10/19/08 — Meet the gubernatorial candidates: Mike Munger

View Archive

Meet the gubernatorial candidates: Mike Munger

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 19, 2008 3:00 AM

The Democratic and the Republican parties aren't the only ones with a candidate in this November's gubernatorial election. Also running on the Libertarian Party ticket is Mike Munger, chairman of the political science department at Duke University.

Munger, who has a background in both political science and economics, said he was motivated to run after seeing the direction both the country and state were headed in. And, he said, he's motivated by what he believes is a real opportunity to win.

"If everybody who says they agree with me would vote for me, I could win and be a different voice," he said. "I think I have a good shot if enough people vote their conscience and not their party bias."

But even if he doesn't win, he feels that he's already contributed not only the substance of the election, but also to helping shine some light on government in general.

"Both of the other candidates have adopted some of my arguments," he said.

And as far as improving the ethics of Raleigh, "just being able to participate in the election is a plus," he said, explaining that by their mere involvement, third parties are able to help force governments to be more open and responsive.

"There's a real culture of corruption, and sunshine is the best disinfectant," he said.

Besides, he added, "I'm not bought and paid for by interest groups. I don't owe them anything."

But Munger isn't simply running against the status quo. He's also running with several ideas he thinks will help the state.

In terms of education, Munger is advocating giving more control back to local county and city school districts.

"What I'd like to do is take the power back and return it to the cities and counties," he said. "We don't have enough local control."

As part of that, he continued, he would work to eliminate the cap -- currently set at 100 -- on the number of charter schools allowed in the state.

"There are plenty of people who could benefit from charter schools," he said, especially since they're cheaper to build and operate than traditional schools, which face "rigid" state codes.

For example, he explained that his sons' charter school operates at half the per-student cost of a regular high school because it has no formal cafeteria, no sports facilities and no lockers. It even exists without a janitorial staff, with an outside cleaning service and the students picking up after themselves.

But the bottom line, he explained, whether it's a traditional public school, a charter public school, a private school or home school, families need to have a choice in where they send their children. That's why he's proposed implementing a funding floor for the state's education budget and using the lottery money to provide vouchers -- $1,250 for every child in the state -- for them to take to whatever school they attend.

"And a lot of that money would stay in the public schools, I'm convinced," he said.

Other changes, he continued, would include a stronger focus on teachers, paying a higher starting salary and rewarding merit more than seniority, as well as allowing cities and counties more flexibility in determining their curriculum, including vocational education.

"Let's let them (districts, parents, students) choose. It fits in with my idea that we need to decentralize, and my claim that we need to diversify the economy," Munger said.

And to him, diversifying -- finding new industries for regions traditionally reliant upon one or two specific ones -- is the key to the state's economic growth.

That includes, he said, eastern North Carolina and the military bases. Not that he doesn't support the bases, he explained, but because he also wants to "develop the economy away from the bases so it's not quite so dependent on the military."

However, he does not offer a state-driven plan for that -- he prefers to leave it up to each county or region to promote its own niches and focus its work force training on those.

Comparing the state's role to that of a farmer, he said his main job is to plant the seeds and then to clear away the regulations to allow the local communities to thrive.

"I come from a small town. I can be the voice of small-town North Carolina in a way that Pat McCrory, who's mayor of Charlotte, and Beverly Perdue, who's been in Raleigh for years and years, can't be," he said. "I know what it takes for small towns to grow."

And continuing "corporate welfare" for large industries isn't part of that, he explained.

"A company that will come for money will leave for money," he said. "We need to stop subsidizing large corporations and start working for small businesses.

"There are plenty of people willing and able to work, but we need to reduce (businesses') tax burdens and regulation burdens, and we need better education and better infrastructure."

And reducing government involvement extends to other campaign issues as well.

For example, he does not believe that the state should use taxpayer funds simply for the sake of farmland preservation.

"I don't think the state should be in the business of subsidizing farms that are not economically viable," he said. "However, I do think the state has a responsibility to work with the federal government and other countries to find places to sell our crops to help farmers remain profitable."

And in terms of mental health, while he's waiting to hear the recommendations of state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton -- "a good friend" -- about how the latest adjustments to the reforms are working and whether Dorothea Dix Hospital should remain open, he does believe there should be a continued push for decentralization, more authority for local entities and a reduction on the limits on scope of practice for existing agencies.

Other campaign issues for Munger include support for curbs on the current involuntary annexation laws, support for the relaxation of third-party ballot access laws, support for a constitutional amendment curtailing the use of eminent domain, support for marriage between any two consenting people, support for the decriminalization of most drug possession and other victimless crimes such as prostitution, support for more of a focus on rehabilitation and alternative sentencing rather than incarceration, and support for legislation ending the death penalty.

Perhaps most important, though, will be finding room in the state budget to take those necessary steps.

"If I were governor, I would get in a time machine and go back two years and kick myself in the butt ... We had surpluses, but rather than spending it on schools or infrastructure or the rainy day fund, we dribbled it away, and now we're in a position where we need to cut taxes and encourage economic development, and we can't," Munger said.

But, he said, while the state's not in a position to cut taxes, he also pledged not to raise them either -- that he estimates that he can find about $750 million in savings in the current budget simply by re-organizing and making government operate more efficiently.