North Carolina’s economy has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, earning it the moniker of “The Best State to do Business” two years in a row (2022 & 2023) by CNBC, among other accolades. Yet, with recent GOP primary election winners, Michele Morrow for NC Superintendent of Public Instruction and Luke Farley for NC Commissioner of Labor, the North Carolina Chamber is voicing fear the state’s crown may be tarnished.

In a revealing post, the NC Chamber put out an ominous message on its website the day after primary elections, entitled, “Primary Results Warn of Threats to NC Business Climate.”

“Tuesday’s primary election results were a startling warning of the looming threats to North Carolina’s business climate,” the Chamber said. “While we celebrate the victories of Chamber-backed candidates, many of the races we were watching turned for candidates that do not share our vision for North Carolina.”

The Chamber pointed out that more well-known candidates with solid qualifications and more campaign money were defeated by seemingly populist Republican candidates who had tremendous grassroots support at a time when the status quo is being challenged in both national and state races. 

They explained in the statement that they regularly work with both departments (NC Department of Instruction, NC Department of Labor) and rely on them to preserve the business climate, and manage the state’s public education and talent supply. With both Farley and Morrow having strong chances of getting elected in November, the Chamber expressed worry the two non-political offices may become overly politicized.

Furthermore, the article states that when both parties move to opposite ends of the political spectrum, it erases the bipartisan work that is needed to keep the state going in a forward direction.

“The partisan ideologues that cause division and create controversy will not only create a more volatile environment for our state but will also make it more difficult for complex, challenging issues to be resolved.”

Incumbent Catherine Truitt was elected to the position of state superintendent of public schools during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The Chamber said she had done an exemplary job, working with them on many different aspects that could help students prepare for a successful future in the workforce. They said despite outspending her opponent eight-to-one and having a strong campaign, she was defeated by Morrow, a former nurse and homeschool mother, 52%-48%.

Truitt sports a lifelong background in education, including as a public school teacher, a senior advisor on education to former Republican governor Pat McCrory, and as chancellor of the online Western Governors University North Carolina.

Drawing contrast, the Chamber points out in their letter that Morrow has never taught in a public school or been a faculty member and lost her bid for the Wake County School Board in 2022.  

What the Chamber could be underestimating is the groundswell of support for reform candidates like Morrow. Critics of Truitt said that Morrow was more responsive to parents’ concerns, attended more events, and has been outspoken on bringing reform to public education.

“My opponent is a rubberstamp for Joe Biden’s terrible education policies,” she said of Truitt on X

Michele Morrow’s X page.

Morrow campaigned on getting rid of Critical Race Theory (CRT), Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and other social justice programs that she said were aimed at turning children into “activists.”

Ironically, when Truitt was asked by Ballotpedia before the election if she believed the person who holds the office should have previous experience in government or politics, Truitt said, no. Truitt also asserted that the superintendent should be appointed, not elected.

Truitt did say, however, that the candidate should have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be a public school teacher and should have worked in education policy and experience leading an organization.

Morrow did not return a request for comment prior to the publication of this article.

The Chamber also called out Rep. Jon Hardister’s, R-Guilford, loss to attorney and political newcomer Luke Farley for labor commissioner. Current Commissioner of Labor Josh Dobson, also a Republican, announced in December 2022 that he would not seek re-election. 

Hardister was endorsed by Dobson, but it wasn’t enough to win. Hardister, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 2010, got only 28% of the vote compared to Farley’s 37%. Former labor commissioner Cherie Berry endorsed Farley.

Luke Farley’s X page.

The Chamber called Hardister “an unfailing jobs champion” compared to Farley, “a far-right candidate whose two main campaign platform items were banning vaccine requirements for employees and “Making Elevators Great Again.””

They even pointed out that Hardister outraised Farley 3-to-1. 

A strong name ID and a good record, the Chamber lamented, weren’t enough for this race either. 

“I was surprised and disappointed to hear that,” Farley told CJ in a phone interview. “I have always said that I want North Carolina to be the safest place to work and the best place to do business in the country.”

He said in addition to the tax policy, educated workforce, and availability of higher education, one of the key things that businesses look at when relocating or expanding their business is the regulatory climate.

“The labor commissioner has a huge impact on that (regulatory climate), and I intend to run the office in a way that protects workers but doesn’t bankrupt businesses in the process, and so I was surprised at that criticism because I’ve been saying all along that is my plan for this office,” Farley said.

Farley said while he thinks there may have been an anti-establishment feeling prevalent, he feels that grassroots support, along with someone with real-world experience, was considered important for the labor commissioner role.

“We’ve been in private practice for almost 14 years, representing small businesses and defending them against citations from the Labor Department,” Farley told CJ. “I’ve been on job sites where people have been killed because safety regulations weren’t followed, and I’ve sat down with small businesses who were afraid they’d be put out of business because of an unfair citation from the department. So better than anybody else, I know both sides of the equation here, and I really believe firmly that a balanced equation, looking after our workers and their small businesses, is what’s going to drive prosperity.”

In the Chamber’s post, NC Chamber Political Director Kirk O’Steen said that he expects to see the number of “populist candidates” increase in North Carolina.

“The grassroots support of these far-right candidates is powerful enough to get them through primaries, but it remains unclear if they can also win the general election,” said O’Steen. “Still, many of these new candidates are in safe seats and will be assured victory in November, especially since down-ballot results are most reliant on the Presidential election.”

Morrow will take on Democrat Mo Green, a former superintendent of Guilford County Schools, deputy superintendent, and chief operating officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, for the role of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Farley will face former at-large Charlotte City Council member Braxton Winston. The General Election is on Nov. 5.