Democrat Dan Blue III is the son of a state Senator who is a former speaker of the House. Blue is a lawyer with degrees from prestigious institutions and Wall Street experience and has been a rising star in the Democratic Party. But Tuesday, he met an unexpected defeat at the hands of Republican Dale Folwell, who touted his blue-collar experience in the working world and his years in the General Assembly as two of the things that best qualified him to be North Carolina’s State Treasurer.
There seemed a pattern on several Council of State offices of voters who supported President-elect Donald Trump deciding to toss out a couple of people they perceived to be entrenched incumbents, both of them Democrats. In some cases, the change may be slight. In others, however, North Carolinians had better watch closely as offices may be reshaped. And Democrat Charles Meeker, the best-qualified candidate for commissioner of labor in a long time, failed to win over incumbent conservative Republican Cherie Berry.
Other Democrats were, like Blue, surprised in their races for the Council of State, which has a tremendous impact on the day-to-day lives of all North Carolinians. Members are elected statewide and supervise areas such as auditing, agriculture, insurance regulation and general duties found in the secretary of state’s office.
State Auditor Beth Wood, a Democrat, had a roughly 4,000-vote lead over Republican Chuck Stuber, a personable and qualified former FBI agent. Wood has done a capable job. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, like Wood seeking a third term, was defeated, in his case by Republican Mike Causey, a retired insurance agent running for this office for the fifth time. Goodwin had done an outstanding service to the citizens. Causey’s commitment to regulating an industry that touches all citizens will be examined and tested. This has been a pro-consumer office under Goodwin.
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And State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, a three-term incumbent, lost to Mark Johnson, a Republican from Forsyth County where he is a school board member. Johnson is very conservative, and though he’d supervise the conventional public school system, he supports expansion of charter schools and public money for private school vouchers. It will be a test for him to fight for public schools at a time when GOP majorities in the state House and Senate seem critical of those institutions and the people who work in them.
There was a pattern here, and it’s likely the result of President-elect Donald Trump’s carrying North Carolina and what appears to be an electorate ready to dump the status quo. Two exceptions on the Council of State were wildly popular incumbents, Republican Steve Troxler, the agriculture commissioner, and 20-year veteran Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
But just as the “throw ‘em out” view of voters nationally has brought the unlikely Donald Trump to a January 20, 2017, date with inauguration as president, so the movement went “down ballot” in individual states. And there will be consequences.
North Carolina, of course, has never been as “progressive” as Democrats would like to believe, and the hard-right takeover of the General Assembly is the best example of that. But the offices on the Council of State are service jobs, responsible to the people.
It will take a while to figure out just what message voters — pretty equally divided among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated — were sending Tuesday. But it won’t take that long to measure how the new members of the Council of State perform. And it’s important that they perform well.