Dan Forest’s prize

School issues are among those likely to be spotlighted by the new lieutenant governor.

November 22, 2012 

Republicans in recent decades didn’t have much luck as they sought North Carolina’s lieutenant governorship, a post that usually puts someone in a good position to run for governor.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Gardner of Rocky Mount, elected lieutenant governor in 1988, was the only GOP hopeful to break through. His 1992 bid for the governor’s office fell victim to Democrat Jim Hunt’s decision to come out of political retirement to ward off the prospect of a far-right conservative as chief executive.

If former state Rep. Art Pope of Raleigh, the GOP nominee in 1992, had won, perhaps Pope would have kept on climbing the ladder of elective office, instead of cultivating his current role as behind-the-scenes kingmaker and conservative enforcer. But for the Republicans, to borrow a familiar refrain, happy days are here again!

Taking office in January will be Dan Forest, officially the lieutenant governor-elect now that Democrat Linda Coleman has declined to ask for a recount in their closely contested race.

It’s a victory that warms the hearts of Republicans who place a special emphasis on the social issues. In that sense, Forest, a Raleigh architect with Charlotte-area roots, is a different breed from Pat McCrory, the incoming GOP governor, whose conservatism is more of the economic variety.

Coleman, a veteran Wake County politician, came up short by 6,858 votes out of 4.3 million. She was entitled to a recount, but with a slim chance of success she made a commendable call not to ask the taxpayers to bear that expense.

Now it’s Forest who will serve as the state Senate’s presiding officer, a congenial duty in a body that the Republicans control. McCrory could assign him other chores, as Gov. Beverly Perdue has done with Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton – helping prep Dalton for his own bid for the top job that ended with McCrory’s victory. It’s fair to say that in his single term, Dalton made the most of a job that is notably lacking in formal responsibilities.

One area where Forest will have a chance to wield influence will involve education policy – and it’s an area where his views spell trouble for the kind of support the state’s public school systems need.

The lieutenant governor is an ex officio member of the State Board of Education, in which role Forest can be expected to push for taxpayer-funded assistance to the families of private school students and tax credits for the parents of kids who are home-schooled, as Forest’s own children have been.

With a State Board that’s due to become more conservative and a General Assembly in Republican hands, such measures promoting alternatives to public schooling will have friends in high places.

Coleman at least could have been counted upon to make the case that the vast majority of North Carolina students – those who will continue to be served by the public schools – won’t benefit when public funds are used to support non-public options. Meanwhile, it’s Art Pope – long-time champion of vouchers for private schools and funder of conservative causes – who with the Republican ascendency no doubt sees these and other cards finally falling in his favor.

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