The seat for District 72 left vacant by Rep. Derwin
Montgomery brings forth two Democratic primary candidates, both of whom have
long-standing ties to Winston-Salem

Rep. Derwin Montgomery’s decision to run for Congress leaves the seat open for two Democratic contenders in District 72. LaShun Huntley and Amber Baker are both first-time political candidates and each have longstanding ties to Winston-Salem.

Rep. Derwin Montgomery has held the seat since 2018 and has filed to run for Congress this year.

According to the Forsyth County Board of Elections, the
district has close to 54,000 registered voters, with about 58.4 percent
registered as Democrats and only 15.5 percent as Republican. The district also
has 51.2 percent black voters and 39 percent white.

Starting in the northern parts of downtown Winston-Salem
just above Interstate 40, District 72 radiates out to the northwest to include
Wake Forest University all the way towards Oak Hollow Road and Buffalo Creek.
To the east, the district stretches towards Walkertown, west of Reidsville
Road.

For the past decade, the seat has been held by a Democrat,
and it is assumed that will remain the case come this November. Considering the
district’s partisan lean, the winner of the Democratic primary will in all
likelihood be the next representative, but they’ll face Republican Dan Lawlor
in the November general election.

The 72nd district covers a portion of downtown Winston-Salem and then radiates outwards. (screenshot from Forsyth County Board of Elections)

On affordable housing and healthcare

Baker, who has been the principal of Kimberley Park
Elementary for the past 12 years, told
Triad City Beat
that she was inspired to run for the district to
build on her experience as an educator. In addition to her position at the
elementary school, Baker was also elected as vice-chair of the Forsyth County
Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus four months ago.

“I’ve been involved in the community by extension through my job
at Kimberley Park,” Baker said. “I’ve worked to help parents get affordable
housing, I’ve advocated at City Hall, I’ve tried to help families obtain
reasonable jobs.

“I wanted to move from the organizing side to the possibility of
making policy,” she continued.

Both affordable housing and funding for public education are two
challenges facing the district according to Baker.

“We have $49 million at the state level for over 100 counties to
create additional low-income and affordable housing,” Baker said. “I would like
to see that number doubled. That would make it a more viable dollar amount.”

When asked how she plans to increase funding for housing projects,
Baker said that she would need to be elected first and see what other funding
streams exist to help fund her goals.

And to do that, she said she would work with her fellow
representatives, both across the aisle as well as within her own party.

“We are really steeped in partisanship,” she said. “We are a
microcosm of what is happening in the nation at large. One of the things that I
pride myself on is working to get to a yes, being able to work with people who
might look at our issue from different perspectives and find some commonality
in that perspective.”

Huntley, who decided to run after getting calls from community
members to do so, said that he has a proven record of working with Republicans
through his capacity as CEO of United Health Services, a network of health
clinics in Winston-Salem.

He
mentioned how US Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Virginia Foxx have visited his
health clinics and how he visits Washington DC annually as the board chair of
the NC Community Health Centers Association to talk to representatives about
health care.

Now,
he said he wants to grow his work of helping those in the community on a
greater scale.

“I
want to be able to represent people on the state level,” he said. “I want to
think about, How can we impact everybody’s life?”

Through his work at United Health Services, Huntley said he sees a
lot of issues with the healthcare system and would work to get Medicaid
expanded if he were elected.

“There are a lot of people who are without healthcare, and they
need it,” Huntley said. “I’ve seen it firsthand with United Health Services.
The majority of people we serve are uninsured.”

On education

When it comes to education, Baker voiced her support for a mandatory African-American studies course, but said that individual school districts should be allowed to design the course curriculums for students to graduate.

“What is hindering this issue is that the state requires the
history courses that must be taken,” she said. “That locks in the number of
courses that students can take and, if you try to require yet another course
for students to take, it makes it more difficult for students to meet the requirements
to apply for college.”

Both Baker and Huntley also expressed the need to recruit and
maintain high-quality teachers in the district. Baker noted an increase in base
salaries for teachers as part of the state’s budget as well as more flexibility
in who can be hired are steps that can be taken to improve education.

She also said she wants to see the quality of public education
mirror that of the state’s universities and colleges.

“When we have top secondary institutions, I want our primary and
our pre-K programs to mirror that,” she said.

Huntley, who worked as a biology and earth science teacher at Parkland
High School in 1993 and 1994, echoed Baker’s calls for increased teacher pay.

“When I was a young teacher with a young family, you couldn’t live
on a teacher’s salary,” Huntley said. “That pushed me out of teaching.”

He said that his experience of working with kids as a teacher, as
well as having his own kids, fostered his passion for helping other people.

“I would love to hear what other people think the district would
need,” Huntley said. “I want to hear what the constituents want to happen.”

Winston-Salem roots

Both
Huntley and Baker have spent decades living and working in Winston-Salem.

Baker
said she has called Winston-Salem home on and off since 1981. She graduated
from North Forsyth High School before going to Howard University for her
undergraduate degree and then to Ohio State University for a PhD.

In
the years since she’s lived here, Baker said that Winston-Salem has grown,
creating a new identity around arts and innovation, but that the growth hasn’t
necessarily benefited everyone in the city.

“There’s
limited access for people who have limited skills,” she said. “We see
communities be reinvigorated and gentrified. We need our communities to be
revitalized but not without a plan for reentry for those residents.”

Baker said she brings a broader perspective, compared to
Huntley — who has always lived in the district — because she’s lived in other
cities.

“I have a more global lens when looking at Winston-Salem,”
she said.

Huntley on the other hand, pointed to his residency as a
commitment to his community. He grew up in Winston-Salem, going to Carver High
School, then Winston-Salem State University for undergrad before obtaining a
master’s degree from Walden University, an online college.

“I’m from Winston-Salem,” Huntley said. “I grew up in the
community. I have made so many relationships, and I have good relationships
with all of the local officials in town. I’m dedicated. My mom says, ‘There’s
always going to be challenges but there’s always going to be solutions,’ so I’m
dedicated to finding those solutions.”

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

🗲 Join The Society 🗲