For the Wake County Board of Commissioners, The News & Observer’s editorial endorsements go enthusiastically and without hesitation to the four Democrats running in an effort to sweep three Republican incumbents out of office and to replace another Republican-held seat with a Democrat.
Wake County residents have prided themselves on living in a place that sets a leadership example for the Triangle and for the state. But that’s not what Republicans in the board majority believe.
No, they continue to sing the same old tired chorus of cutting taxes, dismissing any who disagree with them and refusing to respect citizens by allowing them to vote on a transit tax that would enable the county to get on board with Orange and Durham counties in formulating a transit vision for the future.
And they’ve battled repeatedly over money and other issues with the Wake school board, sending a message that public education isn’t Priority One with them. Their conservative blueprint really isn’t a blueprint at all. It amounts to a weathered old map that could be labeled, “How things used to be and how we wish they could be again.”
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Republican commissioners haven’t even been able to offer full-throated support of Raleigh’s attempt to make a deal for the Dorothea Dix property to produce a park. In fact, they’d have a tough time coming up with anything they’re “for,” preferring to stick to the negative politics they’ve long used against their perceived “enemies.”
This is a call for leadership that believes in listening to the people and respecting their wisdom. Commissioners Paul Coble and Joe Bryan have steadfastly refused, for example, to allow citizens to vote on whether to authorize the small transit tax.
Although commissioners run by district, all residents vote for the offices.
Republican Joe Bryan, a former mayor of Knightdale, is facing Democrat Sig Hutchinson, a long-time community activist and consultant. Hutchinson has paid his dues in public service as the leading advocate for greenways, and he has logged countless hours at community meetings on mass transit, conservation and even in discussions with conservatives who call him a “tree hugger.” Few people bring to the race more varied interactions with residents of all backgrounds than Hutchinson, who will be an open-minded, forward-thinking commissioner. He is a truly outstanding choice.
Attorney Matt Calabria, a Democrat, is the overwhelming best choice over incumbent Republican Phil Matthews, who has demonstrated virtually no leadership in his role as board chairman. Calabria, 30, is pro-transit tax and perceptively notes that Wake County’s progressive past has helped lead to things such as the Research Triangle Park. He favors more investment in education. He lives in Fuquay-Varina, and his boundless enthusiasm is refreshing.
Democrat Jessica Holmes brings energy and a forceful, positive outlook to her race against Republican Rich Gianni, who is trying to hold a GOP seat he was appointed to after Tony Gurley retired. Holmes, also a lawyer, strongly supports public education and cites her own humble background and degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and its law school as examples of how strong public schools can change lives. She’s a testament as well to what determination and hard work can do, and she would be an inspiration to younger constituents. This is a choice with a clearly progressive candidate in Holmes. She would be a member of a forward-thinking majority.
Republican Coble has enjoyed making mischief in public office during times as a Raleigh City Council member and one term as mayor. He was ousted by Charles Meeker, who in 10 years helped to bring back Fayetteville Street and boost downtown and other neighborhoods in ways naysayer Coble never would have.
In John Burns, a lawyer and community activist, Coble has met his match and then some. Burns has three children in public schools and believes partisanship has no place on the Board of Commissioners. He has fought, for no fee, for people denied benefits by Medicaid and is righteous in his belief in conservation and planning for the future of a growing county with things like better transit. In this campaign, Burns has emerged as a formidable and articulate candidate with tremendous leadership potential.
Republicans have not wanted to lead. They’ve just talked about lower taxes and repeated the “small government, blah, blah, blah” mantra and criticized public education. But what have they been for? How have they pushed the county forward? Why do they want to serve on a public body if they don’t even seem to care much for listening to the public?
It’s time for a change. It’s time for a clean sweep in the commissioners’ race.