(The Center Square) – Beth Wood, a political pioneer on the North Carolina Council of State and respected by voters from both major political parties, will not run for reelection in 2024.
Wood’s decision was unveiled in her comments to lawmakers while in front of the Oversight Committee in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon. Her appearance was to talk about the recommendations she was part of making for the accuracy and timeliness of unemployment payments improvements.
Wood, a Democrat from Cove City not far from New Bern, was the first woman elected state auditor. She was in her fourth term, one marked by a downtown Raleigh driving incident in December.
She was employed in the Office of the State Auditor for nearly 10 years before winning her first election to the post in 2008. Before that, the certified public accountant was employed in the Office of the State Treasurer.
Her election wins were solid and came as Republicans rose to new heights in the General Assembly. The GOP in 2010 grabbed majorities in both chambers for the first time in 140 years, since Reconstruction. Wood had beaten Republican incumbent Leslie Merritt 53.6% to 46.4% in 2008 when Barack Obama won the White House and Bev Perdue became the first woman to win the governor’s office.
Beginning with the midterms of 2010, the Legislature has had majority Republicans in each chamber since. Wood kept winning, with 53.7% in 2012 over Debra Goldman; by a mere 2,407 votes out of more than 4.4 million cast in 2016 over Charles Stuber; and by 94,350 votes out of more than 5.3 million cast in 2020 over Anthony Wayne Street.
When she won on Nov. 4, 2008, the state’s more than 6.2 million voters were registered 45.8% Democrats, 31.9% Republicans, and 22.2% unaffiliated. As of Saturday with more than 7.3 million registered, it’s 36.4% unaffiliated, 32.8% Democrats and 30.1% Republicans.
Numerous awards have come her way, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Triangle Business Journal, and a Hall of Fame induction by Women Business Owners. She was named one of the Most Powerful Women in Public Accounting in 2013 and in 2014.
In a 2015 interview with the Sun Journal newspaper in New Bern, she spoke about government accountability. Her words then are a reflection of how party affiliation wasn’t a factor in doing the job.
“When I came into state government, 85% of 99,000 employees were receiving ‘outstanding’ or ‘exceeds expectation’ on performance evaluations,” she said. “In the for-profit world, that figure is 28-32% and dropping. Now in state government now it averages 56%.”
The interview came in the middle of a Republican governor’s tenure. Asked if her job changed when Gov. Pat McCrory succeeded Perdue, she grinned and said, “No. Neither party’s governor wants to hear what I say about the agencies they run.”
She rose from the bottom of the office staff to eventually try and run it.
“I never thought I’d ever run for office,” she said. “I think I can handle it because it is really nonpartisan. I believe in making sure money is not being wasted. I don’t care who’s doing it, I’m going to tell.”
Arguably, the most damaging moment of her career came on Dec. 8 when Wood was driving a state-issued car that struck a parked car. Video showed her hustled into a nearby building. She was charged with hit-and-run, leaving the scene, property damage and unsafe movement. She apologized to the owner of the car, constituents, and said she was “fully accepting responsibility for my actions.”
In a television interview later Wednesday after the committee meeting, she said the incident would not define her and she believed she would win if she chose to run again.
At least six of 10 seats on the Council of State will be changing in 2024 – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, labor commissioner, treasurer and auditor. Gov. Roy Cooper is term-limited, and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Attorney General Josh Stein and Treasurer Dale Folwell are vying for the position. Josh Dobson, the labor commissioner, announced in December he would not seek reelection.
Wood was well-known to correct people who said, or asked why she didn’t say, she was from New Bern – about 15 miles away, and far bigger and more recognizable in name. She was proud to have been raised on a farm there, on Route 1 to be exact. From West Craven High she went to Wayne Community College and then to East Carolina University.