Horner leaves legacy of consensus, courage
Posted on January 11, 2021
Then-state Sen. Rick Horner, R-Nash, hands a diploma to a Southern Nash High School graduate with the late Ann Edge looking on. A proponent of public schools, Horner said the picture is his favorite photo from his four years in office.
I always tell people my political skills come from me being the child of divorced parents. I learned as a kid that there are two sides to every story. Mama’s right; daddy’s right. The people expect us to do that, to find consensus. You can’t have your way all the time.”
— Rick Horner, former state senator
Leaving office of his own accord after two terms, outspoken and never intimidated state Sen. Rick Horner says he served his constituent counties out of love and dedication.
Horner, a maverick Republican, spent four years in the N.C. Senate, serving portions of Nash, Wilson and Johnston counties in his first term and all of Nash and a portion of Johnston in his second term.
As far as any future elected service, especially if the district changes again to include Wilson County, Horner would only say, “We’ll see what happens.”
Horner is assessing ways he can add value in Raleigh, but for the immediate future, he will continue to dabble in real estate at the coast, Horner said in a Friday phone interview while looking at beach properties in Carteret County.
Horner said he felt his biggest accomplishments in the state Senate were finding consensus where necessary and standing up for what’s right when needed.
“You don’t have to run a place or have your name at top of a bill to be relevant,” Horner said. “I think I was able to effect education policy by bridging the gap between the General Assembly and folks at DPI. They don’t communicate well.”
The DPI is the state’s education department, officially known as the Department of Public Instruction.
Horner served 14 years on the Nash County school board, so learning has always been important to him.
“We were able to figure out the class size issue,” Horner said of his time in the Senate. “We got out of it alive.”
Horner is also happy he was instrumental in bringing back retired teachers without affecting their retirement benefits. Horner served on the pension and retirement committee as well.
“I was able to ask certain questions about the cost of ending state pension plans, and we found it was just too expensive to even consider,” Horner said.
Horner has always asked questions. He’s is always trying to find consensus.
“I always tell people my political skills come from me being the child of divorced parents,” Horner said. “I learned as a kid that there are two sides to every story. Mama’s right; daddy’s right. The people expect us to do that, to find consensus. You can’t have your way all the time. It’s not sustainable. If you try to, then the other guy will get in office and undo everything you’ve done. I’m not afraid to work with people.”
Horner said it’s important for elected officials to represent their district.
Many people — even in Nash and Wilson counties — don’t know Horner secured $50,000 for the new park in the Coopers community and $50,000 for repairs after courthouse flooding in Wilson.
Even after no longer officially representing Wilson County, Horner secured a $200,000 allocation for construction of a new animal shelter.
Horner found state money in 2019 to help pay for the demolition of the old Bailey Hardware and Appliances at 6271 Main St. The work is expected to take about a week.
The building had personal meaning for Horner. His father, Billy Horner, bought into the business with Drexel Rhodes in 1964. In its heyday, the store served as the cultural heart of Bailey.
“I was like Richie Cunningham growing up in his daddy’s hardware store,” Horner said.
Horner’s father sold his stake in the place in 1979 or ’80. Rhodes continued to run the store until it folded around the turn of the century.
“It’s an eyesore now. Daddy’s gone. Drexel Rhodes is gone. It needed to come down. I hate to see my hometown looking so pitiful,” Horner said at the time, while watching an excavator demolish the building.
“If I’m going to use the state’s money, I’m going to make sure it goes to a local taxing authority so they don’t add even more taxes to folks,” Horner said. “I don’t give public money away to private or nonprofit groups. I want it going to a county, city or town so they can do something without more local taxes.”
That hasn’t made Horner popular among lobbyists.
“I’ve never cared about image,” Horner said. “I do what’s right. I ain’t scared of s--t.”
That may be one of the reasons Horner found himself gerrymandered out of Wilson by fellow Republicans.
District 11’s ever-shifting boundaries led Horner to bow out at the end of his second term. District 11 changed three times in three elections and the 2020 Census will bring another change, Horner said. He didn’t argue against the idea that he’d ruffled a lot of GOP feathers in Raleigh.
Horner, a southern Nash County native, lived in Wilson when he won his first two-year term in 2016, succeeding former Sen. Buck Newton. Court-ordered redistricting drew Wilson County out of District 11 the following year, placing Wilson and Edgecombe in a district.
Horner said at the time he didn’t know Edgecombe County as well as Wilson and Nash, so he moved back to his childhood home of Bailey to stay in the redrawn District 11. Horner won reelection in 2018 and for two years, he represented all of Nash County and the western portion of Johnston County containing the towns of Clayton, Smithfield and Kenly.
During his time in the Senate, Horner served as co-chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Higher Education, which Horner called “the opportunity of a lifetime.” He also chaired the state and local government and general government and information technology appropriations panels and was a member of the health care, judiciary, pensions, retirement and aging, base budget appropriations and education appropriations committees.
“The future of North Carolina has never been brighter. I want to thank everyone for their trust and support that has allowed me to serve our great state,” Horner said.
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