Time is running out

Published 9:25 pm Sunday, September 7, 2008

By Staff
If you think November’s election is about health care, affordable housing, education or other important issues facing North Carolina and the nation, you’re wrong, according to Rick Davis, the campaign manager for Sen. John McCain.
Davis told the Washington Post “this election is not about the issues,” instead it is about “a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”
Davis is right, depressingly so, and not just about the presidential race. The comments also apply to the battle for the governorship of North Carolina, the office that may affect the lives of the people of the state the most.
So far the race between Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory hasn’t exactly been a thorough debate of the major issues facing the state. It has been about their composites too.
Perdue is part of the state’s Democratic machine, emphasizing her experience and promising an administration focused on health care, economic development and access to a quality education. (Unless you are an undocumented student who wants to go to community college. Then you are out of luck).
McCrory is walking a rhetorical tightrope, a long time, well-connected mayor of Charlotte running against what he calls the “culture of corruption” in Raleigh, trying to appeal to the hardcore Republican base on crime, immigration, and taxes without disavowing his support for initiatives the same base abhors, including a sales tax increase for light rail and a publicly financed basketball arena.
With a couple of exceptions, most notably Perdue’s proposals for health care, both candidates have avoided talking about specific ways to address the state’s problems, preferring instead to talk about their folksy biographies while relying on outside groups to attack their opponents in 30-second commercials.
One right-wing blog in the state recently posed some questions to “make the candidates squirm,” but the list was loaded by the writer’s own admission, full of anti-government assumptions and tax claims.
The election is now two months away. Unless the media and the voters demand answers soon, we’ll elect a new governor without really knowing how they want to solve the state’s most pressing problems.
Events in the next two weeks may force Perdue and McCrory to provide more specifics about their plans for ethics reform and education. The North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform will hear from Perdue and McCrory about their commitments to open and ethical government at a luncheon on Sept. 16 in Raleigh.
Three days later, the Public School Forum of North Carolina hosts a debate about public education. Let’s hope we get some real answers about how to improve our system, how each candidate would pay back the $750 million the state owes public schools, how they would reform the standardized testing program and how they would specifically address the scandalously low graduation rate.
Poverty is a powerful predictor of student performance. If McCrory and Perdue are serious about helping poor children succeed, they need to tell us how they would help the families of poor students.
Do they want to eliminate the waiting list for a day care subsidy that is now 29,000 kids long? How will they pay for it? Do they support $50 million a year for the Housing Trust Fund to build affordable housing and create thousands of jobs?
How will they deal with the mental-health mess? Do they believe privatization of services was a mistake?
What will they do about the state’s antiquated revenue system that doesn’t grow with the state’s economy and forces the poorest people in the state to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthiest people?
Do they believe we can build enough roads to solve our transportation problems or should we help urban areas pay for a light rail system like the one in Charlotte?
Should we keep sending nonviolent offenders to prison or should we invest more in alternatives to incarceration? Should the state index the minimum wage so it rises with inflation to help low-wage workers? What should we do about evidence of racial bias in the death penalty?
These questions and plenty more deserve thoughtful, specific answers from both people who want to lead the state for the next four years. But there are no debates scheduled about child care or criminal justice or transportation. That means the media needs to demand answers from Perdue and McCrory and scale back the coverage of the horse race.
Voters have to demand answers, too, at campaign appearances and forums, with e-mails and phone calls to the campaigns. They want your vote, they need to answer your questions.
The election doesn’t have to be about 30-second ads, clever slogans and consultant-driven generalities. It doesn’t have to be about composites of the candidates either. We can still have a meaningful campaign for governor if we all demand that the candidates actually say something. But time is running out. We better hurry up.