For the past month, I have been traveling the state talking to North Carolina families about the choice theyre facing in this election. At stops in Raleigh, Greenville, Winston-Salem and Charlotte, I have visited with local, everyday folks in their living rooms and around their kitchen tables to listen to their stories, discuss their concerns and share their dreams for the future.
The stories I have heard give me hope that our future will be bright. There was the small business owner from Carrboro whose gardening supply company just opened its sixth location, who helps cover her employees health insurance costs because its the right thing to do. The blueberry farmer from Winterville who sells his produce at the county farmers market and has put three sons through college at our states public universities. The architect from Charlotte who was forced into retirement by a medical condition but now donates his time and his skills to Habitat for Humanity.
I was particularly struck by the story a public school teacher from Clemmons told me about two family members who lost their jobs during the downturn. Pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, both went back to school and got retrained with new skills, and both have now found new jobs that pay better than their old ones.
In many ways, theirs is the story of North Carolina: a state that has pulled itself up by its bootstraps and transformed itself into the greatest place in the country to live, work, start a business and raise a family. But we didnt get here through dumb luck. We got here through hard work, determination and an understanding that in order to bring our state into the modern era, we needed to invest in the foundations of the modern economy: in education, in scientific research, in roads and schools and broadband networks.
For a time, leaders of both parties understood this. We had our fights, but we managed to find consensus around the need to invest in our economic future. Today, however, the progress we have made over the course of decades is under threat. Today, we face two sharply different visions for the future of our state and our country.
President Barack Obama understands the importance of education to our economic prosperity and middle-class security. Thats why he fought to keep tens of thousands of North Carolina educators in the classroom during the downturn and invested in our public schools through Race to the Top. Its why he doubled funding for Pell Grants, tripled the largest college tax credit, and secured a historic investment in our community colleges.
The president also understands we need to build our economy from the middle-out, not the top-down. Thats why he cut taxes for small businesses 18 times and made it easier for them to get loans. Its why he reduced taxes for the typical middle-class family in North Carolina by over $3,300 during his first term, including a payroll tax cut that put $40 per paycheck back in the pocket of every working American. And its why hes fighting to close loopholes for outsourcers and create new incentives for manufacturers to bring jobs back home.
The other side believes that prosperity trickles down from above that tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than investments in the middle class. As my friend President Bill Clinton says, they want to take us back to the same failed policies that got us into this mess in the first place. Its not that theyre bad people. Its just that they dont understand what it takes for the middle class to succeed. After all, they have already written off 47 percent of Americans.
In short, Obamas blueprint for our economy is the same blueprint that has transformed North Carolina into what it is today, and it is a plan that will carry us forward into the future. The other side wants to take us right back to where we started and thats a step backward that North Carolinians simply cant afford.
The families I have met over the past month have each been unique, and they certainly havent agreed on every issue. But their aspirations have been the same as middle-class families everywhere: to earn enough to pay the bills and tuck a little away at the end of the month; to provide an education for their children and grandchildren; to have a fair shot at the American dream. And when it comes to which candidate understands their struggles and shares their vision for the future, the choice for them is clear: we must re-elect President Barack Obama.
Democrat James B. Hunt served four four-year terms as governor of North Carolina (19771985 and 19932001).