The view from the top

When North Carolina’s first Constitution was enacted in 1776, the revolutionary mood of the day fostered a “profound distrust of the executive,” causing the center of power to be vested in the Legislature, according to a historical narrative written by John L. Sanders for the State Library.

Back then, the governor was chosen by the Legislature and allotted only a one-year term (and a maximum of three in six years). A seven-member Council of State, also chosen by the Legislature, was given a large measure of control over what few powers the executive officer did exercise.

But times — and constitutions — have definitely changed, and in the wake of the Constitutions of 1868 and 1971, a more even balance of power has evolved among the executive, judicial and legislative branches. Today, North Carolina voters elect both their chief executive officer and the remaining council members (each of whom has considerable independent authority and duties). The governor presides over the 10-member council, which meets the first Tuesday of each month to oversee expenditures of tax revenues, discuss insurance matters and make decisions about bond sales and land transactions, according to Tamera Jones, policy adviser for Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue.

The candidates for all 10 Council of State positions are listed below in the order in which they’ll appear on the ballot. For each race, we’ve sifted through a slew of campaign rhetoric and media reports to identify what sets the different candidates apart from one another — a litmus-test issue where we found one, or differing key concerns or positions in other cases. To find out more, check the various candidates’ Web sites.

Governor

The State Library tells us that our first “governor” was Ralph Lane, governor of Roanoke Colony (1585-86). As a state, we’ve had 72 so far.

Democrat: Mike Easley (incumbent)

Republican: Patrick J. Ballantine

Libertarian: Barbara Howe

Litmus test: Funding education.

Easley: favors a state lottery.

Ballantine: opposes a lottery, would increase funds by cutting bureaucracy.

Howe: wants to privatize schools, give parents tax credits and vouchers.

Lieutenant governor

First in line to succeed to the governorship; presides over the Senate; member of various boards and committees.

Democrat: Beverly Eaves Perdue (incumbent)

Republican: Jim Snyder

Libertarian: Christopher Cole

Litmus test: Improve state’s economy. Perdue: continue working to prevent military base closures. Snyder: replace Social Security with market-based Retirement Security Accounts. Cole: reduce taxes and government growth.

Attorney general

Through the Department of Justice, provides legal advice and representation to all state government departments, agencies and commissions.

Democrat: Roy Cooper (incumbent)

Republican: Joe Knott

Key concern: Cooper: continue pursuing out-of-state air polluters, enforcing the Clean Smokestacks Act. Knott: take moral stands on gay marriage and other social issues.

Auditor

Independently reviews and comments on operational and financial affairs of state government.

Democrat: Ralph Campbell (incumbent)

Republican: Leslie Merritt

Litmus test: Corruption. Campbell: cites his record of tough, nonpartisan investigations of political/financial scandals involving state government. Merritt: says his opponent is corrupt for taking contributions in his 2000 race that were collected by his brother (then Mayor of Atlanta) from businessmen later convicted of graft.

[Editor’s note: Campbell says he had no knowledge at the time of any wrongdoing by the businessmen.]

Commissioner of agriculture

Promotes and develops agriculture and agricultural research; ensures standards for products.

Democrat: Britt Cobb (incumbent)

Republican: Steve Troxler

Litmus test: Future of farming. Cobb: pursue new foreign markets for N.C. commodities. Troxler: lobby state lawmakers to increase funding for agribusiness.

[Editor’s note: Neither Cobb (appointed to replace Meg Scott Phipps) nor Troxler (who lost to Phipps by one percentage point in the 2000 election) has any known connection to the bribery scandal that recently sent Phipps to prison.]

Commissioner of insurance

Oversees licensing and supervision of insurance companies operating in the state.

Democrat: Jim Long (incumbent)

Republican: C. Robert Brawley

Key concern: Long says he’s kept the state’s auto and homeowners’ insurance rates among the lowest in the country. Brawley wants to press the General Assembly for a small-business tax credit for employee health insurance and to make all out-of-pocket health-care expenses tax-deductible.

Commissioner of labor

Promotes health, safety and well-being of workers.

Republican: Cherie Berry (incumbent)

Democrat: Wayne Goodwin

Key concern: Berry, the state’s first female labor commissioner, says she’ll continue to make workplace safety her top priority. Goodwin, endorsed by the AFL-CIO, pledges to use Labor Department to encourage industry expansion and create more jobs.

Secretary of state

Facilitates business activities and dissemination of information; preserves state records.

Democrat: Elaine F. Marshall (incumbent)

Republican: Jay Rao

Key concern: Marshall says protecting consumers and creating jobs will continue to be her top priorities. Rao, a conservative activist, says she wants to reduce business taxes and regulations.

Superintendent of public instruction

Oversees K-12 schools in North Carolina.

Democrat: June S. Atkinson

Republican: Bill Fletcher

(no incumbent in race)

Key positions: State lottery to fund education? Atkinson: yes. Fletcher: no. Too many standardized tests? Atkinson: yes, need more alternatives. Fletcher: no, but tests need more accountability. Require 150 minutes of physical activity per week? Atkinson: yes, would improve health and academic performance. Fletcher: no, would lengthen school day.

Treasurer

Accounts for and manages public funds.

Democrat: Richard H. Moore (incumbent)

Republican: Edward A. Meyer

Key concerns: Moore touts his public unclaimed property program and promises to continue reducing state and local governments’ borrowing costs. Meyer says he’ll fight state efforts to borrow from state employee pension funds and will invest them in-state.

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