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Monday, May 27, 2024

Pender County Primaries 2024: Max Southworth-Beckwith running for commissioner in District 4

Max Beckwith seeks a commissioner seat in District 4 in Pender County. (Courtesy photo)

PENDER COUNTY — 2024 is a presidential election year but also one that impacts numerous local boards — such as county commissioners and education districts in the tri-county region.

READ MORE: Here is who filed for the 2024 elections

Republican Max Southworth-Beckwith, a former Marine, is running for one of three seats on the Pender County Board of Commissioners. Though Southworth-Beckwith has never held public office, he made a run for Congress in the 2022 Republican primary against incumbent David Rouzer.

“My reasoning for running against David was because I believe competition breeds betterment and no one had challenged him in a primary in almost eight years,” Southworth-Beckwith wrote to PCD.

Southworth-Beckwith will face off against incumbent Jackie Newton and Ken Smith — a current member of the Pender County Board of Education — in District 4 in the primary election, to take place March 5.

The candidate’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

Port City Daily has compiled candidate questionnaires so voters can read up on contenders’ stances before heading to the polls. The paywall is dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of casting their ballots.

Voters will choose which candidates from their registered party they want to move forward in the formal election — or those who are registered unaffiliated can choose which party’s primary they want to vote in. After the March 5 primaries, Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024; a valid photo ID will be needed to cast a ballot in both. 

Anyone not registered to vote can partake in same-day registration, available throughout the early voting period, Feb. 15 – Mar. 2. Check here to see if your registration is active at your current address.

Early voting in Pender County takes place at four locations: Shiloh Volunteer Fire Department (19170 US Hwy 421, Watha), Pender County Annex Building (15060 US Hwy 17, Hampstead), Pender County NC Coop Extension Auditorium (801 S. Walker St., Burgaw) and Surf City Community Center Gym (201 Community Center Dr.). 

Early voting stops are open Feb. 15-16, 19-23, 26-29 and March 1, 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and at 3 p.m. on Feb. 18, 24, and March 2. 

Below is a breakdown of dates to expect ahead of the primary election:

  • Jan. 19, 2024: County boards of elections begin mailing absentee ballots to eligible voters who submitted an absentee ballot request form.
  • Feb. 9, 2024: Voter registration deadline (5 p.m.).*
  • Feb. 15, 2024: In-person early voting begins.
  • Feb. 27, 2024: Absentee ballot request deadline (5 p.m.).*
  • March 2, 2024: In-person early voting ends (3 p.m.).
  • March 5, 2024: Primary Election Day.
  • March 5, 2024: Absentee ballot return deadline (7:30 p.m.).*

Southworth-Beckwith’s questionnaire is below; all candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. 

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Port City Daily (PCD): Tell us the reason you wanted to run for a commissioner seat?

Max Southworth-Beckwith (MSB): I am running for county commissioner because there are things I believe need changing, and things that should be preserved. We need to have proper management of the growth of Pender County, while making sure we are serving the interests of all Pender residents. We have infrastructure issues throughout the county, specifically the issues of clean drinking water and the over development of the county. These are issues that should have been addressed years ago. 

PCD: What is the current board of commissioners getting right? Wrong?

MSB: The current and former boards of commissioners have done well in getting the growth to come to Pender County, I just believe that some policies and procedures in place are short sighted. Our growth is outpacing our infrastructure, and it seems that all attention and resources are focused on East Pender. West Pender has no easy access to drinkable water, yet for years no one has done anything about it. I find it a disservice that any Board of Commissioners puts the interests of one group of citizens over another. As Commissioner, I West Pender residents will have a strong voice to represent our interests.

PCD: What is the top priority you’re campaigning on and why?

MSB: My top priorities are working to get clean water to our citizens, auditing Pender County to see if we are managing our tax dollars properly, getting more Veteran Service Officers in the county to help our large veteran population with their issues, and tackling the increasing crime in Pender County. 

PCD: Did you support the current commissioners’ decision to sell the hospital in Burgaw to Novant? Explain.

MSB: No, I was not a supporter of selling the hospital to Novant. We had a few years of data on how Novant performs before the hospital was sold. Those points are the purchase and management of New Hanover Regional Hospital, and the Novant offices in Brunswick County. Long wait lines, people dying in the waiting room, staffing shortages, the list goes on. And despite all of these indicators, our county commissioners not only sold the hospital to this company, but it was a crap deal.

PCD: How would you approach environmental concerns regarding new industrial manufacturing businesses in Pender, such as the potential new industrial site in western part of the county?

MSB: First and foremost does the community want such a place near them? Second is why are these developers trying to rezone an area for commercial use, when we have a commercial district just down 421 that still has a lot of land ready to go. Lastly, no rezoning or permitting should be approved until all environmental reports from the appropriate agencies are in and reviewed. 

If the environmental reports come back clean, if this brings good paying jobs, and if the community wants it, then the project should be approved. The issue I am hearing from residents about this new site is its location. While I am all for new businesses for Pender, we need to make sure that they are not infringing on the residential and private property of Pender residents. We serve at the pleasure of the people, not any individual company or special interests. 

PCD: Do you think the board of education is adequately funded? Where might it be lacking and how do you think the commissioners should address this shortage?

MSB: Honestly we need to do a forensic audit of the entire County, but in general I do believe the Board of Education needs more funding for teachers, bus drivers, support staff, and facility maintenance. One of my issues is that we still have EDI, CRT, and non age appropriate content in the school system. The current Board of Education needs to focus on addressing these issues more aggressively, or they will not be getting my vote for any additional funding. In fact, I would move for the County Commissioners to post a deadline for these items to be fully addressed. If these deadlines are not met, come next year’s budget, the County Commissioners need to enforce the will of the people through limiting the budget of the Board of Education until these issues are addressed. 

PCD: Pender County is growing at a rate of nearly 1.3% annually. How do you plan to keep pace in terms of jobs and housing, while also balancing quality of life for residents? Are there ideas that haven’t yet been considered?

MSB: County Commissioners need to put the well-being and livelihood of its citizens above all else. We need to start with protecting the current residents over future residents. This happens by getting the infrastructure issues corrected and not allowing predatory developers to devalue what makes Pender County so great.

PCD: How would you work to mitigate traffic concerns for Pender residents — such as the Malpass Corner and US 421 intersection and the new school site near the intersection of Hwy 210 and NC 17 — as the county rapidly expands?

MSB: It comes down to bad management and planning for the future growth and development for the county. When talking about traffic concerns a lot of the blame can be put on the NCDOT through mismanagement and only looking 10 years ahead instead of 50+ years. Road construction and the underground infrastructure to the communities adjacent to the roads takes a long time, but is critical. As commissioner, I will work with my fellow commissioners to have our representatives to help get us the funding to address our traffic concerns.  

PCD: County commissioners recently approved a second flood-related buyout program to assist residents impacted by hurricanes. How would you plan future development to mitigate flood concerns?

MSB: It starts with maintaining good working relationships with both State and Federal agencies. Next goes into one of my main points is infrastructure. Lastly, is keeping a good relationship with our neighboring counties that also get hit hard by hurricanes, and sharing information on what works for them and seeing if we can implement any similar strategies in Pender. 

PCD: What do you think of the current tax rates? How will you balance taxes with identifying funding for top-of-mind issues?  

MSB: My goals all include the desire to lower taxes for our residents, which is why I am pushing for a full transparent audit of the county. We need to see how our money is being spent and if it is being spent well. Growing our tax base is always a good means to lowering taxes, but we cannot have the burden of growing said tax base on the shoulders of our residents. 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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