A letter to the small towns and rural counties across NC

by | Mar 10, 2023 | Editor's Blog | 10 comments

Dear Rural and Small Town North Carolinians,

We need to talk. You’ve been voting for Republicans steadily for the past decade or more and it really hasn’t worked out very well. It’s time to reconsider your choices.

Since Republicans have taken over the legislature, they’ve passed budgets that disproportionately hurt your public schools. To be fair to them, they never really claimed they were going to make our public schools better. Instead, they said they would institute school choice through the euphemistically named “Opportunity scholarships.” That’s a voucher scheme that takes your tax dollars out of public schools and puts them into private ones. Republicans told us that by making public schools compete with private schools, public schools would get better. They never explained how that would work and it didn’t.

Instead, our per pupil spending is among the lowest in the nation. Republicans have starved our schools and then complain that they are failing. Your schools are hurt the most. In more affluent urban areas, counties and school systems subsidize schools and teacher pay with local tax dollars, something most of our rural counties cannot afford to do. That discrepancy allows places like Raleigh, Charlotte, and Chapel Hill to attract and retain better teachers because they have better working conditions and higher pay. You see, the real competition that Republicans have created is not between public and private schools. It’s between rural and urban school systems. It’s between wealthy school systems and poor ones. And you’re losing.

Now, a few decades ago, some rural school systems recognized this dilemma. They sued because our constitution guarantees every North Carolina child is entitled to sound, basic education. A Republican judge ruled in favor of the counties and said that the state needed to better fund poorer, rural systems to ensure they could keep their constitutional commitment to our children. Since then, a judge has been appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to make sure that rural school systems were getting the resources they were owed. 

However, today, Republicans in the legislature are balking at that commitment. They are trying to get the Supreme Court to deny counties the money to better fund their schools. That’s right. The people you sent to the legislature want to reduce the amount of money going to the schools that educate your kids. 

To put that another way, Republicans in the legislature are willing to better fund private schools, but they aren’t willing to better fund your schools. 

When I was a kid growing up in Anson County, most counties had hospitals. My brothers and I went to the emergency room often enough for broken bones and stitches. We lived next door to a country doctor and there were several others in the county, including a couple of surgeons. 

But that was a long ago. Hospitals and doctors have been abandoning rural communities for decades. They opted for areas where there are more affluent patients. To help stop the slide, the federal government agreed to pick up the tab for states to expand Medicaid at no cost. The money would create more than 500,000 paying customers for doctors and hospitals in North Carolina, many in rural counties. 

Unfortunately, for more than a decade, Republicans voted against taking the money. They left billions of dollars on the table, money that could have kept hospitals afloat and kept providers in rural counties. If you can’t find a doctor or have to drive an hour or more to see one, you can thank your Republican legislators. 

On the bright side, Republicans have finally admitted they were wrong. This year, they are expanding Medicaid and about 600,000 mostly working North Carolinians will get health insurance. I guess we could say better late than never, but it’s not better for people who didn’t get the health care they needed and are no longer with us. And it’s not going to bring back the hospitals and doctors that Republicans let slip away. 

Back before Republicans took over the legislature in 2010, North Carolina had a progressive tax code. We taxed our wealthiest citizens at a little bit higher rate than our poorer ones. Republicans did away with that system. They now tax everybody’s income at the same rate. They also cut everybody’s tax rate and claimed that it was an across-the-board tax cut.

The problem is that some people owned a whole lot more of that board than others. If you were making a million dollars a year, like quite a few people in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, and other cities, then that tax cut saved you tens of thousands of dollars a year. If you were making $50,000 a year, well, your tax cut allowed you to take your family out to dinner one more night a year than you could before. 

To make up for the revenue lost from income taxes, Republicans added a sales tax on services—not all services, but some. Now, you pay taxes on car repairs. Who do you think pays more for car repairs, somebody driving a fifteen-year-old Ford F-150 or someone driving brand new Tesla? And you know what they don’t tax? Accounting services. How many of you use accountants? I guarantee you, all of those millionaires do.

They also slashed taxes on corporations and want to eliminate taxes on them altogether. They say they are attracting industry, but those companies aren’t moving into rural areas. They are moving into Wake County, Mecklenburg County, and the adjacent counties. The ones moving to rural areas probably aren’t doing so because of less taxes but because of cheap labor.  

Republicans claim that’s fair. If that’s how you measure fair, then you should be satisfied. But also acknowledge that the tax cuts benefit wealthy, urban areas far more than poorer, rural ones. The wealthiest citizens and largest corporations are located in the parts of the state that are growing and prospering. They have plenty of hospitals and doctors. They use the savings in state taxes to better fund their schools and attract and retain teachers. You don’t have that luxury. The Republican formula for taxing North Carolinians helps people who already have money and hurts those who need a hand up. 

Contrary to what Fox News and talk radio shills are telling you, Democrats aren’t coming for your guns. They’ve been telling you that for more than thirty years and now we have more guns per capita than any country that’s not at war. We also have more dead children than any country. Democrats don’t want to take your guns; they just want common sense restrictions that keeps guns out of the hands of criminals and children. 

Democrats don’t want to defund the police, no matter what Fox News told you. You should turn off that network. They’ve been lying and distorting the truth since the beginning. Now, they’ve been caught doing it in court documents.

I’m not asking you to start believing CNN or MSNBC. I’d suggest you turn off them, too. Look for other news sources like ABC, NBC, and CBS news. They don’t always get it right, but they aren’t intentionally trying to deceive you. Fox News and talk radio are. 

