This article first appeared in The Pilot on April 29, 2022.
In a contest precipitated by the state’s legislative redistricting, two sitting members of the North Carolina General Assembly will compete to represent House District 52 in the Republican primary.
State Rep. Ben Moss, a freshman lawmaker from Richmond County, hopes to usurp longtime Rep. Jamie Boles, who is seeking an eighth term in the redrawn district, which now includes all of Richmond and a southeastern portion of Moore County. The district previously covered none of Richmond and most of Moore.
Who They Are
Boles, a funeral home owner, has represented District 52 since 2008. He’s fended off fellow Republicans in past primaries, but this will be his first time facing a challenger from outside of Moore County.
Moss, a railroad engineer, in 2020 became the first-ever Republican elected to represent District 66, which at the time comprised Richmond, Montgomery and Stanly counties. With Richmond now melded into District 52, the Rockingham resident must defeat Boles to keep his seat.
The men are, in many ways, unlikely political rivals. They were even assigned to some of the same House committees during the most recent legislative session.
“We both have basically the same conservative rating scores,” Boles said in a phone interview, referring to the American Conservative Union Foundation’s annual analysis of votes cast by Republican legislators. “We both believe in the same things. It’s just a matter of having seniority over a freshman.”
Moss said he would prefer not to be pitted against his colleague in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, but he isn’t “ready to go home” after only one term.
“We both happened to get drawn into a new district that they formed, and it just so happened that he lived within that district and so did I,” he said in a phone interview. “I’ve had some people say to me, ‘That’s Boles’ district.’ No, that’s not Boles’ district. It’s not my district. It is a district that was designed and we just happen to live there, and I hate that it happened because Jamie’s always been nice to me.”
Boles may not be so chummy in the weeks ahead. Despite having worked together toward common causes in the House, the Aberdeen native said he plans to treat Moss like every other opponent he’s bested over the past 14 years.
“You still go out to win,” Boles said. “You just have to reassure the new people in the new district that you’re just as conservative and care about the same issues as the other Republican members.”
Like Boles, Moss is well-established in his home county. He spent a decade on the Rockingham Board of Commissioners before running for state office.
Still, he knows the district’s map gives Boles an edge in the race. The John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, recently projected that Boles has a “distinct advantage” because of the “higher population of primary voters in Moore County” compared with Richmond, where voters are more likely to recognize Moss’ name on the ballot.
“I’m an underdog,” Moss said. “It’s like a David and Goliath story, but I don’t mind being a David by any means.”
He recalled once attending a meeting where his opponent was introduced as the “unbeatable Jamie Boles.” Moss thought to himself at the time: “You know, the Titanic was announced as the ‘Unsinkable Ship.’”
Where They Stand
Boles believes inflation and workforce woes are two of the biggest issues currently affecting Moore and Richmond counties.
“Overall, everybody right now post-pandemic is seeing a struggle with getting employees,” he said. “You see it in restaurants. You see it everywhere.”
Some of the strain placed on local businesses, he said, could eventually be alleviated by the Republican-led legislature’s work to reduce taxes.
“Since we’ve taken over in 2010, we’ve done real well as far as lowering corporate income taxes and personal income taxes, and we’ve also eliminated the personal income tax on retired military personnel,” he said. “I think that’s going to help both counties, and the businesses will bounce back with the lower taxes that we have.”
Another priority for Boles is enhancing public safety services across the district.
“The first job of the government is to protect the citizens,” he said. “That is the No. 1 goal of the government. It doesn’t matter if you travel in Richmond County or Moore County, you need public safety. You expect it to be there and you expect it to be at the same level throughout the state of North Carolina.”
Moss, meanwhile, believes education will be one of the major issues faced by the district in the years ahead.
“Parents’ concerns for their child’s education and what they’re being introduced to, I think, is a very big deal, and we’re seeing that now in the Moore County area,” he said.
Indeed, meetings of the Moore County Board of Education have recently become battlegrounds for everything from mask mandates for students to the content of little-read books on library shelves.
“Education is very important to me personally because my children are still in school and I care about other people’s children,” Moss said. “In my mind, there are some common-sense guidelines that need to be in place where parents have a chance to play a bigger factor in what actually goes on.”
He added: “There’s several differences of opinion, and that’s fine. I’ll respect everyone’s opinion, but I myself have skin in the game. I have a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old, and I think that differentiates me from my opponent a little bit.”
Moss said he is also committed to “protecting the conservative values that a lot of people hold near and dear in the majority of these rural districts.”
“Moore County’s not as rural as Richmond County by any means, but I think there’s just some issues where a lot of people don’t understand how we live or how we like to live or choose to live,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of basic fundamentals at stake and if we’re not careful, somebody will try to chip away at it.”
Early voting is currently underway at the Moore County Agricultural Center in Carthage and at the Aberdeen Recreation Station. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the next three Saturdays.