This year’s elections did more than highlight the political partisanship that exists nationally and across the state - it also exposed a growing urban-rural divide that poses a real threat to equal services statewide.

Reporter Andrew Carter of the News & Observer noted in a November 9 article that “two versions of North Carolina revealed themselves” in the presidential vote tallies. He quotes Steven Green an N.C. State political science professor who said, “The Trump counties got more Trump, which are the rural counties. The urban counties, the blue counties, got more Biden, more Democratic.”

While Mr. Carter’s story was focused on the partisan divide in the state, it also brought to the surface a more important issue for state politics in the coming year - a growing division between the less populated and less wealthy rural counties and the wealthier, more populous urban counties. The contrast is significant and portends serious challenges for rural counties in the upcoming legislative session and for all the sessions in the next decade.

As the state’s population has increased, resulting in North Carolina now being the tenth most populous state in the country, most of that growth has been concentrated in the urban markets. That is where jobs are most plentiful and subsequently where most of the cultural amenities such as museums and entertainment facilities are located, which in turn attract new residents. All of this growth has required additional public services that have been supported through municipal, county and state funding.

The population growth in these urban centers has naturally resulted in increased legislative representation and now five counties, Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, Guilford, and Forsyth represent over 30 per cent of the members of both chambers.

The voting power of these five counties with the added support of surrounding counties should concern rural counties, particularly those counties in the eastern and western regions of the state as we prepare for the 2021 legislative session and beyond.

When legislators return to Raleigh they will most likely face a budget deficit, something the General Assembly hasn’t seen in over a decade of conservative fiscal management. This potential deficit compounded by needed investments to maintain various departments such as the Department of Transportation, to name just one, will require establishment of priorities that will impact current state programs such as highway construction and county budgets.

If Governor Cooper is willing to compromise with the legislature there is a possibility that the state can work its way out of a deficit hole and continue to fund needed public services with a modicum of discomfort all citizens. But because the political divide is so significant as Carter’s article described, and because the governor has a track record of leveraging political divisions, there is doubt the governor will provide the leadership for a coordinated bipartisan solution.

If the governor, a Democrat, remains intransigent in dealing with the Republican-led legislature then solutions to the financial difficulties will be made on a partisan and regional basis. Harkening back to Professor Green’s observations that the urban markets have become more Democrat, raises the specter of the legislators representing those counties working to control more of the state funding at the cost of the rural, more Republican, counties.

Proximity to power, particularly political power, is a determining factor when it comes to gaining support for local issues. There is no question that the urban counties will be first at the trough when it comes to funding projects with the limited state dollars available. Then, with the aid of urban legislators, it is not unreasonable to expect the lion’s share of the remaining discretionary state funds will be doled out according to politics and proximity. Those counties that are closest to these urban markets will gain greater sympathy from the urban legislators for state funded programs. On the flip side, those rural counties geographically distant from the metro markets may find legislative support for local issues lacking or non-existent.

Legislators representing the state’s rural counties need to take note of the growing urban-rural divide regardless of party politics. In addition to the biennial budget, the legislature will be tackling redistricting as a result of the just concluded 2020 census. This will most likely result in the state’s urban markets gaining even more political clout in the decade ahead, further diminishing the clout and voice of rural counties.

To maintain any semblance of influence for their constituents, rural legislators will need to present a consolidated front, working together as the state tackles financial issues that will have few easy answers and will require hard - very hard - decisions.

