Belton for District 49

In the Democratic primary race for the District 49 House seat, we endorse Montrio Belton.

The other candidate in this race is John King, 31, owner and operator of two funeral homes, one in Chester, the other in Rock Hill. The winner will face Republican Marvin Rogers in November.

This was not an easy race to call. Both Belton and King are capable candidates. And we have concerns about Belton's ability to meet residency requirements to run in the district, which has been held for years by the retiring Bessie Moody-Lawrence of Rock Hill.

When Belton filed, he listed his primary residence as a Rock Hill home on Stanley Drive owned by his wife's grandmother, which is in the district. Belton also has a driver's license and a voter registration card bearing the Stanley Drive address, and he claims that he often spends the night there.

But he also owns a home in Fort Mill, which is not in the district. He said he has tried to sell that home but received no reasonable offers for it. He added that he hopes to sell the home before the general election.

York County Democratic Party officials seem satisfied that Belton's filing passes muster. State Election Commission officials seem to treat residency questions as gray areas, saying "residency is more complicated than simply what you can observe."

We think it is important that the person representing District 49 reside in District 49. We hope, if Belton wins Tuesday, that he quickly will erase any uncertainty about where he lives.

That said, we think he has much to recommend him as a candidate. Belton, 35, is principal of Monroe Middle School in Monroe, N.C. Prior to that, he served as principal of Rawlinson Road Middle school and assistant principal at South Pointe High School, both in Rock Hill.

He has a bachelor's degree in history with a minor in secondary education, and a master's in education, both from Winthrop University. He is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

As would be expected, education is a top priority for Belton. He is a strong advocate of early childhood education and believes funding for pre-kindergarten programs should be a priority.

He opposed Act 388, which replaced property taxes for school operations with a 1-cent sales tax, saying the sales tax is an unreliable source of funding. Belton opposes state vouchers or tax credits to pay for private education. And he also favors trying innovations such as single-gender classrooms and even public boarding schools.

Both King and Belton oppose payday lending and say it should be banned. Belton, however, believes political reality demands compromise, and he would settle for curbs on the industry such as a cap on interest rates and limits on the number of loans a borrower could receive in a year.

King said he would battle for a complete ban.

King has political experience, having served one term on the Chester City Council and two terms on the Chester County Council. He ran for this seat two years ago against Moody-Lawrence, losing by only nine votes. He also has a master's in education from Strayer University.

He, too, rates education as a priority, calling for the repeal of Act 388, funding for an all-day pre-school program and higher pay for teachers. He also opposes vouchers and tax credits for private education.

King supported the 50-cent increase in the cigarette tax, saying the revenues could have been used to fund health care, while the tax hike would discourage teens from smoking.

While both candidates have similar views on many issues, we think Belton's experience as an educator and administrator would serve him well in the House. We think he would bring intellect, energy and enthusiasm to the job.

While both candidates in this race appear well qualified, we give the nod to Belton.