Our Opinion: Martin made a difference for Wilson County

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Wilson’s “citizen spy” in the General Assembly has left the building.

The dawn of a new year brought the sunset of Rep. Susan Martin’s service in the North Carolina House after three terms in office. We thank her for six years of diligent representation and wish her and her family well as they move from Wilson to Nashville, Tennessee.

Described by her colleagues as a rising star in the House Republican ranks, Martin didn’t stick around long enough to become a true Jones Street insider — and we mean that as a compliment. She embodied the ethos of a citizen legislator who spoke for her neighbors back home and left before wearing out her welcome.

“I’ve been back and forth to Raleigh for orientation, and I felt like a spy up there,” Martin told supporters after her January 2013 swearing-in. “I felt like I’m not one of them, I’m one of us.”

Martin remained “one of us” throughout her tenure and has worked hard to bring prosperity and opportunity to her District 8 constituents and their fellow Tar Heels throughout the state through tax and regulatory reform. As she leaves office, North Carolina holds Forbes’ No. 1 ranking in its annual list of the best states to do business.

From the start, Martin’s leadership ability was evident. She was named vice chairwoman of a House subcommittee at the beginning of her freshman term — not unprecedented for a member of the majority party, but far from an automatic privilege. In the 2018-19 legislative session, she was one of six lawmakers to chair the powerful House Finance Committee and held one of three Commerce and Job Development Committee chairmanships. She and Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown co-chaired a joint panel on economic development and global engagement.

As a retired IBM executive, Martin brought her business acumen into politics and achieved success. She worked to ease the nuclear power plant debt that left N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency customers straining under some of the state’s highest electric rates. It’s to her and her colleagues’ credit that Wilson Energy has been able to slash its rates and pass savings along to its customers.

She introduced 120 bills as a primary sponsor or co-sponsor during her final legislative session. Two-dozen of those became session laws, three were successfully adopted as resolutions and numerous other bills served as the framework for enacted legislation, such as the BRIGHT Futures Act, which materialized in the General Assembly’s budget as a $10 million pilot project to support public-private broadband internet partnerships.

Martin said her proudest accomplishment was helping to secure legislative support for the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology, an early college program housed at Beddingfield High School. WAAT students graduate in five years with a high school diploma and associate degree, and most will have standing job offers from local industries that partner with the school as a talent pipeline.

“I believe that having a prepared workforce by investing in educating our children and ensuring a strong partnership between local industries and our school system will make a positive difference for years to come,” Martin told Times reporter Drew C. Wilson last week. “Wilson will be in a better position to recruit and retain companies and graduates will be better positioned to enter the workforce with high-quality jobs. Lives will be changed, which is the reason I stepped up to serve.”

In November 2017 — a full year before the next election for her seat — Martin announced she would retire from the legislature at the conclusion of her third term. Court-ordered redistricting shifted her District 8 to Pitt County and double-bunked her with Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield in Wilson County. Her family’s ties to Tennessee were strengthening and an eventual move to the Volunteer State may have already loomed on the horizon.

“Rep. Susan Martin is an exceptional member of the state House who is uniquely committed to serving her constituents in eastern North Carolina,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a news release after Martin announced she would not seek a fourth term. “Her steadfast voice on behalf of families in Wilson and Pitt counties will be missed by her colleagues in the General Assembly and all North Carolinians who deserve the hard work and strong character she embodies as a legislative leader.”

We found Martin to be an effective and responsive public servant. There’s no telling how high her political star might have risen had she remained in office, but all good spies know when their work in the field is done.