N.C. voters will face some familiar choices in 2016, as close finishes four years ago have prompted a pair of rematches in Council of State races.
Council of State offices oversee critical areas in state government such as labor issues and food safety. Voters who care about things like their auto insurance rates should do their homework on the candidates. Today, we offer our recommendations for three races – Insurance commissioner, Agriculture commissioner and Department of Public Instruction – with other Council of State endorsements to come.
The dynamics in the race for commissioner of insurance haven’t changed much since 2012, when Democrat Wayne Goodwin defeated Republican Mike Causey. Largely, this election offers voters much the same question: Are you happy with the N.C. Rate Bureau?
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Causey still isn’t. He’s a former Greensboro insurance agent who’s making his fifth attempt for the job. He thinks the Bureau, which sets the rates that insurance companies can charge in the state, limits insurance competition. More competition equals lower rates, he says. Also, as in 2012, he says that the insurance commissioner should be more responsive to consumers.
Goodwin, who was first elected commissioner in 2008, believes that eliminating the rate bureau would result in premiums going up. He has data on his side, as North Carolina’s insurance rates continue to be among the lowest in the country. We think it’s in voters’ best interests to keep the current structure intact.
North Carolina, along with the rest of country, continues to face change in another insurance sector, as political and financial struggles with the Affordable Care Act have caused major providers Aetna and United HealthCare to announce they’re not offering policies in the state in 2017.
Goodwin hasn’t been shy in his criticism of Obamacare and his belief that it needs to do more to help insurers. We believe he has a thoughtful and thorough grasp of the health insurance landscape. He’s the best candidate to help North Carolina navigate the changes ahead.
We had a bit of a difficult time four years ago choosing between Democrat Walter Smith and Republican Steve Troxler for Commissioner of Agriculture. So did voters, apparently, as the incumbent Troxler beat Smith by just six points in a Republican-dominated election.
Four years later, little has changed. Both are strong candidates for an office that maintains and protects the state’s agribusiness industry and regulates food, animal health, the state fair and other areas.
Smith, a Yadkin County farmer who administered federal farm programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, believes the commissioner can do more to market an agriculture industry that is so vital to North Carolina. Smith also says his experience with the environment and water quality is valuable, now that the North Carolina Forest Service and the Division of Soil and Water have been moved to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Troxler, who would like to serve a fourth term, has been a strong public servant for North Carolina, and the state’s food and drug protection lab remains one of the best in the country. He has done nothing that makes us reconsider our 2012 endorsement of him.
Department of Public Instruction
Like many in the education community, we heard the speculation last year that June Atkinson might not run for another term as N.C. superintendent of public instruction. At the time, we didn’t think that was necessarily a bad thing.
Atkinson is a capable state superintendent who has helped lead some innovative efforts to improve struggling schools, but she has also seemed uncomfortable with the role of vocal advocate for public schools. That’s a critical part of the job, given that the legislature and state board of education set most statewide policy. Perhaps, we thought, a fresh voice would be better for the office.
On the surface, that’s exactly what Republicans seem to be offering this election. Mark Johnson is a former West Charlotte High School teacher who is now on the Forsyth County school board. That background gives him intimate experience with classroom issues and an administrative perspective on policy.
But Johnson’s candidacy has not evolved since we endorsed him in the Republican primary this spring. As then, he says he wants less testing (specifically, state End of Grade tests) but is unable to provide specifics on how he would go about that. He wants more technology, but when pressed on exactly what that means, settles for more “professional development” with technology.
Also troubling are Johnson’s frequent and misleading attacks on Atkinson, a carryover from similarly concerning behavior in the Republican primary. One example of many: He told the editorial board that Atkinson said “everything’s fine” with N.C. schools in a recent blog post. She didn’t. That’s a troubling pattern, given the public nature of the job he seeks.
As for Atkinson, we’re encouraged that in the past year, she seems to have found her voice, including putting N.C. lawmakers on the spot this year by calling for a 10 percent pay raise for teachers. Public schools and students need some loud volume on their side in Raleigh. Atkinson has shown, belatedly, that she can provide it.