I am freshly returned from Capital City and can report that as of this writing, yes, there is going to be a March primary. Election Day is March 15 and early voting, available at six sites throughout Orange County starts Thursday, March 3. Please vote.
More importantly, please study a little farther down the ballot, beyond the marquee races, and take some time to think about the kind of place you want Orange County to be.
In even-numbered years, including those with wild, over-heated presidential primaries, we decide who is going to steer this county for the next four years. Since the commissioner seats are staggered, it’s seldom a sea change, but it is always critical in indicating where the voters want to go.
In this cycle, the county commissioners race is a deeply important election, and with only a slate of Democrats vying for the available seats, it will be decided in March with the results of this primary.
This race is important, but not for the same reasons as previous local races. For the past several years, as cities and counties fought off moves to cut social services, transit funding and per-pupil support and do away with local environmental controls, the people we elected had to play defense and work hard to protect things that took decades to achieve.
Cutbacks in state spending also bit hard, not just in the loss of direct state funding for local programs, but also hitting our economy via freezes in state hiring and wage hikes. Most of the paycheck dollars in this county still come through the state and that’s not changing anytime soon.
All these years of playing defense, of trying to keep clinics open and schools staffed despite unsteady resources has had an impact on not just funding, but the way we approach public policy at the local level. One of the most detrimental aspects is that it leaves all of us, citizens and policy makers alike less likely jump when an opportunity presents itself.
In short, the last few election cycles have been about managing scarcity and preserving what we’ve built. This election is about the future, about what we want to build and the county we wish to become.
This is not to say there will be sudden abundance or the legislature will grant local autonomy, but the winds are shifting and communities that are ready when opportunities pick up can sail them.
To be ready, we have to have a positive vision for the future and to do that we’ll all have to shed some of the deep cynicism that prevents us from believing that local governments can still do things and, in some cases, big things.
In the past few years, we have come to settle for incremental improvements in areas of critical need and seem resigned to let go of initiatives and innovations that once drove us forward.
We still have problems to solve, like growing income inequality, a stubborn shortage of affordable housing and a shameful poverty rate that is higher than the state average.
We have yet to really leverage our agricultural heritage, our economic development potential and still see far too many of the bright young people raised and educated here leave to start their careers elsewhere. We host a university that is spinning off all kinds of businesses to other counties and states.
Dealing with these challenges and harnessing our potential will take elected officials with skills and vision and heart. And it will take voters willing to hold them accountable. We must demand not just that they manage change, but that they drive it in a direction that reflects our values and our collective desire for a better future for all.
It is time for the Orange County that we once knew, the one that led this state in so many ways, to take on that role again and be the change we want to see.
Vote like you mean it. Elections matter.
Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist, musician and public-policy enthusiast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org