconfigured 2nd District, which analysts call a toss-up between Democrats and Republicans.

“The map that was recently enacted by the legislature is a partisan map,” Butterfield said. “It’s racially gerrymandered. It will disadvantage African American communities all across the 1st Congressional District. I am disappointed — terribly disappointed — with the Republican majority legislature for again gerrymandering our state’s congressional districts and putting their party politics over the best interests of North Carolinians.”

Two lawsuits have been filed challenging the district boundaries as partisan and racial gerrymanders.

“While I am hopeful that the courts will ultimately overturn this partisan map and see that a fair map is enacted, I have made the difficult decision that I will not seek reelection to the United States House of Representatives,” Butterfield said.

The new 2nd Congressional District encompasses 18 counties. From west to east, they are Caswell, Person, Granville, Vance, Franklin, Nash, Wilson, Wayne, Warren, Halifax, Edgecombe, Greene, Northampton, Martin, Hertford, Bertie and Washington.

WILSON TO WASHINGTON

Butterfield grew up in a prominent Black family, with his father serving as a Wilson city councilman. A switch from district-based elections to at-large voting reduced African American representation on the governing body. His father lost his bid for reelection in 1957, and two years later, the NAACP sued the city and ultimately lost in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The cxperience inspired Butterfield’s interest in the law and his lifelong passion for voting rights, he told the Times for a 2014 story.

After earning his N.C. Central University law degree, Butterfield opened a powerhouse Wilson firm with Milton F. “Toby” Fitch Jr. and Quentin Sumner. All three partners would go on to become judges, with Butterfield joining the Superior Court bench in 1988.

Gov. Mike Easley appointed Butterfield to fill a North Carolina Supreme Court vacancy in 2001. He lost his seat in an election the following year and reprised his role as a trial judge until 2004, when he won his first U.S. House term.

Butterfield championed civil rights issues and raised his profile on Capitol Hill as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2015-17. He currently serves as senior chief deputy whip, the top assistant to Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.

“I’m sorry that we’re losing him, but I’m very happy for him,” Hawley said. “He is a remarkable man. He has lived through the most tumultuous of times, and he’s come out dignified and proud.”

In his retirement announcement, Butterfield touched on several career highlights and indicated he’ll leave office with no regrets.

“...I helped to craft and pass legislation that has empowered millions of Americans of all persuasions who have been denied the American dream,” Butterfield said. “I am proud of my work in Congress on behalf of my constituents, and I know that my life’s work of fighting for greater fairness and equity will not cease, even after the close of the 117th Congress.”

HOPEFULS TEST THE WATERS

State Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, told the N.C. Insider state government news service he’s exploring a run for the 2nd Congressional District seat. Davis is in his sixth General Assembly term.

“G.K. Butterfield’s retirement from Congress is a great loss for eastern North Carolina,” Davis said in a Thursday press statement. “From his time as an accomplished civil rights attorney to serving as a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court and for the past 17 years as a member of Congress, North Carolina is a better place because of the dedication and accomplishments of Congressman Butterfield.”

Davis chaired the 1st Congressional District Democratic Party, allowing him to work closely with Butterfield.

“I will have more to say about my future plans in due time, but today is about celebrating the service and accomplishments of my good friend, Congressman Butterfield,” Davis said. “North Carolina will be forever grateful for his committed and unwavering dedication to public service.”

Former N.C. Senate colleague Erica Smith could also be testing the waters. She’s currently running in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, and her campaign also released a Thursday statement praising Butterfield’s tenure.

“Rep. G.K. Butterfield has committed his entire career to community and public service. His retirement leaves us with big shoes to fill in Congress,” Smith said. “Through more than 30 years of local, state and national leadership, his unwavering commitment to civil rights and economic justice has made North Carolina better, and has inspired me personally to become part of the movement for change.

“I do not think I’d be who or where I am today were it not for Congressman Butterfield’s leadership and mentorship,” Smith’s statement concludes. “I congratulate him for his excellent service and wish him a happy retirement filled with love and family.”

Jason Spriggs, a Henderson city councilman, told The Wilson Times he began laying the groundwork for a Democratic congressional primary run in February.

The GOP could also see a crowded primary field. Sandy Smith, the Republican candidate who faced Butterfield in 2020, launched her campaign before the incumbent’s plans were known. Former Wilson County state Sen. Buck Newton, the GOP nominee for state attorney general in 2016, told the Carolina Journal earlier this month that he was considering a run for Congress in Wilson County’s new district.

Other names are circulating among area Republican organizers. Several people floated as prospective candidates hadn’t publicly declared their interest in the seat as of Thursday afternoon.

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