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Our Council of State endorsements, part 2

Last week, we offered our recommendations for four Council of State positions – insurance commissioner, agriculture commissioner, labor commissioner and secretary of state. Today, we make recommendations for the remaining Council of State jobs. These jobs are important and deserve voters’ careful consideration.

Lieutenant governor

The lieutenant governor in North Carolina has very little real power. The office is important, though, because the person becomes governor if the governor can no longer serve. It is also a springboard to run for governor down the road; every lieutenant governor since the early 1960s eventually ran for the top job.

With that in mind, voters this year face a stark yet uninspiring choice: A lifelong government employee who is extremely tightly aligned with the state employees association versus a tea party favorite with no government experience at all.

Democrat Linda Coleman, 63, spent most of her career as a human resources director in various state government departments, and as a Wake County commissioner, a state legislator and the director of the Office of State Personnel. So she certainly knows government. That’s paid off for her: The State Employees Association of North Carolina has spent many times more on her behalf than her own campaign has.

The lieutenant governor sits on the state community college board and the state school board. Coleman was the HR director for the community college system, and speaks forcefully about how community colleges can play a vital role in preparing students for the work force. Coleman, a former teacher, also deeply values public education.

Republican Dan Forest, 45, was the office president of a large architectural firm in Raleigh who touts his business experience in making his first run for public office. His tea party views on the issues would take the state backward. He has said the state budget could be cut in half, the minimum wage should be abolished, hospitals and public schools should require proof of citizenship and that N.C. residents should be wary of Islamic extremists pushing Shariah law on to the state.

Those views are too extreme for North Carolina. We worry that the state employees association would have a tight grip on Coleman. But she vows to be an independent thinker, and she’s better attuned to businesses’ needs for well-educated workers. We recommend Linda Coleman.

Auditor

This is an easy choice. Democrat Beth Wood, the incumbent, is a highly professional accountant and instructor in accounting and auditing practices. She has worked for a major accounting firm, has audited local governments and served for 10 years in the Office of State Auditor before her election in 2008.

Challenger Debra Goldman, a former volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, is a member of the Wake County school board. She has no experience in accounting, and offers no compelling reason to unseat the incumbent who does. A recent article about a 2010 robbery at her home and conflicting accounts of what police were told about her relationship with the suspect raise concerns about her integrity.

Beyond that though, Wood has done a commendable job. Her expertise has been valuable in several high-profile audits. Her office issued a blistering assessment of problems with the State Health Plan in 2009, identifying failures of oversight and leadership. This year, top law enforcers in Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration got skewered as Wood’s audit slammed them for abusing state vehicle privileges and trying to thwart the investigation.

Wood is the kind of watchdog and bulldog we need as state auditor. We recommend Beth Wood.

Treasurer

The state treasurer acts as the chief investment officer for all retirement funds and is responsible for their integrity. The job requires a high level of expertise and the strictest ethics. He or she acts as the state’s banker, overseeing the disbursement of funds and chairing the commission that decides how much debt local governments can amass. As of January 1, the treasurer also oversees the State Health Plan.

Incumbent Democrat Janet Cowell has proved she is up to the job. She holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Economics and has worked as a securities analyst for a bank and financial firm.

The Treasurer’s office has come under scrutiny for some losses including Facebook’s IPO – the Treasurer’s office has filed a lawsuit over the matter – but Cowell’s leadership shines nonetheless. Even in a deep recession, North Carolina has maintained a triple-A Bond rating for strong financial and debt management practices. The state is also ranked as the 5th-best funded pension in the country.

Cowell has also been a vocal proponent of financial literacy to help young people learn how to manage money. She pushed for N.C. legislation to make such literacy a part of the public school curriculum, and this year it was.

Republican Steve Royal is a licensed certified public accountant. He offers no good reason to get rid of someone who has steadily handled the state’s money. We recommend Janet Cowell.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Two-term incumbent June Atkinson hasn’t had an easy time as superintendent of public instruction. Both Gov. Mike Easley and Gov. Bev Perdue, fellow Democrats, sought to put their own persons in charge of education through appointments. But Atkinson fought back when Perdue tried in 2009 to elevate state school board chair Bill Harrison to CEO of North Carolina’s schools. Atkinson sued on constitutional grounds, and won.

Still, superintendents of public instruction have only had nominal authority. Constitutionally, the superintendent is secretary and chief administrator of the N.C. Board of Education. The board has the duties of supervising and administering the school system. And the N.C. legislature regularly makes education policy by what it emphasizes and funds.

Atkinson, a former teacher and long-time educator, kept advocating for the education needs of N.C. students despite stumbling blocks.

Republican challenger John Tedesco, a Wake County school board member, talks passionately about the need for new perspectives on education and he feels he brings that as someone who has not been a part of the education establishment. But Tedesco’s performance on the Wake school board gives us pause. He helped create division and chaos in Wake schools with policies he pushed, and the way he pushed them. He also engaged in harsh exchanges with the public.

We think June Atkinson is the better choice.

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