Opinion: Divergent policy views can be an advantage

 In February 2019

Opinion:

There are many paths to power, including being born into the right family, outhustling your competition or creating an intoxicating video game that produced several billion dollars in revenue last year. (Take a bow, Tim Sweeney.)

One of the simpler strategies is just getting up early. As High Point University President Nido Qubein told us for this month’s magazine, “I start at 4 every morning, drink some Turkish coffee, read and study, and then walk for an hour. Consequently, I’m in bed by 9 p.m.”

So that’s how you take a small college in a nondescript neighborhood and develop a jaw-dropping campus and an increasing national profile. Some passionate salesmanship, sparking support from dozens of successful entrepreneurs, also has helped Qubein’s school soar.

We’ve been thinking about power constantly over the last month or so, hoping to present a credible snapshot of those who are exerting the most influence in our state. To be sure, we missed some and exaggerated the influence of others.

In the process, we noticed that the powerful face increasing challenges. As the 2020 election campaign unfolds, there will be debates over some things that long seemed unthinkable: calls for workers to make up 40% of corporate board seats, tax rates of as much as 70%, breaking up the big banks, and stricter requirements for inclusion of more women and minorities in influential institutions. What were once viewed as crackpot liberal concepts may appeal to conservatives who sent Donald Trump to the White House.

Closer to home, traditionally powerful Tar Heel institutions are facing unusual challenges. State Treasurer Dale Folwell has pressed for an unprecedented look into hospitals that are dominant economic forces in many cities. The UNC System, long ruled by a well-meaning, Tar Heel-blue-tinged hierarchy, is embroiled in controversy as new faces exert power.

Duke Energy, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and other dominant institutions are scrambling to retain influence amid disruption from smaller, nimble rivals.

It can get messy, particularly when social issues come to the fore. But being a “purple” state with strong conservative and progressive factions is ultimately an advantage for North Carolina. Debates over tax policy, education funding and higher-education governance involve well-meaning people with widely divergent views. That is far better than states where one faction has unquestioned influence, which inevitably leads to overreach.

Most of all, North Carolina is fortunate to have so many outstanding leaders, many chronicled here this month.

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