Why local voters turned out for election
It was a good night for good governance Tuesday, with voters providing a valuable check on Republicans in North Carolina and Washington. In Raleigh, the Republican House and Senate supermajorities are no more after Democrats grabbed enough seats to give their party and governor leverage in policy discussions and votes. Nationally, a Republican hold on power took a significant dent with Democrats capturing the U.S. House.
The biggest blue wave of all might have happened close to home, where voters swept three entrenched Republicans — Bill James, Jim Puckett and Matthew Ridenhour — off the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners. Democrats now hold all nine seats on the board, which might seem like a reason for progressives to cheer. But regardless of whether you share the ideology of the party in power, that kind of majority is not a good thing for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
Supermajorities lead to bad policy and bad process. Having weak opposition means having fewer voices to moderate policy, fewer raised hands to say something isn’t going to work the way the majority thinks it will. And as we saw often in Raleigh, the more power a party has, the bolder it gets not only with policy, but with disregard for the rules and customs that are the backbone of proper governance and public accountability.
That’s not just a Republican phenomenon, and it doesn’t just happen in Raleigh. In Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, an unbalanced school board has regularly disregarded transparency in its decision making, and a shortage of dissenting voices likely led to the controversial Municipal Concerns Act of 2018, a slap at the suburbs that could end up accomplishing the opposite of what CMS wants and needs with diversity.
Also, make no mistake — if dissenting voices hadn’t been on the current Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners, Charlotte might have had a Major League Soccer boondoggle on its hands for years to come.
Good governance is about more than policy, however. The minority party often serves as a valuable watchdog when things go wrong in government and the ruling party wants to sweep those troubles out of public view. That might have happened with critical problems in the Mecklenburg Health Department last year had independent commissioners not persistently raised objections. Such voices might be sorely missed now, especially if Mecklenburg manager Dena Diorio continues a recent and troubling pattern of being less than forthcoming with the public on controversial issues.
Don’t get us wrong — we’re happy to see Bill James go. His bigoted and racist utterings were an embarrassment to his district and Mecklenburg County. We also understand why many northern Mecklenburg voters bristled at Jim Puckett’s crowing even now about leading the fight as a school board member long ago to end race-based CMS student assignments. We hope their replacements show an independence that serves all their constituents, and we hope that moving forward, Republicans can find moderate candidates who bring the kind of balance Mecklenburg County government needs.