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What does North Carolina's Superintendent of Education really do?

June Atkinson went to court to win the job, but the deputy superintendent has more responsibilityand makes more money

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One suspects that as of this writing, State Superintendent of Education June Atkinson and her public affairs staff are huddled somewhere writing a response to a recent Winston-Salem Journal editorial that says her duties are so light, she "goes to work every day, maintaining her trademark cheerful and positive attitude about life, while the deputy state superintendent of public instruction runs the department."

This, as the Journal points out, is due to a sharp reduction in the super's duties mandated in the mid-'90s by the then-GOP-led House after a row with then-state super Bob Etheridge.

Now, Atkinson, who had to fight a long court battle over a recount of the 2004 election to win her seat, is even pulling down $25K a year less than said deputy, J.B. Buxton, a former education advisor to Gov. Mike Easley, who was hired last week by the State Board of Education. And Buxton, defeated by Atkinson in the '04 primary, reports to the board, not Atkinson.

Given the recount and the light duties, maybe it's time to drop the dichotomy that has an appointed board with the clout and a super with not enough to do. After all the rhetoric and legal fees involved in electing who would do the smiling and waving atop the Department of Education, giving up the ghost and making the post appointed seems to be a reasonable course. In this case, dropping one council of state election can probably be done without great harm to democracy.

Shuler is a D

The national press—and sometimes the locals, too—just can't seem to get used to the idea that U.S. 11th Congressional District Rep. Heath Shuler is a Democrat, which according to potentates of punditry must mean he's a liberal with San Francisco values. Maybe it's because he's grown tired of the media's search for daylight between him and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he's started a blog with the Asheville Citizen-Times. That way, at least, he can get his own words out without all the raised eyebrows, gotcha questions and wild speculation associated with modern serious journalism. In his first post, Shuler promised to write a few times a week and stressed his support of a minimum wage increase, allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies, and cutting interest rates on student loans. Sounds like the commies got to him, huh?

You expected a gracious loser?

Speaking of the transition in NC-11, maybe it was just procedure as they're saying, but the fact that Charles Taylor's outgoing office staff had their computers wiped all the way down to the operating system had Shuler's staff howling that they were left with no case files or information on constituents seeking help from their congressman.

Guaranteed that'll come back to bite Taylor should he try to regain his seat in the next cycle.

Pinch hitter

Former UNC VP, one-time U.S. Senate candidate and current radio and public teevee personality D.G. Martin has picked up yet another title: interim executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

Martin was named last week to replace former exec-direct Bill Holman, who stepped down in December to take a post with Duke University.

This makes the avuncular Martin's third interim appointment and shores up his credentials as a reliable temp worker in complicated roles. He's been interim vice chancellor at UNC-Pembroke and interim director of the Triangle Land Conservancy. He takes over at a time when the clean water program itself is in transition. Now, with $100 million a year to distribute in grants, many communities are eyeing that money for projects that go beyond traditional projects like stream restoration and wetland conservation.

In memoriam

Fifth district Rep. Howard Hunter, an Ahoskie Democrat who was just elected to his 10th term, died Sunday, Jan. 7. Hunter, who served as an Appropriations Committee vice-chair and chaired the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources, introduced legislation to regulate hog farming and was an advocate for the state's minority economic development efforts. He was fined last year for failing to accurately report election contributions.

Gov. Easley is expected to name a replacement after a meeting of Democratic leaders from Hunter's district, which includes Bertie, Hertford, Gates and Perquimans counties.

Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileonJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.

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