Local News

Democrats Pick Butterfield To Face Dority In Special Election

Posted June 14, 2004 10:51 a.m. EDT

— Democrats in the 1st Congressional Districton have picked G.K. Butterfield as their representative for a special election to replace Rep. Frank Ballance, who resigned last week.

Butterfield, a former Supreme Court justice, received 92 percent of the votes from the 1,842 voters present Monday night at the Greene County Courthouse in Snow Hill. Runner-up Sam Davis had seven percent.

Butterfield will go against GOP candidate Greg Dority next month. Republicans picked Dority Saturday night.

"It was very gratifying to get overwhelming support," Butterfield said. "It just tells me that my message is resonating among Democratic voters across the district. They have confidence that I can win this election."

With Ballance's departure from Congress forcing the July special election in the 1st Congressional District, the vote could be a confusing affair for voters in the eastern part of the state.

Not only will voters be asked to pick a temporary replacement for Ballance, who resigned his House seat last week because of health problems, they also will be voting in party primaries to choose candidates for the November election to the same seat.

In many cases, they may vote for the same person twice.

Holding the elections on the same day will save taxpayers about $500,000. But explaining the two-ballot process will cost election workers in patience and time.

"It is confusing, and the voters never understand why you're doing it that way," said Ted Arrington, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

In announcing his resignation last week, Ballance, a 62-year-old Democrat, said a neuromuscular disorder has affected his ability to carry out his duties. Meantime,

federal and state investigators are probing the activities of the Hyman Foundation,

a drug and alcohol counseling program Balllance founded in northeastern North Carolina.

Dority originally called on Ballance to resign in February. Dority recently called on the former Congressman to avoid using tainted Hyman Foundation monies to influence this year's race.

Dority lost to Ballance in the 2002 general election.

The state Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties each were asked to select a candidate to stand in the special election. The deadline is noon Tuesday.

The winner of the special election will be sworn in to replace Ballance and serve until January 2005. At that time, the winner of the general election in November 2004 will be sworn into office.

The 10,600-member state Libertarian Party has picked Tom Eisenmenger of Halifax County, a teacher at Chowan College. Eisenmenger lost a bid for a state Senate seat two years ago, said Sean Haugh, executive director of the state party.

Nothing bars the parties from nominating someone to fill the seat who already is running in the primary election. In fact, if one candidate wins the special election and also the general election, that person would have several months of seniority over other newly elected members of Congress.

That can mean coveted appointments to committees, Arrington said.

"This is an opportunity for somebody to get a powerful position in Washington -- and a very prominent position in that part of the state that you can hold forever if you keep your nose clean," Arrington said.

Arrington said the opportunity is ideal for Butterfield "or another African-American Democrat who's ambitious and would like to be a congressman."

Ballance and his predecessor, Eva Clayton, both are black Democrats, and Butterfield already has filed for the Democratic primary.

Even before announcing his resignation, Ballance had said he would not seek a second term in the House. The Democrats who have filed seeking their party's nomination to replace him are Butterfield, Davis, Christine Fitch, a Wilson County Board of Education member and associate professor at East Carolina University, and attorney Darryl Smith of Wilson.

The GOP's Dority and Jerry Williford of Oxford both have filed to seek the Republican nomination.

"It's going to be a challenge to educate our voters about the differences between the two elections, but we can do it," Butterfield said. "It's been done before."