We are a nation as divided politically as we have been, at least in my lifetime, and it is impossible in January to see where we will be in November. It feels to many Americans of both persuasions that it is going to be a long and difficult haul. North Carolina is widely perceived as a battleground state in presidential politics, but we have some issues that need tackling on the home front that are not — or should not be — overtly partisan.
Like many states, North Carolina struggles with a growing urban-rural divide. Our cities are growing and thriving, fueled by higher education, technology and financial services. Our rural areas are stagnant, even losing population, and facing losses in educational offerings, health care and economic opportunities. North Carolinians of all political persuasions should urge our political leaders to step up measures to address these disparities.
A major help would be Medicaid expansion. In low-wealth areas where medical care is in ever-growing short supply and residents have to travel to get it, Medicaid expansion would both provide health coverage for more than half a million North Carolinians and create jobs in communities that desperately need them. Withholding Medicaid coverage, when most of it would be paid for in federal, not state, dollars is both shortsighted and cruel. This can be remedied by a vote of the General Assembly, but there has been much suffering over the last decade.
Another significant piece in addressing the urban-rural divide is increasing public education funding. Public education in urban counties offers families strong and diverse options, including various academies and charter schools. But some North Carolina counties, especially in the northeastern part of the state, can no longer fund their schools, much less provide options. This means that students in rural areas are less prepared for today’s higher education and today’s technology-focused workplaces. Lesser educational offerings virtually guarantee that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in both economics and quality of life.
North Carolina used to bill herself as “Variety Vacationland,” a nod toward both our beautiful pristine coast and our spectacular mountains. In the decades since that slogan disappeared from North Carolina license plates, our environment — like many across the nation — has taken hits from increased population density and emissions and wastes from energy-production facilities. North Carolinians must hold our leaders accountable for protecting our environment in ways they never have in the past.
Finally, Americans — including the 10-million-plus of us who call ourselves Tar Heels — understand that there is something seriously wrong with our election systems and that a big part of the problem is extreme gerrymandering. Both Democrats and Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have failed to act on redistricting reform, either out of fear of losing power or hope of attaining it. While gerrymandering has existed since the earliest years of our nation, it has become more extreme with technology, and it is cutting voters out of the election process making “one man, one vote” no longer true. North Carolina voters must insist that the General Assembly address this issue in 2020. If they do not, our state will suffer through extreme gerrymandering for at least another 10 years.
As 2020 unfolds, we are into a new decade and 20% into the 21st century. Life is good for many of us, but our issues are difficult for many North Carolinians. Our elected officials swear oaths to do the right thing, and it is up to all of us to hold them to it.