The North Carolina Influencer Series

‘Choose well.’ The NC Influencers lay out their expectations for Tuesday’s winners.

Election Day will pave the way for a new North Carolina state legislature, a new Congress and fresh opportunities for elected officials to address the needs of the state and nation.

Overwhelmingly, the NC Influencers — Democrats, Republicans and those with no party affiliation — said the legislature, Gov. Roy Cooper, and Congress should strive for bipartisanship as they craft policies.


An earlier version of this story misquoted Greensboro businessman Bob Page on voter ID. The quote attributed to Page came from Cyndee Patterson, president of the Lee Institute in Charlotte. Page said, “Every kind and all forms of identification issued should be accepted; voting fraud is and will remain against the law.”

State politics has been marked by heated partisan battles between the Republican-led legislature and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Cooper has gone to court multiple times to challenge the legislature’s attempts to limit his power. Some major laws pass with only Republican votes.

Community leaders urged elected officials to work together for the sake of the state.

“I would ask the state legislators to begin to work more collaboratively together on all issues, so that our great state could move forward on many critical issues; especially education, heath and infrastructure,” said Kandi Deitemeyer, a Charlotte Republican and president of Central Piedmont Community College. Working across the aisle “with less divisiveness” would make for a better state, she said.

The News & Observer, the Charlotte Observer, and the Herald-Sun asked 60 North Carolinians questions about pressing issues facing the state — public education, climate change, hurricane preparation and voter ID, among other topics. This group of influencers included business, civic, cultural, education and political leaders. With new sessions of the legislature and Congress on the horizon, we asked what advice they’d give elected officials, and how they would implement voter ID if a constitutional amendment on this week’s ballot is approved.

We also asked how well they thought candidates for office were addressing the issues. Forty-three Influencers responded to questions about state politics, Congress, and campaigns. They were less than enthusiastic about how candidates focused on policy questions in their campaigns. More than 60 percent said the 2018 candidates focused on policy solutions “somewhat” or “slightly.”

James Coleman, a law professor at Duke University and a Democrat, encouraged an end to political divisiveness.

“Start to identify the serious problems facing the state (and country) and work with each other to find solutions,” he said. “I think the country is on the brink of irreparable harm, caused by the divisiveness of our politics and our failure to address threatening challenges. We need economic development that creates life-sustaining work. We need comprehensive health care that is not tied to employment. We need honest procedures for voting that are not designed to favor one party; if we establish voter ID the state should provide easily obtainable credentials that are free to voters. In the long run, we are in this together. We are more likely to get through it if our officials are serious about finding solutions, rather than long-term public employment.”

Paul Valone, a Republican from Catawba County and head of the gun-rights group Grassroots NC, said Republicans should stay the course.

“If you will allow me a colloquialism, dance with the one that brung ya,’ Valone said. “Presuming Republicans remain in control of the legislature, they face an increasing propensity to stray from conservative principles. If they want to stay in control, however, they should remember why voters sent them to Raleigh.”

The state leaders, for the most part, encouraged Cooper to seek bipartisan approaches toward common goals. A few people thought he should stake out more progressive positions.

“Simply put ... play ‘nicely in the sandbox,’” said Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs at East Carolina University. “I would encourage the (governor) and the legislature to work together for the good of the citizens of NC. This may require that they make some compromises to enact laws that make life better. It is also time for them to work on nonpartisan (redistricting). Additionally, hopefully the legislature will not try to strip authority from the governor, regardless of the party. Put the people/the state above party.”

Thomas Stith, chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, said Cooper should stay focused on policy.

“The governor has the most significant platform in the state to affect the public policy ecosystem,” Stith said. “Gov. Cooper should implement a policy-based initiative focused on the jobs/economy, education and health care. Litigation and railing against the NC legislature may meet political muster, however it does little to address the pressing issues facing the citizens of North Carolina.”

Some Democrats want Cooper to be a voice for Democratic values.

“Continue to sharpen and hone the democratic message for clarity and for direction as the party and the agenda of the working class person (of every race, ethnicity, and religion),” said Ashley Christensen, a Raleigh restauranteur. “Be more progressive, not less.”

Generally, the group wants the same for Congress as they do the state legislature and Cooper: less partisan rancor and more bridge-building and problem solving. They offered advice to North Carolinians elected to Congress and shared the issues they’d like to see addressed.

“You have the opportunity to either build a governing coalition that demonstrates integrity, thoughtfulness, and intentionality, or to continue the trend towards tribalism, double standards, and constant outrage,” said Catherine Lawson, a Republican attorney from Raleigh who started the #MeAt14 campaign. “Choose well,” she added.

Immigration, health care, and infrastructure were among issues the panel wanted Congress to work on.

“Show some budget discipline,” said former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley. “And step up and deal with the immigration issues that are dividing America. It may be a great wedge issue during election season but the uncertainty is a huge burden on the states and our workforce and creates unnecessary stress for our people.”

The same issues were a top priority for McCrory. “Immigration law must be passed along with health care reform and deficit reduction measures,” McCrory said.

The panel was divided on how the legislature should implement a voter photo ID requirement.

North Carolina voters are being asked this year whether photo IDs for people who vote in person should be written into the constitution. The legislature would write the law based on the constitutional mandate, but there are no details now on what kinds of photo IDs would be acceptable.

Some on the panel said the law is not necessary and will disenfranchise voters. Others said driver’s licenses should be required, with free state IDs offered to people who don’t drive. Others said non-photo IDs, such as tax bills or rent receipts, should be good enough.

Cyndee Patterson, president of the Lee Institute, suggested two forms of identification, “one of which can verify your address — a power bill, tax bill, driver’s license. And the second form could be identification that provides your name: birth certificate, Social Security card, Medicare/Medicaid cards, etc. If they are a homeowner, a property tax bill. I would not require a photo ID, but would encourage people to use that as one of the forms of ID if they have one. “ A requirement for two forms of identification would be more stringent than the short-lived photo ID law that was effective for the 2016 primary.

Bree Newsome, a Democrat and Charlotte activist, said IDs are unnecessary and will keep some people who would otherwise be eligible from casting ballots.

“I don’t feel voter ID should be required at all because in-person voter fraud is so rare that it’s virtually non-existent,” she said. “Adding the burden of voter ID therefore creates more problems than it solves. Poor people with limited transportation and Black Americans would be the most disenfranchised — which is the clear intent of a voter ID amendment. If the state does pass such an amendment, the burden should be on the state to ensure that everyone residing here receives a valid ID. Otherwise, this is unequivocally creating a poll tax.”

Nancy Webb of the Charlotte Observer contributed.
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Bonner: 919-829-4821; @Lynn_Bonner
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