In “Wake commissioners primary takes a toll” (May 10), Ned Barnett opined that the Wake County Commission primary looked like a “circular firing squad.” I’d like to suggest that perhaps one man’s view of an existential threat to the establishment may be another woman’s view of progress.
The fact is that two incumbent men who had been clearly favored in the N&O’s pre-election coverage were defeated, and another won only very narrowly. Those incumbents had been elected; they weren’t appointed for life. Many saw this primary not as a disaster, but as voters selecting candidates who best represented their views and priorities. Another word for that is “democracy.”
Barnett further worried that “a Democratic consensus on how to run the county looked damaged.” Unfortunately, that damage had already been done across multiple years during debates over cuts to the requested budgets for education. The reality is that Wake County now has an opportunity to improve collaboration, both within a Board of Commissioners that is poised to become less divided, and between a Board of Commissioners and a Board of Education that are likely to become better aligned.
Barnett closed by charging that the debate really wasn’t about school funding, but that instead the fight was personal. On that point, he is sorely mistaken. School funding motivated the challengers who rose up and won, and school funding motivated their volunteers and donors, many of whom previously supported the incumbents. My suggestion is that we move past lamentations and recriminations, and start improving collaboration and building the consensus that Barnett fears is at risk. One way to do that is to constructively highlight the key messages from this local primary election, and discuss emerging trends.
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The first takeaway is that voters in Wake County highly value public education, and are willing to elect candidates who promise to better fund it. Wake County voters are not shying away from the reality of taxes, or the need to make tough allocation decisions that prioritize education. They recognize that funding excellence in public schools is critical to attracting businesses, fostering economic growth, taking care of children and families, developing future citizens and building the society in which we want to live. That’s an important input to the discussion that is starting this week over the next Wake County annual budget, and the size of a school bond in November. It’s also a key consideration for all candidates seeking votes in Wake County in November, including those running for state office.
The second takeaway from this primary is that Wake County voters value diversity and are willing to elect qualified women to provide more proportional representation. This should encourage more qualified candidates, including women, to step up and run for office in the future. When that happens, it should be heralded as progress. Having more diversity, and specifically having more proportional representation of women, is a trend to celebrate and encourage. The voters have spoken, and now it is time to come together to make progress toward the changes their votes endorsed.
Ann Campbell is the former president of Campbell Alliance Group, a global management consultancy. She is Chair of the board of Women Awake PAC, which endorsed women candidates in the Wake County primary. She also serves as a member of the boards of Public Schools First NC and Lillian’s List.
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response.