Yesterday and today CNN and Fox News commentators milked two gubernatorial and one congressional race into a pundits’ dream contest for reading the political tea leaves of 2010. They all looked at the same numbers but saw different versions of the future.
History’s lesson, though, is that this is mere entertainment. The events that will decide the 2010 races have not yet occurred. The issues that will create media election fodder have not yet developed.
However, this morning’s election results from cities and hamlets and villages across the state are different. We have no need to read the local government tea leaves for 2011, and as far as I can tell, nobody has tried. The only thing worth knowing is what voters were thinking on November 3rd, 2009.
There is one thing that ceased to be a deciding issue in 2009: growth.
Growth and development have created more momentum over the past two decades for town council pendulum swings than any other single issue. There are many reasons for that. Growth brings change and discomfort. Growth creates stronger tax bases and addresses dying downtowns. Growth incites average citizens to become publicly involved. And growth brings with it an attendant narrative of folks with power and influence and alleged electoral corruption that voters understand.
A spot check in Charlotte, Wilmington, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham and Wnston-Salem did not reveal growth or real estate development to be anybody’s hot topic. Again, there’s a reason: we haven’t had any. 2009 was the slowest growth year in North Carolina in recent memory.
Real estate development is one of the few issues decided almost entirely by local decision makers. And its electoral importance is as varied as each community’s growth concerns and experiences.
This year’s issues were varied, but included efficiency, local corruption, jobs and, the tamest of all, personality. If there was a throw-the-bums-out movement it didn’t rear its head.
When banks begin to lend again and money starts to flow through the system, the real estate market will return, and with it, gowth as an issue inspiring and inciting new candidacies and motivating voters. This year, however, was a reprieve.