Mousa Alshanteer: Comparing McCrory with Martin

Oct. 09, 2013 @ 04:18 PM

The beneficiary of coattails from Ronald Reagan’s landslide reelection in 1985, Republican gubernatorial nominee James Martin unexpectedly defeated Attorney General Rufus Edmisten by a significant margin, despite having trailed him in public opinion polls by well over thirty points. In discussing the incoming governor, Merle Black, the Asa G. Candler Professor of Politics and Government at Emory University, predicted that “he will do more to build a strong Republican Party than anyone else they could have come up with.” Black was right. Fortunately, Martin understood that revamping the state’s infrastructure and educating the state’s citizens would result in the availability of and access to a variety of opportunities the state had never seen before. Thus — in order to expedite the state’s economic recovery — current governor Pat McCrory ought to replicate Martin’s approach.
While most of his opponents had made promises on a variety of issues, Martin made one promise during his campaign that rallied the masses behind him: Construction of the last-leg of I-40, which would open the state to the country’s southeast, would be completed prior to his leaving office. Sure enough, after a funding compromise with the state legislature, construction on the highway was finished before the end of Martin’s first term — a development which would usher in business expansion, investments in the state’s economy and an increase in the state’s workforce. With these results, the Governor was comfortable in proposing $300 million in merit pay for teachers as well as $200 million to prevent disadvantaged preschoolers from dropping out at an older age.
Such success resulted in Martin’s becoming the state’s first Republican governor to take the oath of office twice. Martin’s tenure would see a net creation of half a million new jobs, an unparalleled increase in the percentage of the state budget allocated for education and a political equilibrium unmatched even to this very day. Within five years of the Governor’s administration, North Carolina led the nation in economic development. This explains why John Hood, President and Chairman of the John Locke Foundation, ranked Jim Martin’s administration as the best in relative economic performance — evaluated by changes in employment and per-capita income — in comparison to other states during the same time period.
For that reason, Current Governor Pat McCrory has been wise to somewhat take note of Martin’s emphasis on infrastructure and education. As the gubernatorial nominee, McCrory promised to remove “politics from our transportation needs, and develop a long-term plan to ensure our transportation and infrastructure networks will sustain the state’s future economic growth.” In the past legislative session, the General Assembly rewrote the state’s transportation funding formula so as to emphasize traffic congestion, renovations and highway safety. Additionally, McCrory’s Strategic Mobility Fund — which provides the Department of Transportation funding to connect rural regions to the state’s economic centers — is estimated to fund at least 260 projects and create more than 240,000 jobs over the next ten years. Such reform is well needed, especially since the state’s infrastructure is continually ranked as the seventh worst in the nation.
McCrory’s approach toward education, however, would likely disappoint Martin. Though McCrory allocated an additional $12.4 million to the former governor’s program, which prevents at-risk preschoolers from dropping out, the state legislature repealed a law that granted teachers with a master’s degree a ten percent pay increase. Furthermore, the Primary Reading Program—which assigns a teaching assistant to every classroom from Kindergarten through the third grade—and the Teaching Fellows program — which provides college scholarships to students who agree to teach in state public schools for a minimum of five years—were eliminated from this year’s budget.
Martin was a governor who appealed to the masses, regardless of political affiliation, because of his emphasis on infrastructure and education as the means for economic development. Though he is likewise focused on such development, Governor McCrory ought to ensure that his administration will not renege on the state’s commitment to infrastructure and, particularly, education. By doing so, he will safeguard the state’s path to economic recovery and perhaps, like Martin, be able to quell the intense partisanship that has debilitated the state for quite some time now.

Mousa Alshanteer is a sophomore at Duke University and a 2012 graduate of High Point Central High School. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author. Contact him at mousa.alshanteer@duke.edu.