INTERVIEW: Rep. Erin Paré (R-Wake) proposes bill to reform Wake Co. Commissioner elections
Today, I spoke with State Representative Erin Paré (R-Wake) about her bill (HB99) to reform the election of Wake County Commissioners. Although there are established commissioner districts for residency requirements, the whole county still gets to vote on each of the candidates from each district.
Paré has compared the current situation to “Taxation without Representation.” The current at-large election method allows whichever party has a majority in Wake County to control every single seat on the Wake County Board of Commissioners. For instance, in 2022, the Republican challengers received an average of 38.02% in the three contested county-wide commissioner races, but there is not a single Republican on the board:
Here’s some excerpts from the interview (edited for length and clarity):
Paré: It's good to be with you, Stephen, I'm happy to talk to you about this important bill that I'm hoping is going to receive by partisan support in the House and the Senate and pass.
We have a situation in Wake County where we have residential districts, but every county commissioner is elected at large or county-wide. So we have seven districts on the Wake Board of Commissioners, and each commissioner has to live in one of those seven districts, but the entire county population is almost 1.2 million people, and the qualified voters of the entire county are able to vote for every single commissioner, every district.
That's a problem with a county that size; Wake now is larger than eight states. We have a very diverse county, we are rich in communities of interest, and it's so important for people of a specific district to be able to pick through a fair election who is going to represent them and their interests in their part of the county on the Wake Board of Commissioners.
So it really is a good government move, and it is meaningful for people who really want a voice on the county commission when it comes to those issues that are specific to their part of the county.
On the number of commissioner districts
Paré: I think that it probably makes sense at some point for us to expand the number of commissioners for Wake County: I would like to see perhaps nine different districts. I think that there's an argument to be made for that, given the population growth in Wake County.
That's just not something I want to tackle right now.
On the importance of this bill
Paré: We really need people to be able to be elected from their district by the people only of that district, and that's important because if there's a conflict between one part of the county and the other part of the county, the people need the confidence in the system.
They need to understand and have faith that there's someone up there that is accountable to them and can be their voice on the county commission.
On putting this change to a referendum
Paré:I think that their representation is in the General Assembly, obviously, and on the Board of Commissioners. I think that they go to vote at election time to elect to represent them on every one of these boards.
I have to remind you when it comes to a referendum that the Wake Board of Education unilaterally gave themselves a pay raise without going before the voters at all.
The Board of Commissioners extended their own current terms. They extended the length of their terms and the cycle in which they were elected without going before the voters at all in any kind of referendum.
If you're going to measure the importance of a referendum by other important issues that have come before the Board of Commissioners, I don't think a referendum is really on the top of mind for our Wake Board of Commissioners on those two very important issues that really affect voters directly and their pocketbooks directly in some cases.
The way I look at it is that this is a good time to do the right thing, and this bill is the right thing, and it is before the members of the General Assembly right now.
So I just encourage my colleagues, especially those from Wake County, to not delay, to consider the merits of this, and take that opportunity right now to do the right thing: which is to respect a voters' need and their right to be able to have a voice on the Wake Board of Commissioners that represents them and their specific area, not the entirety of the entire county.
On HB99 being passed
Paré: I'm optimistic about this bill being passed: I think that it's going to be some vigorous debate about it, I think that there's a lot of people mulling this over right now.
Think about it: if you vote countywide for every commissioner, that means that each one of the seven Wake Board of Commissioners has a constituent base larger than that of a member of Congress. That doesn't make any sense.