Takeover Complete; Now Comes the Hard Part

It’s taken a little time for Gov. Pat McCory and the N.C. General Assembly to wrestle control of state government from the legacy of previous administrations and legislatures. That job has now been completed.

Over the past year, they made sweeping changes in state regulatory commissions and agencies.  Most budgets for these programs have been cut, some significantly. Lawmakers doubled the number of state government workers that are politically appointed to enable the governor to have more control over his agencies – up to 1,000.

Few voters have paid attention to these changes. They really don’t care about how government functions unless something happens that shows it isn’t working properly.

And while there have been some heated debates about education and voting rights, during the past year public concerns about the coastal environment have been pretty muted. That’s largely because we haven’t had any hurricanes, strong northeasters or other high profile environmental disasters and threats.

Many local governments are just learning that state lawmakers significantly reduced their authority to adopt their own environmental safeguards. For example, the county board in Carteret County recently discovered its inability to regulate a proposed wind farm because of a new law that restricts local ordinances that go beyond state standards.Some environmental issues stirred public passions, and in very bipartisan ways. There are many people plenty upset by plans to sell the Hofmann Forest in Jones and Onslow counties. Drainage of more than 4,600 acres of wetlands in Pamlico County is being strongly opposed by its board of commissioners. Two huge proposed rock quarries in Beaufort and Onslow counties have local communities up in arms. And, more than 70 percent of voters in New Hanover County oppose a proposed large cement plant and limestone quarry.

In the final analysis, most people want abundant and safe seafood, pristine beaches and unpolluted places to swim. They get upset when they see investors seek quick and unsustainable profits while wreaking long-term environmental harm within their communities. They want government to make their communities and jobs more resilient to storms and floods, and they want coastal waters and parks protected and restored.

They also want leaders that reduce social conflicts by forging good solutions to tough public policy challenges; who don’t simply fan the flames of disagreements.

A poll commissioned by the N.C. Coastal Federation last year measured the degrees to which people that voted for McCrory value and use our state’s natural environment and whether or not they will vote for him again based upon his environmental protection track record.

The poll found that a sizable majority of all voters, including those who cast their support to elect the new governor, think it’s prudent to balance economic development with environmental protection.

Many once-successful politicians learn the hard way that public support is fickle and fleeting. McCrory and lawmakers have seen their poll numbers plummet in the past year just like what happened to their predecessors in Raleigh.

It’s now clear that it’s much easier to take control of state government than it is to keep public support for your political leadership. McCrory and the legislature must either find ways to broaden their base of political support, or they will find themselves more and more marginalized by increasing polarized voters.

Let’s hope the New Year brings a renewed commitment by our political leaders for more productive partnerships and working together for the sake of our coast.  Effective long-term governance is exceedingly difficult even in the best of times—and these are the times that try our souls.

The N.C. Coastal Federation will continue its work in 2014 with a renewed commitment to help people from all walks of life work better together for a healthy a coastal environment.  We will continue to seek out more and more partners to help us sustain progress in protecting and restoring our coast.

Thanks to all our supporters for your help in 2013, and best wishes for the New Year from everyone here at the N.C. Coastal Federation.

About the Author

Todd Miller

Todd founded the North Carolina Coastal Federation in 1982. A native of Carteret County, he was selected in 2013 as a distinguished alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received his undergraduate and masters degrees. Todd also received The Old North State Award in 2007, the National Wetlands Community Leader Award in 2012 and the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards' Hero of Seas Award in 2015. He is a founding board member of Restore America Estuaries, a member of the Board of Visitors for the UNC Institute for the Environment and chairman of the Policy Committee for the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Partnership. As executive director, Todd formulates the federation’s goals and policy positions, serves as the federation’s spokesperson and provides staff and operations oversight.