By John Hood
Mark Robinson, North Carolina’s Republican lieutenant governor, has just endorsed U.S. Rep. Ted Budd over former Gov. Pat McCrory in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate. In a new ad promoting Budd’s candidacy, Robinson speaks directly to the camera. “Pat’s a nice guy — but he’s no conservative,” Robinson says, alleging among other charges that “Pat put liberals in charge of state textbooks.”
The ad, paid for by the pro-Budd Club for Growth, cited the John Locke Foundation as its source for the textbook claim. As a former chairman and current board member of the think tank in question, I feel the need to correct the record: no one at Locke ever said former governor “put liberals in charge of state textbooks.” This claim was concocted by the Club for Growth, not the Locke Foundation.
Among my conservative friends and acquaintances across the state, there are strong supporters of Pat McCrory, Ted Budd, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, and other candidates in the GOP primary. In correcting the record, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about whom to support. I’m just trying to ensure that voters make their decision in response to truthful claims, not misleading ones.
Back in 2014, Locke’s longtime education analyst Terry Stoops wrote a brief blog post about then-Gov. McCrory’s appointments to the North Carolina Textbook Commission. Stoops noted that of 22 appointments made to the commission, 11 were registered Democrats, four were Republicans, and three were unaffiliated, with the partisan affiliations of the remaining four unknown.
As soon became evident, North Carolina law does not allow its governors to appoint whomever they wish to the state’s textbook commission. Instead, a governor can only appoint individuals who have been nominated by the state superintendent of public instruction. In 2014 the superintendent was June Atkinson, a Democrat. Not surprisingly, many of her nominees were fellow Democrats, although neither the original blog post nor any subsequent reporting or commentary has shown that they were “liberals,” as the Club for Growth now claims.
When the recent anti-McCrory ads hit the airwaves, Stoops decided to revisit the issue. “Despite my initial concerns about the composition of the textbook commission,” he recently told Carolina Journal “I found no instances where the members recommended ‘radical’ textbooks or instructional materials, nor have I heard or read a single complaint related to the adoption of textbooks by the commission appointed in 2014.”
Furthermore, as Stoops points out in a new research brief , North Carolina’s textbook commission is not “in charge” of state textbooks. The panel simply makes recommendations to the State Board of Education, which then issues a list of approved textbooks for each subject and grade. Even this action isn’t really a mandate, because local districts can still pick instructional materials that aren’t on the textbook list for use in local classrooms. “This is a sensible policy designed to respect decisions by those who interact with children daily,” Stoops concludes.
In other words, not only did neither Stoops nor anyone else at the Locke Foundation say McCrory “put liberals in charge of state textbooks,” but there’s also no evidence that “liberals” constituted a majority of commission members nominated by Atkinson and appointed by McCrory, or indeed that any fit that definition. And it’s incorrect to state the commission is “in charge of state textbooks” in the first place.
This is hardly the first bareknuckle race I’ve observed and written about. Far too many political actors — be they candidates, consultants, or in this case independent-expenditure groups — let their passion or desire to win overwhelm their good judgment. They exaggerate, prevaricate, or, as Stoops put it, omits “important context” in a way that misleads voters. That’s what happened here.
Club for Growth should retract or correct its ad. Its spokesman, Mark Robinson, should insist the organization do so. In these final weeks of the Senate primary, let McCrory, Budd, Walker, and others make their best cases to voters without resorting to false claims and hyperbolic nonsense.
John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history (FolkloreCycle.com).