(11) comments

dc

Understand & agree but isn't it true the urban areas have always had first dibs? Something to consider, however, is which counties the general assembly leaders are from. Isn't Berger from Rockingham & Moore from Cleveland? Those counties are next to population centers as the article alludes. Also, committees like budget which Harry Brown headed but he is leaving. He did a masterful job in taking care of especially very rural Jones Co. & its school needs. Also, remember in the past Marc Basnight from Dare. Certain coastal counties continue to grow probably too fast for their infrastructure & urban centers do as well but the urban centers get the lion's share to keep up while the growing coastal counties seem to be expected to ask their citizens to foot more of the bill. It seems all we somewhat rural & conservative folks can do is insist our local leaders hold the line tighter & quit trying to spend as if we are a major population center with unlimited resources. Our leaders haven't done a bad job but it could be better as suggested.

dc

The library situation is a prime example as well as bringing in others not from here & paying salaries as if we're in Charlotte or Raleigh. Can't believe there are not locals qualified for the jobs who would willingly & happily work for less.

kenwood

The good editor is correct in his siting of the political realities as they exist not just in N.C. but across the nation. Not only at the state level but down to the smallest of our communities. As long as we have a two party system it will continue to exist.

Where he is wrong is calling for Governor Cooper to "compromise" with the Legislature -----. What's needed is cooperation, not the divisive compromise. Both sides need to come together in the middle for the sake of us all. If only those of us who are influential, as is the good editor, called for cooperation vs divisiveness, N.C. and the world would be a far better place to live.

David Collins

Sounds hopefully nice but in reality , good luck with that .

Urban counties have the higher , denser populations . More concentrated folks using more state supported resources resulting in a much higher cost to maintain said services . Things crumble under use quicker in those urban counties . Not to mention the waste that is inherent experimenting with new ways to do things and please the voting public . Green this and that , which in reality is anything but . Anyone that has spent any time in Raleigh and the other like cities can attest to that . Therefore the ( squeaky wheel that squeaks the loudest ) gets the most grease . Money $$$$ . Rural counties get just enough to get by , sometimes .

Always been that way and not likely to change anytime soon , if ever . Nice thought though .

Sleepwalker

Been that way out west for decades...there are two Californias, Oregons, Washingtons (state)... the urban populations control the rest of the state. That’s the way the voters here want it also...apparently.

David Collins

Coming together in the middle is not compromise ? Where am I going wrong here ?

Oh ,perhaps I get it . Just shut up , listen and follow what Cooper wants and says to do . Do this without a thought in your head and blindly follow his lead . Yup , that is not divisive for sure . Just one little tiny problem here . What about what the citizens of NC want ? What about them ?

mpjeep

Yep, the more dense a place is, the more Democratic and the less dense it is, the more Republican. This pattern continues, more or less, everywhere. These days, more people live in cities than outside them.

Urban residents are also twice as likely as rural residents to get Covid-19 or know someone who has been infected.

CARTERETISCORRUPT

Urban areas are cesspools of democrat infestations. The outside urban areas represent more normal people. Just refer to all the violence ridden cities; all are blue run urban areas. This is what we can expect from the democrats.

dc

Other than places of business, public buildings, etc everyone is doing what they want (e.g. revenue highest ever on the banks). Parents not happy with school shutdowns but he started opening up in time to catch their vote & they fell for it.

Sleepwalker

Corrupt...i agree. I can’t seem to figure out why...lets use Chicago for example...these places keep electing the same over and over with the same failed policies...there has got to be a lot of folks that get tired of it or maybe they are used to it and that’s the way they want it....I can’t figure it out. Carteret county’s crime problem is minute in comparison and I, personally, thought at times it was out of control.

mpjeep

And some can expect this from Big Blue… do as I say, not as I do.

Governor Gavin Newsom apologized for attending a Nov. 6 dinner party with about a dozen other people. More than three households were present, a violation of the mandatory guidelines for social gatherings set forth by the California Department of Public Health at the time.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti instructed Angelenos to stay home, avoid social gatherings, and “assume everyone you encounter outside of your home is infectious.” Media coverage captured a maskless mayor talking to protesters outside L.A. City Hall.

U.S. CA Senator Dianne Feinstein was captured on video speaking in close proximity to two individuals without wearing a face covering.

Nancy Pelosi said she was set up to be videotaped not wearing a face covering in a hair salon even though hair salons were shut down.

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