Even some who supported the conservative Republican majority that was in control of the Wake County Board of Commissioners doubted the majority would hold through the Tuesday election. They were right, as Republicans lost their majority and a more progressive group of Democrats emerged with control.
Commissioners Joe Bryan of District 1 and Paul Coble of District 7 were board veterans and among the most outspoken conservatives when it came to opposing any new taxes and denying the public a right to vote on a transit tax. They went down to defeat at the hands of Sig Hutchinson, a public speaking consultant, and attorney John Burns, respectively. Incumbent commissioners’ Chairman Phil Matthews of District 2 lost his seat to attorney Matt Calabria. And Rich Gianni lost his bid to retain the Republican seat in District 3, formerly occupied by Tony Gurley, to Jessica Holmes, also a lawyer. The winners will join Democrats Betty Lou Ward, James West and Caroline Sullivan on the board.
The new board is going to be helpfully more diverse, with Burns, Calabria and Holmes being younger members. They bring a fresh outlook and a commendable optimism to their task. Hutchinson, who has run for public office before, seems to have a good grasp of countywide issues and would be a good board leader – when members get around to that. He also has the ability to communicate with those of differing views without dismissing them, a problem with some of the departing commissioners.
In a way, the victory calls to mind 2011, when Democrats retook control of a school board that had been run for two years by Republicans who seemed more interested in roiling up the community than in serving its children. Democrats had been complacent in 2009, and they paid the price, as did the community, with a chaotic and disruptive series of school board meetings and an abrasive attitude on the part of conservative board members.
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What happened? The opposition woke up and found good candidates, and now the school board is productive, reasoned and supportive of parents’ concerns.
It’s not valuable to linger for long on how four incumbent commissioners managed to get thumped. What happened is that the four Republicans tied themselves to a worn-out philosophy of holding down taxes and watching rather than guiding growth. Their occasional antagonism toward the school board was reprehensible and anything but constructive.
Now, onward. The Democrats believe in new transit options, and they’ll put them to a vote of the people. They’ll support public education by working with, rather than clashing with, a sound school board. They’re not any greater fans of taxes than anyone else, but the incumbents’ determination to simply dismiss any notion of a tax of any kind was a dangerous attitude to take in a growing area.
And that growth demands leadership that can see ahead, anticipate what’s going to be needed and figure ways to cope with it, control it and guide it in a positive way. The right leaders now are in place. Election Day might have been dismal for many Democrats, but it was a very good day for Wake County. Very good indeed.