Democrats believe that everyone in North Carolina is in this state together. They believe that places and people who are doing better need to help the people and places that are struggling. They believe urban areas that are driving economic activity need to share the wealth with rural areas that are losing jobs and population. They believe that kids in rural areas deserve a sound, basic education and that the state, that’s all of us, has an obligation to provide it. Republicans clearly don’t believe that.

Republicans believe that we are all competing against each other. They don’t believe in offering a hand up to our poorer areas or our struggling school systems. They believe in survival of the fittest and, ironically, Republicans represent the places that will lose in such a contest. In other words, they’re in Raleigh voting against your best interests.

Republicans have been in control of this state for twelve years and they have failed rural North Carolina. If your schools are struggling, blame Republicans, not Democrats. If jobs are leaving instead coming, blame Republicans, not Democrats. If your crime rate is too high, blame Republicans, not Democrats. If you are losing population, blame Republicans, not Democrats. Republicans have made the laws and set the policies here since 2011, including veto proof-majorities for much of the time. So stop blaming Democrats for your ills. 

And if you’re watching Fox News and listening to talk radio, for Heaven’s sake, turn it off. 


  1. Wayne

    We are all dumber for having read Mr. Mills’ rant about how Democrats are doing so great, compared to those odious Republicans, who—according to Mills—screw up everything that they touch.

    Rural counties in NC largely voted (R) in the last few elections for the simple reason that national Democrat leaders—such as Barry the Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the entire Biden Crime Family—have proven to right-thinking Americans that as Democrat leaders they are corrupt to the core, very likely criminally liable for crimes against the republic, and astoundingly incompetent.

    Democrats are driven by a naked lust for sheer power, no matter WHAT effect it has on America. For Democrats, it is ALWAYS ‘Party First’, and America Last. The staggering stupidity of this current White House proves it!

    Mills makes the gratuitous point that FoxNews is so atrociously evil that NO ONE should EVER listen to their analysis. But—news flash, Mr. Mills—FoxNews is apparently the ONLY news outlet willing to cover the poor performance, misbehavior, scandalous corruption, and unlimited depths of incompetence that characterizes virtually EVERY Democrat person in political leadership today! From the White House on down thru Governors, Mayors, Attorney Generals, and rank-and-file boot-lickers (like the ‘token’ White House Press Secretary), none of them seems to have a conscience grip on reality, and ALL of them parade their incompetence as though it is some sort of social virtue! (Mayor Pete Buttigieg comes to mind)

    Thus the reason why almost ANY candidate with an ( R) by their name got elected in the last few elections—Democrats cannot be trusted, and they obviously cannot be believed. Rural Republicans aren’t stupid, and they clearly see that the Democrat Party has neither the competence, nor the capability, to govern. In addition, it is quite clear that liberal/progressive Marxist ideologies will NOT improve our schools, either—thus the flight from public schools that are embracing this crap, to private or charter schools that still focus on fundamental curricula. The Democrat Party is killing its own self off, and rural Republicans are voting accordingly. This will not end well for North Carolina Democrats.

    • TC

      Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, Exhibit B.

  2. Richard Hren

    This is the clearest distillation of the significant differences between the two parties and their effect on people in WNC. Thank you for both the extensiveness and clarity of this article.

  3. Randy Guptill

    I worked in Wake County Public Schools in a new middle school built in a more rural area of the county. It was identical to new middle schools in Cary and Apex in every way. For a short time Republicans controlled the school board and a proposal was floated to break the system into six “independent school districts” so that the more affluent areas would not have to share tax money with the less affluent. The voters threw them out in the next election. I truly believe that the quality of the school system in Wake County is driving force for their economic success.

    • ringlet86

      smaller school districts and more local control is always a good thing. The money can be settled. Its the easiest part to deal with really.

      When districts get too big, You end up like Loudoun County shuttling a rapist around because of broken “Woke” ideology. Or a district bussing students around to maximize federal money ( the kid is a secondary or even tertiary concern) As Wake county was caught doing.

      Brreak it up, if it fail you can just recombine it.

  4. Vicki Boyer

    I can verify everything you’ve said as I witnessed discussion and passage of all this legislation at NCGA. Time and again, it was apparent that those who would be most hurt would be rural communities. In addition to your great column, I will add rural broadband, and unemployment insurance. They cut the amount of unemployment payments as well as the length of time a person could receive unemployment. When jobs were lost–and think of the mill in Canton that is now closing–less help was available. And refusing to allow municipalities to create access to broadband for rural residents, at a time when Time Warner clearly stated there was no profit in it for them to run cable to rural areas, cut off any opportunity for the rural unemployed to get any on-line work opportunities.
    It’s time to vote them all out of office.

  5. TC

    I read another column this week that was declared your best. I think this one is. You’ve hit every bullshit point Republicans use to keep rural communities hoodwinked. The people lose, the party and the politicians win. The sad and tragic thing about that is, they will put those same people right back in office.

    Gullible might be a harsh assessment, but it does fit.

  6. Bill Cokas

    A-freakin-men. If only the right people would see this. Republicans’ obsession with drag queens and book banning is pure desperation to distract their voters from how they’ve utterly failed them in every other way.

  7. Carolyn B Guckert

    You’ve been on a roll lately, Mr. Mills. Personally, I think this column is the best yet. If I had the means, I would print this column and make sure it got delivered to every rural household in NC. Anyone willing to make that happen?
    Kudos for telling it like it is!

  8. Lu E. Huntley

    Reaching rural voters continues to be difficult, as difficult as reaching the not rural citizenry dug in with their entitled thinking. A conundrum.

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