Guest columnist: State government must be held to high accountability standards

Dec. 12, 2012 @ 05:57 PM

What would the ideal job look like for you? Would it be one in which you had free rein to do whatever your heart desired and were paid regardless of your productivity? Or would you prefer a position in which you created value for yourself and others but were also held to a high standard? Would you rather get money for doing nothing or earn it as a reward for a job well done?

The latter choice, which is based on earned success, is more fulfilling and also benefits others. Businesses in our state operate in a competitive environment that rewards hard work as the most effective way to ensure productivity while providing goods and services for society. But our state government always seems to struggle with efficiency, keeping promises, and even balancing its budget. Perhaps the reason is that voters too often neglect to hold government officials accountable.

Imagine if, like many politicians, business people never got fired for failing to meet deadlines, never got sued for breaking contracts, and always spent more money than they took in. To be sure, North Carolina’s elected officials sometimes have their careers ruined or get prison sentences for scandals of epic proportions (see: John Edwards, Mike Easley, et al), but such corruption surfaced only after a century’s worth of one-party dominance.

Now that the executive and legislative branches of our state government are again controlled by a single party, while the state Supreme Court is composed of a majority of conservatives, how can North Carolinians ensure that the changes they voted for are actually signed into law? How can we prevent the Republican Party, which may maintain its majority rule for the foreseeable future, from becoming as corrupt as the previous party to hold sway over the state, the Democrats? Now that the tide seems to have turned in favor of conservatives, North Carolinians must hold their elected officials accountable and not be afraid to criticize them when necessary.

Members of any political party have a tendency to blindly accept the actions of their leaders. Conservatives must not become complacent and overly confident that the men and women they elected on Nov. 6 will keep their promises. The reality is that our elected officials are themselves flawed human beings and are sometimes too slow to recognize when the policies they promote turn out to be destructive. The best way for conservatives to make sure that limited-government reforms are implemented is to stay informed and engaged about what state and local officials are doing.

For starters, conservative officials sometimes commit policy blunders when it comes to handling the economy, and North Carolinians must call them out on their mistakes when the legislative long session begins in January. Republicans often implement harmful pro-business policies when they should push for free market reforms. Sadly, “pro-business” policies sometimes are really just tax breaks for huge corporations and billionaires who promise to create jobs in North Carolina (but who rarely deliver on those promises). Such policies give an unfair advantage to large companies but hurt small businesses.

Republicans are also often weary of jobs being outsourced overseas when, in fact, if an economy is free enough, new technologies will allow innovative industries to replace those that left. Conservative voters must be aware of the mistakes that Republican officials tend to make when drafting policies, and they must be prepared to contest lawmakers’ errors with sound arguments.

In November, North Carolinians voted for less government intrusion in the business sector, greater freedom to explore energy solutions, more opportunity to send their children to good schools, and less federal government interference in the form of stimulus packages and harmful health care reform. Employers expect their employees to work hard. Consumers expect to get what they pay for with their hard-earned dollars. Likewise, the people of North Carolina must expect to get what they voted for if they are to make this state an example of prosperity to which the rest of the nation will aspire. It’s high time voters started holding their elected officials to a higher standard. Let’s make them earn their positions. Let’s make them work for us.


Rhett Forman is an analyst at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.