The start of every year awakens hope and resolution, but in 2016 those elements will be especially strong.
This is a presidential election year in which the nation’s voters will deliver a verdict on the direction set during President Obama’s two terms and make a choice about where the nation should go. It is shaping up to be a starkly defined verdict and choice.
Among Republicans, Donald Trump is running a bombastic campaign to “make America great again,” whatever that means. A group of more conventional GOP candidates is trying to be heard above Trump’s tweeting trumpet.
Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton offers both the historic and the unprecedented, a restoration of the Clinton White House occupied by the nation’s first female president. Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is seeking the Democratic nomination by calling the party back to its populist roots and challenging tax and economic policies under which big corporations and Wall Street financiers have flourished while the middle class has shrunk.
This will be a robust and deeply consequential presidential race. Republican candidates will be compelled to advocate solutions after years of obstructing Obama’s agenda and attacking the president on every front. Democratic candidates will have to decide what their party stands for and how they are going to pay for changes that will help the middle class and still meet the long-term costs of entitlement programs.
Republicans and Democrats will wrestle to balance rights and security as they propose strategies for blocking and defusing terrorism and stabilizing the Middle East.
The race for governor
In North Carolina, the race for governor will mirror the presidential contest, but without the rambunctious element of a Tar Heel Trump. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory moved to the right in his first term, and he will have to justify that agenda as he seeks re-election. He will take credit for the state’s economic recovery, though it’s unclear how much tax cuts and tight state budgets affect North Carolina’s economy during a nationwide recovery. His likely Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, will focus on tax cuts that favor big corporations and the wealthy at the expense of middle- and low-income North Carolinians. And he will make McCrory defend his conservative stances regarding voting rights and the treatment of undocumented immigrants.
Politics will also be in the courtroom. The U.S. Supreme Court may finally decide the prolonged legal challenge to the Republican-drawn redistricting maps, and federal courts will decide whether changes in the state’s voting laws are illegal attempts to suppress minority voting.
Another major issue in the nation and state will be – or at least should be – environmental policy. The Paris climate talks set goals for a worldwide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the year ahead will determine whether nations will live up to – or perhaps even exceed – their pledges. Global warming is at a point when every year counts. This may be remembered as the year during which a concerted solution began, or the year when worldwide resolve to avoid a climate crisis crumbled under pressures for short-term profits.
In North Carolina, the environment will also be a top issue. Letting a state tax break for renewable energy end in 2015 could stunt the state’s fast-growing solar industry and promising growth in wind power. There will likely be another attempt by the fossil fuel industry to cut back or eliminate requirements that state utilities get a growing share of the power from renewable sources. The debate over fracking has quieted since the decline in oil prices makes it unlikely that companies will set up fracking operations here. But there will continue to be disputes about the disposal of Duke Energy’s coal ash and the general weakening of environmental regulation under McCrory.
Other big issues for 2016 will include Raleigh’s plans for a new Dix Park and the continuing real estate boom in the the city’s downtown. At the University of North Carolina, there will be both hope and skepticism as Margaret Spellings takes over as the system’s new president. And at UNC-Chapel Hill, there will be suspense and worry, and perhaps blame and anger, as the NCAA announces its penalties for the school’s years of abusing academics to keep athletes eligible.
Here is 2016, a year of decision. It will be a busy and historic year. May it also be a safe and productive one. Happy New Year.