Mark Robinson’s election win already has earned him a place in North Carolina’s political history books. A recent appearance during an online John Locke Foundation forum offered clues about how future history texts might treat Robinson’s actual record in office.
More than 2.8 million voters cast ballots for Robinson in last month’s race for lieutenant governor. With nearly 52% of total votes cast, he became the first black person to win election to North Carolina’s second-highest statewide elected office.
“Two and a half years ago, I was working in a factory, and I was studying history at a university,” Robinson recounted for his online audience on Nov. 30. “And now I am making history and about to go to Raleigh to work for the people of North Carolina. It’s an amazing story. Only with God and only in America could something like this happen.”
In succeeding fellow Republican Dan Forest as lieutenant governor, Robinson has a chance to follow Forest’s lead as an active voice of dissent. Forest often clashed with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s policy positions.
Robinson has signaled that he has no problem assuming that role, especially when it comes to COVID-19 plans. “I would like to urge the governor to open his office up and allow all of us to be involved in the decision making,” Robinson said during the forum. “What we’re seeing a lot of — and I think what North Carolinians are so frustrated about — is it seems like all these directives are coming from just one or two people.”
Most disturbing? “Control has been taken out of North Carolinians’ hands,” Robinson said. “I have confidence in the people of North Carolina. I don’t think the people of North Carolina are childish or foolish or incapable of making decisions.”
When responding to COVID-19, Robinson would allow people to make as many of their own decisions as possible. “They can keep their employees safe, their customers safe, their families safe, their parishioners safe,” he said. “I believe those folks have common sense and wisdom.”
Robinson says he’s willing to work with Cooper when he can. “If we can’t change the governor’s mind, we at least want to be sure that the people of North Carolina are aware of what’s going on,” the lieutenant governor-elect said. “In the future, do not elect someone who’s going to act like a dictator.”
Willing to throw rhetorical blows, Robinson also sees possibilities for cooperation.
Issues related to N.C. military veterans could attract widespread bipartisan support. One of Robinson’s top priorities involves making North Carolina the “gold standard” for veterans’ care nationwide.
“I don’t think there is anyone in Raleigh that would be against that,” he said. “For far too long, in this state and too many other states across this nation, we have put veterans on the back burner.”
The incoming lieutenant governor would like North Carolina to join the nine U.S. states that place no income tax on veterans’ pension benefits. He’s also interested in reducing regulatory barriers for veterans seeking jobs after completing their military service.
“Some of these folks come out, and they’re highly qualified people, but they don’t have the civilian training they need to move into these jobs,” Robinson said. “I think we need to look into some ways where we could ease those restrictions.”
Opportunity Scholarships for low-income students attending private schools have generated political divisions. Robinson says he doesn’t see any reason why any elected official should reject them.
“We do not need to allow children who have the opportunity to succeed — we do not need to let them fail because we have failed our public schools or our public schools are failing,” he said. “it is too important to their futures.”
“As lieutenant governor, I’m going to fight hard for these children,” Robinson promised.
Other than presiding over sessions of the N.C. Senate and casting votes on the State Board of Education, Robinson’s top job as lieutenant governor will involve shining a light on important topics.
He already has one in mind. “One of the most crucial things I think we’ve got to tackle right now is law enforcement and law and order,” he said. “It is getting out of hand.”
The incoming lieutenant governor recently saw his hometown — Greensboro — rated the 10th-most dangerous city in the country. This dubious honor followed decades of bipartisan efforts to help the city “come back from the depths of despair.”
“You go down into the downtown now, and businesses are boarded up with graffiti all over them,” Robinson said. “We see this shift all across the country of people demonizing law enforcement — spreading false narratives … that our police officers are racist and violent. And we simply know that the data doesn’t back that up.”
“We don’t need to defund the police,” he added. “We need to work with the police to find out what they need.”
Robinson hopes his active role in the state’s political debates will set a good example. In two and a half years, an unknown but impassioned Second Amendment defender has become North Carolina’s second-highest-ranking statewide elected executive officer.
“When people look at me — not just black people, but people across the board, from every walk of life — [they] can look at my story and be encouraged that in this nation there is opportunity for everybody,” he said.
Robinson faces his own opportunity in 2021 to continue rewriting North Carolina’s political history books.
Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.