Coastal state Sen. Bill Cook will not seek re-election under new legislative maps

Cook was an advocate for fishermen, free and open waterways

State Sen. Bill Cook presents an Order of the Long Leaf Pine award in Bath, N.C., on Dec. 9, 2016. (Peter Krogh via Facebook)

RALEIGH — Four-term state lawmaker Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort) announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election in 2018, as remedial legislative maps have significantly reconfigured his home district. Lawmakers passed the new Senate redistricting plan earlier this week, ahead of a court-ordered mandate to redraw voting districts deemed illegally gerrymandered by a panel of federal judges in Greensboro.

“I’ve tried to be a good servant to the people of Eastern North Carolina. However, the recent redistricting changes have prompted me to re-evaluate my commitment to my family. And as much as I love the folks of Eastern North Carolina, I love my family more,” Cook said in a statement on Tuesday.

Official portrait of Sen. Bill Cook for the N.C. General Assembly.

Cook represents Senate District 1 that is currently comprised of Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. But the new map moves Beaufort, and Cook’s hometown, into a different district — making Cook ineligible for run for his former seat.

Conservative Rep. Bob Steinburg, who represents a similar section of northeastern North Carolina in the state House, has said he will run for the new Senate District 1 if the maps, as they are now, are approved by the court panel next month.

Steinburg is a proponent of renewable energy and was a primary sponsor of House Bill 2 in the wake of the Charlotte unisex bathroom ordinance.

First elected to the state House of Representatives in 2010, Cook represented the 6th District, which included Beaufort County and a portion of Pitt County. In 2012, Cook was then elected to his current seat in the state Senate. He ousted Democratic incumbents in both the 2010 and 2012 elections.

“When I first earned the right to represent the folks of Eastern North Carolina in 2011, our state had some of the highest taxes in the Southeast, regulations were strangling our economy and teacher pay was among the lowest in the country,” Cook said in a written statement sent to the press on Tuesday. “I am very proud that with the help of my fellow legislators we now have the lowest taxes in the Southeast, regulation is under control and teacher pay is greatly improved.”

Throughout his political career, Cook fought to keep North Carolina’s waterways and marine life under state control, championing legislation to keep N.C. from entering the Joint Enforcement Agreement with neighboring states.

He ruffled feathers with environmental activists for defending the commercial and recreational fishing industries and loosening inlet regulations. Among other things, Cook helped to repeal for-hire coastal recreational fishing licenses logbook requirements, aimed to limit the federal observer program, and introduced bills in an effort to depoliticize the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission.

Cook was also an advocate for North Carolina’s emerging oyster industry, working with the Department of Environmental Quality to replenish sanctuaries across the coast.

“I am proud of my work in promoting our oyster industry, keeping our inlets open and defending our fishermen,” Cook said. “I am most proud of starting a new industry in North Carolina — deep water fish farming, an industry that will greatly benefit our economy.

Speculation about Cook’s retirement has swirled since the first draft of the remedial district maps were released earlier this summer, boxing him into a new block of counties. While many of his colleagues were not surprised by his announcement on Tuesday, they are sad to see him leave his Raleigh office behind.

“Over the past six years, Bill Cook has traveled thousands of miles across all eight counties of Senate District 1, earning his reputation as one of the most engaged and responsive legislators in the General Assembly,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “From championing a new marine aquaculture industry to helping ensure safe access to channels along the Outer Banks, Bill has advanced important priorities for the people of his district. We’ll miss Bill’s warm, accessible and affable presence in the Senate and wish him all the best in his retirement.”

Since 2015, Cook has served as co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources, and the Senate Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources Committee.

“When entering the Legislative Building in Raleigh, one has to pass by a 28-foot terrazzo mosaic of the Great Seal of North Carolina. Many great persons have taken that path to a House or Senate seat in service to the people. It is painfully difficult to learn Sen. Bill Cook will no longer walk that way. His leadership will cast a long shadow for good on that Seal,” Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, said of Cook. “His strong conservative values have always represented what is best about North Carolina.”