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Tom Campbell: North Carolina election is not all about Trump

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Tom Campbell

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BY TOM CAMPBELL

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Many are saying that the Nov. 6 elections are all about Trump, a referendum either affirming or refuting his leadership. Our president casts a big shadow, especially in congressional races, but there’s more than just the Trump factor at play.

Once in a blue moon there is no major statewide race, such as senator or governor. This year’s “blue moon” election bears some similarities to the 2010 contest, although Richard Burr won re-election to the Senate that year. Observers said it was a referendum on the first two years of the Obama presidency, but 2010 was a turning point for our state.

Republicans successfully hammered the theme that state Democratic leadership had become stale and that under their control government had grown too large and taxes were too high. They promised more responsible and responsive government. Democrats lost control of both houses of our legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

The Nov. 6 vote could be a referendum on how well Republicans have kept those promises.

The GOP will take credit for today’s stronger economy, lower unemployment and slightly higher wages. They have cut taxes, controlled the growth in government and stored up over $2 billion in savings. Truthfully, by 2011 our state had already started rebounding from the worst recession since the Great Depression, so they can’t get all the credit for today’s economy.

How about education? They raised teacher pay, expanded school choice, improved graduation rates and instituted an ambitious reading program. But sadly, our students are not making significant progress, especially lower socioeconomic students, and we would rather argue over funding than how to achieve excellent student outcomes. Reading levels haven’t improved significantly, graduation rates are stagnant and there are questions as to how well charter school and voucher programs are working. We still fight over education governance, both within the UNC Board of Governors and the State Board of Education.

With the exception of the Connect NC bond program we have not improved our overall infrastructure, although we are encouraged about efforts to put more money into road construction. Health outcomes have not improved, especially in mental health, and lawmakers refuse to even consider the expansion of Medicaid. Our prisons are in crisis mode, race relations have deteriorated and the gap between urban and rural areas has grown.

But legislative leaders are nothing if not bold and partisan. The mantra for these past seven years seems, “We will change it if it benefits our party.” Our legislature has meddled in local affairs, they gave us HB2 — a disastrous discriminatory law they refused to change until literally forced to do so — and took Democrats’ gerrymandering to an art form, boldly proclaiming that the only reason they didn’t create more Republican districts is because they couldn’t figure out how to do so.

But it is their vast overreach into the courts and executive branches that is the most troubling. As former Republican Gov. Jim Martin said, they want to make constitutional those things that are unconstitutional by putting them into our constitution.

There’s no question our Constitution gives the legislature the overwhelming control over matters of state, but our founders saw value in three distinct branches of government and never intended just one all-powerful group making, executing and adjudicating all issues. Our current leadership has spent unprecedented amounts of time and money in the court room and their win-loss record is not impressive.

Republicans should be worried about losing control of our state, but there is one major difference this year. Democrats don’t have a clear, consistent message explaining why change is needed. They want this election to be all about Trump. It shouldn’t be.

Tom Campbell is former assistant state treasurer and creator and host of NC SPIN, a statewide panel discussion that airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 12:30 p.m. Sunday on UNC-TV and 10 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday on the North Carolina Channel.Contact him at www.ncspin.com.

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