The refreshing thing about Gov. Mike Easley (yes, that’s right: refreshing and Gov. Easley in the same sentence) is that unlike most politicians entering a second term, he does not seem overly concerned about his legacy.
That’s pragmatic given that term-limited executives in states like ours, where the legislature reigns supreme, find legacies hard to come by. Jim Hunt has one, but he had 16 years and a booming economy to pull it off.
So after the governor says “I will” on Saturday, he’s not likely to pull one of those earth shattering, course changing, better days ahead kind of speeches out of his vest. It’s just not his style. Nor should he be expected to be drenched in thundering applause as he looks back over his first term and proudly reminds us that in times of fiscal hardship, the state did not cut education all that much.
What is more important about the next four years is something the governor is not likely to openly acknowledge–at least not right away. Word around the capital has it that his long-sought goal of a lottery is nearly a done deal. There’s still a fight ahead, and expect to hear the governor relentlessly make the case for it until he gets his way. Even the lottery’s biggest opponents are bracing themselves.
The fact is, the state is desperate–border counties are bleeding tax dollars on all sides as North Carolinians head to convenience stores across state lines to throw their money (minus the cut to the lottery companies) into Tennessee’s, Virginia’s and South Carolina’s budgets. Easley is determined that if North Carolinians are going to sin, then they ought to do it at home. And it’s the easiest way, politically, to raise what could be more than half a billion dollars to sustain preschool programs, shore up health care or “fix” the tax code and avoid tax hikes on businesses and tobacco users.
It’s a shame. Instead of relying on a funding mechanism as regressive as a lottery, the governor should be as vigorously exploring those options as he is lining up votes for state-sponsored gambling. There’s been a lot of ink spilled recently about the schism between the religious right and the left, and the lottery presents the perfect opportunity for them to again find common cause. Both sides must rally to ensure that Easley’s legacy remains education and a strong preschool program (and even hope he comes up with some other ones)–but not one that’s based on trying to convince people they can get rich by spending a dollar (or more) at a convenience store.