If North Carolina voters knew more about the duties and responsibilities of the Council of State office holders, the candidates running for these offices would probably be more closely examined.
Voters are more mindful of the high-profile political races in which large amounts of money are being spent to get their attention. In general, the candidates for Council of State offices have far less to spend and, therefore, are somewhat overlooked. However, once elected, these office-holders make decisions, both as individuals and as a group, that have a significant impact upon some of the most important and controversial issues.
In North Carolina, elected officials that comprise the Council of State are enumerated in Article III of the state constitution. Each of these officials serves as head of a department in the state government. In addition to being charged by statute with specific duties and responsibilities, each of them advises the governor on critical matters of the state.
In our state, the Council of State consists of the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, commissioner of insurance, commissioner of labor, superintendent of public instruction, state treasurer and state auditor. Currently, all but two of the offices — commissioner of agriculture and commissioner of labor — are held by Democrats.
The election for these officials occurs every other even-numbered year, and at the same time that the U.S. presidential and vice presidential candidates and the governor are on the ballot. They also serve a four-year term. Like the governor, the lieutenant governor can only be elected for two consecutive terms. However, other members of the council can be elected an unlimited number of times.
The Council of State meets periodically with the governor, who chairs the meeting. These sessions not only allow coordination and the exchange of information among the branches of government, but they also allow votes to be taken on certain matters affecting the operation of the state.
After the state legislature passes a bill and the governor signs it into law, a Council of State member (or members) plays a major role in putting the law into effect. Depending upon how specifically the legislation is written, this can include the timeline for implementation and directives for how allocated taxpayer funds will be used. This is in addition to the council’s responsibility to approve specified actions to be taken by the state.
The Council of State members can have a great deal of influence on hot-button issues such as tax policies, how public education funds are allocated and use of transportation funds. They also must approve borrowing of funds, approve the issuance of bonds and the associated interest rate, and participate in the lease, rental, purchase and sale of real property.
Some members of the council also serve on important state boards that deal with weighty matters. For example, the state constitution places the lieutenant governor on the state Board of Education, the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges and the state Economic Development Board. The superintendent of public instruction is also a member of the state Board of Education. The policies established by these boards have a direct impact on every aspect of life in North Carolina.
Before going to the polls this year, we hope that voters will determine each Council of State candidate’s position on the important issues.
— The Sanford