What Do Voters Want?

The common convention wisdom among pundits and analysts is that North Carolina will be among the nation’s most dynamic, volatile political battlefields in the 2020 election.

The presidential contest, as well as the other key top-of-ticket races for US Senate and governor, are all currently assessed as highly competitive – these contests, with all the media attention and campaign ads (both by candidates and outside groups) are likely to take up most of the political oxygen in North Carolina.

That means voter attitudes in down-ballot races are likely to be shaped by what’s going on in these higher profile contests – the attacks and counter-attacks candidates in these races launch on each other will certainly get most of the attention, but it doesn’t mean voters don’t have other concerns they want to hear about from those running in other electoral contests for state office.

During a recent conversation with state Senator Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell), one the IIANC member agency owners currently serving in the NC General Assembly (who is planning on running for re-election in 2020), I asked her what she was hearing from the voters in her district, in terms of what’s important to them.

She said among her constituents (many of who are also friends and neighbors of hers) in the parts of Yadkin and Iredell Counties that make up her district, she hears them singing a common tune – they are exhausted from all of the partisan bickering that has resulted in a budget stalemate between Democrat Governor Roy Cooper and the Republican-led legislature.

And, Sen. Sawyer reports, they are frustrated by yet another court-ordered round of legislative and Congressional re-districting.

‘I am concerned that the level of civil discourse is drowning out the majority of voters, so that the extremes on both sides are controlling the narrative of our elections,’ Senator Sawyer told me.

‘In essence, the loud voices of a few are making the majority of people feel their voice isn’t being heard at all.’ 

Senator Sawyer said this is the most common question she gets asked when meeting with voters in her district: ‘Why can’t you all just get together in a room and settle your disputes?’ 

‘I tell them the answer to that questions is simple: political drama sells,’ she said.

‘Too often our state politics are completely overshadowed by the national narrative. An effective, yet destructive, method is to create controversy and then blast that discourse on social media. Although this manufactured foolery draws attention, it causes real harm to the political process. It muddies the waters of truth and dilutes any effort for bipartisan cooperation.’

And in my observation of her time in the General Assembly, Senator Sawyer has really walked this walk – in her first full term in the state Senate (she was appointed to fill a vacant seat just prior to winning her first legislative election in 2018), she’s proven to be a tenacious, no-nonsense legislator who can work with both Democrats and Republicans to get legislation passed.

Now, conventional wisdom is that during your first term in the General Assembly you should hold back and not try to undertake substantive issues, taking your freshman term to learn how the legislative process works and on getting to know you colleagues.

But during the 2019 legislative session, Senator Sawyer was given a number of tough, substantive issues to handle by the leadership in the Senate – and she proven to be as effective and successful in these efforts as members who have many years of legislative service under their belt.

When I asked her to sum up the philosophy behind how she handled her duties as a state legislator, she said it’s the same as what guides her and her husband, Brett, in the running of their independent insurance agency: what matters most is finding solutions to people’s problems.

‘Compromise is sometimes held out as suspect, and a finding-consensus methodology isn’t always attention grabbing, but for my way of thinking of things these are truly the bedrock of a healthy political process,’ she said.

Polling increasingly shows voters want change, want solutions to be more important that political bickering – that sounds like the kind of change Senator Sawyer is already working to bring about.

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