Linda Coleman is running as the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of North Carolina. In her career in public service, Coleman has served as a chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, state representative and director of state personnel. During a visit to Duke’s campus on Thursday, she spoke with The Chronicle about working with politicians with different agendas, the importance of education to North Carolina and the effects of Amendment One.
The Chronicle: First things first, what does the job of lieutenant governor entail?
Linda Coleman: North Carolina is one of 17 states that elect governor and lieutenant governor separately. Since the lieutenant governor runs independently, other than the constitutional duties, the lieutenant governor gets to set his or her own agenda. One other role is to preside over the state Senate and, in the case of a tie, the lieutenant governor breaks the tie, because there are 50 members of the senate.
The other is the lieutenant governor serves on two major state boards: the state Board of Education and the state Board of Community Colleges. Those are two very important educational boards in North Carolina. It has appointments to other boards like biotech, economic development, so they can exert influence on those board appointments as well.
TC: What challenges would you face you if you win and end up serving with a Republican governor with a different legislative agenda than yours?
LC: The challenge would be if you have a different agenda. For the most part, you would expect the agenda for governor and lieutenant governor of the same party to be very similar, but would expect the agenda for a lieutenant governor and governor of different parties to be a little different. To overcome that, we already know there are some things we should have in common that should not be partisan at all, and that is jobs and the economy, given the state of North Carolina and its unemployment rate. There should be no question whether this should be an issue of common interest for both of us.
The key is to really sit and talk and find out where we can work together. Elected officials often want to promote their party, but one of the key roles of an elected official is to represent the people and that should take precedence over politics.
TC: You were talking about areas of shared interest, but what happens if there is an area you don’t agree on?
LC: If there are areas we don’t agree on, then I have to look at my role and what I have going for me in terms of my authority and my relationship with others outside of the executive branch of government and to look at who else could help me to accomplish my agenda, because I would have the authority to set my own agenda.
TC: Your platform has a lot of focus on education. What specific educational innovations would you enact?
LC: I would really love to see if we are number five in biotech in the country, how do we become number one, what’s the educational infrastructure we need? The other is how do we collaborate with our educational institutions to provide the skill sets in our people in North Carolina to recruit those jobs, those [unfilled] jobs in the nation and bring some of those to North Carolina? What’s the infrastructure that’s needed? A lot of time it’s not just the skills themselves but other kinds of things. It may have to do with our road system or our bridges. Do we need to strengthen our port system, for instance? If we’re going to recruit business and industry to North Carolina, given our current infrastructure what do we need, how long do we have to do that to provide the skill sets in our people to bring those jobs here?
TC: How does better education lead to a stronger state economy?
LC: No company is going to relocate to any place without having a well-trained workforce. This is how companies make their profits. They want people who are innovative, who are creative. That’s the wave of the future. It’s not just going to be A plus B equals C, but it’s going to be how do you rearrange things to come up with something totally different, to make it more efficient, to make more use of something? We’ve got to look at how we do things now and how we’re going to do it in the future, especially given that technology changes the way we do things and technology is changing every day. How do we keep up with that? How do we provide skill sets in our people and how do we give them the notion that if you’re going to be part of the workforce, education has to be a lifelong learning process because you’re not going to be able to graduate with a degree and expect not to go back to school at some point to make sure you are up to date?
There also needs to be more development opportunities for the teachers teaching our kids. It’s not just teaching them how to take a test or spit out something they’ve been fed the day before. But how do we teach them to think in a creative way that looks at issues in new and different ways? The world is changing, and we can’t do things the way we’ve always done them.
Innovation and creativity will be a huge part in the way we expect people to behave, to learn, to do things, and that means government. It’s almost a misnomer to say government and innovation. The government has to learn to be creative and innovative because we won’t always have the money and I think this recession that we’ve been in for the past few years should have taught us about not always having the resources available to us, and how do we continue to sustain ourselves. We’ve got to look 10, 20, 30 years down the road. We’ve got to have people looking continuously down the road to make sure that our state remains prosperous and progressive and that it’s a place where people want to come and work and play and raise a family and do business.
TC: What do you think the effects of the recently passed Amendment One will be on North Carolina’s state unity?
LC: I don’t know that there will be a whole lot said about it in the future. The couple of things I will say about it are: number one, it was a smokescreen for a social agenda and there were a lot of implications in there that people didn’t realize who voted for the amendment that had really devastating effects on people’s lives, especially their health care and custody battles and other issues that will affect families in a negative way. I thought that was shameful. Secondly, it wrote discrimination into our constitution.
Third, I think it’s going to end up limiting some of our opportunities for job growth. There will be companies that may not relocate here because of the impact of Amendment One. Finally, it was a social issue It did not create one job when jobs and the economy should have been the main focus of any elected body in the state. That the legislature did not bring forth one bill that created one single job in the state and instead focused on something like Amendment One, I think that was a shame.
TC: If you win and will be working with the legislature, how would you approach working with politicians with different beliefs and different agendas from you?
LC: When I was in the legislature it was a Democratic legislature, but I still worked across the aisle with other legislators. I sponsored and co-sponsored legislation with Republicans because in the end what I look at is, “Is this good for the people of the state?” Not whether this is partisan or going to advance any ideology that I might personally hold. Is it going to advance North Carolina in a good way? I don’t look to hold to a partisan divide—I really hope more than anything that we can break this gridlock where just because you’re in power, you believe that, “I’m going to do all these things and not look at what’s really good for North Carolina.”
I want to have some really solid conversations with members of the other party to see, if there is common ground. Whether it’s on education, the environment, health, economic development, you’ve got to look at what we believe we need to do to improve North Carolina, not just for today but for the future. We want to all be known as a body that did something insightful, that helped North Carolina move forward in a good way, that anyone could look back on years from now and be proud of the work they did, whether they worked with their own party or with a different party. That’s something we all need to be able to look back on. At some point we can’t draw a line in the sand. We’ve got to be able to cross the line and say we’ll take the best of all of this and make it good for North Carolina.