(The Center Square) – With the potential for new faces in at least six of 10 North Carolina Council of State seats next year, political observers are flagging the 2024 election as one of the most consequential in recent memory.
Democratic State Auditor Beth Wood became the latest incumbent on Wednesday with intention to not seek reelection. Others moving on next year include the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, and labor commissioner.
Super Tuesday primaries are March 5; the 2024 election cycle wraps on Nov. 5.
“This level of turnout is extremely rare,” Chris Cooper, politics professor at Western Carolina University, told The Center Square. “Because of the lack of awareness of these positions and their occupants, when people win election to the Council of State, they tend to be reelected with relative ease. Indeed, the incumbency effect is stronger for these offices than for offices where people may be more aware.”
The situation creates openings for both political parties, with Wood and Republican Treasurer Dale Folwell leaving legacies that have drawn praise from across the political spectrum.
Dallas Woodhouse, with American Majority, told The Center Square despite Wood’s hit-and-run controversy, “She’s been popular with both parties. I think Republicans are very concerned about losing Dale Folwell as treasurer. He’s the only treasurer Republicans have ever had and he’s been a great one.”
Woodhouse believes Wood’s departure with no declared Democratic candidate could bode well for Republicans, while he notes “there has never been an elected Republican attorney general.”
Both Cooper and Woodhouse suggest that whatever the outcome, taxpayers will likely feel the impact of next year’s Council of State races one way or another. The 10-member Cabinet includes the state’s governor; lieutenant governor; attorney general; commissioners of agriculture and insurance; the secretaries of state and labor; auditor; treasurer; and superintendent of public instruction.
“These offices are incredibly important, and also poorly understood,” Cooper said. “The treasurer, for example, manages the state retirement system. A changeover in administration could certainly affect details of the retirement system that could directly affect people’s checkbook.
“The secretary of labor helps secure workplace rights, and the secretary of education oversees the education system,” he said. “If you work, or have kids in the school system, these offices could directly affect your lives.”
Woodhouse points to the rates of return for public pensions, details and cost of the State Health Plan, how the state deals with hospitals, and workplace issues as several examples of areas taxpayers will notice.
“The difference between the two candidates for attorney general is stark, and the position sets the tone for how the state deals with lawsuits and how the state represents itself,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans have a very different view on how the Department of Labor is run. Generally the view of Democrats has been the department ought to be more punishing and harder on workplaces, but Republicans view it as a more conciliatory job, trying to get people to comply.
“They don’t all have the biggest impact on taxpayers, but some of them do.”
Cooper believes “as with everything in North Carolina politics these days, we can expect that partisanship will rule the day. In the absence of incumbency, the partisan tides should ultimately determine who is elected.”
Woodhouse suggests the same dynamic, noting candidates for the lower profile Council of State positions “a lot of times … have a hard time raising money to affect the race.”
“So whoever is at the top of the ticket makes a big difference,” he said.
Gov. Roy Cooper is term-limited. Vying for his position are Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Attorney General Josh Stein and Treasurer Dale Folwell, among others. Dobson, like Wood on Wednesday, said in December he wouldn’t seek reelection. Each of the other positions are on the ballot, meaning it could be even more than six.
Woodhouse says the most Council of State openings in two generations, one of the highest profile gubernatorial elections in the country, and President Joe Biden’s efforts to shift North Carolina from purple to blue means many will have their eyes on the Old North State in November 2024.
“It’s just hard to see how there could be a bigger election for North Carolina,” he said.