In the off chance someone hadn't noticed, the political landscape in North Carolina changed considerably on Nov. 6. Not only did North Carolina voters give Republicans victories in the governor and most of the council of state races, county commissions turned red across the state, including in Lee County.
Although there are two recounts taking place in the western part of the state, it appears that there were 304 Republican county commissioners elected to the Democrats’ 270. Six commissioners are unaffiliated. Thus, depending upon the recount, Republicans will hold the majority in either 53 or 54 of the 100 counties. Two commissioner boards have no partisan majority. This is this the first time on record that Republicans have held the majority of seats on county commissions in North Carolina.
Republicans have steadily gained ground in local elections for decades. In 1976, Republicans held only 46 of 484 county commission seats. That's when Democrats controlled 89 of the state's 100 county commissions. By 2010, Democrat commissioners numbered 295 and there were 277 Republicans. Democrats then had control of 50 boards and Republicans controlled 49.
The increase in Republican commissioner seats brought about by the election in November is a significant change that will have an impact upon how the state and county governments will address critical issues, especially those involving economics. Democrats and Republicans sought offices on platforms that differed a great deal about how they would address government spending, taxation and the role of government in job growth and economic development.
Generally, Republicans campaigns stressed fiscal conservatism — less government spending and lower taxes. This was certainly true in Lee County. The three commissioner candidates running as Republicans clearly spelled out their conservative intentions in a “covenant” that was a pledge to county residents. Although only one of these Republicans, Kirk Smith, was elected this year, it was enough to give the party a majority on the Lee County Board of Commissioners.
In the first meeting of the new Lee County board, we witnessed a preview of what is likely to occur at least over the next few years. In a marathon session, most votes were 4-3 in favor of the Republicans. This is a reversal of what the county has seen the last few terms, when votes favored the Democrats. The Republicans rolled out motions and resolutions that appear to set the agenda and direction of the board for this term. We can safely predict that similar meetings will occur across the state.
(In neighboring Harnett County, the new Republican majority wasted no time in making it clear that they had different plans for the future. In their very first meeting, the county manager was promptly fired.)
Political parties recognize that a county commission post is often a stepping stone to serving as an elected or appointed official in the state or federal government. The party growing in numbers at the county commission level is obviously grooming candidates for higher political offices. This is happening in Lee County and obviously across the state.
We look forward to seeing how these changes in the political landscape work out for the state and Lee County, while remembering what Benjamin Franklin meant when he said, “In free governments, the rulers are servants and the people their superiors. For the former to return among the latter, does not degrade, but rather promotes them.”