Full disclosure: I’m working with Keith Sutton and his campaign. I’ve known Keith since we worked together on Congresswoman Eva Clayton’s campaign in 1998. He’s been a dedicated public servant with a keen understanding of our public schools and a strong advocate for North Carolina’s school children.

Now that Labor Day is past, politics will start to come into focus again. While municipal races will play out over the next couple of months, the 2020 contests also begins in earnest. With our primary in March instead of May, we’re only six months out. 

In Council of State races, the contest for Superintendent of Public Instruction has attracted the most candidates. Already, four people have announced. Of those, Wake County School Board member Keith Sutton offers the best opportunity for Democrats.  Sutton brings a combination of real-world experience and a clear understanding of the challenges North Carolina faces. 

Sutton has spent most of his life either in or working with North Carolina public education. He grew up in Rocky Mount and graduated from the public schools there. He went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before settling in Raleigh. Sutton served as executive director of BEST NC, a “coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy,” before opening his own consulting firm to help organizations face the changes taking place in the education sector. 

Most importantly, though, Sutton has spent ten years on the Wake County School Board, including a stint as Chair. Wake is the largest school system in the state and Sutton has dealt with the problems that all systems face, from budgeting to reassignment to the pressures of unprecedented growth. His experience as a leader on the Wake County School Board makes him prepared to address the education challenges of the future.

Sutton also brings experience in state government. He served as a policy affairs analyst with the Department of Public Safety and as a legislative affairs director with the Department of Juvenile Affairs and Delinquency Prevention. In other words, he understands the machinery of state government and the legislative process, experience that will help him quickly transition into Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

Just as importantly, Sutton brings perspective. The re-segregation of North Carolina public schools is one of the most pressing and divisive issues facing education leaders. The state can’t have an honest conversation about the problem without strong African-Americans voices in the mix. Sutton began his elementary school career just as North Carolina was embracing integration in the post-Jim Crow era. He wants to lead our schools as we revisit that commitment through the growth of charter schools and voucher programs. 

Sutton also brings needed diversity to the Democratic ticket. In 2016, only 56% of African-American men voted in the general election. If Democrats want to win in 2020, that percentage needs to increase. Having a ticket that reflects our population is one key to reaching that population of voters.

Finally, Sutton offers Wake County Democrats a chance to heal. In 2017, a divisive mayoral race sharply divided the city and might do so again. Back then, the mostly white Democratic donor establishment backed an independent mayor against an African-American man who was a registered Democrat. Black Democrats who’ve long supported white candidates felt slighted. Sutton offers all of Wake County a hometown candidate they can proudly rally behind. 

Sutton’s candidacy should attract broad support across the state. He brings a combination of experience that’s unmatched in the race. He grew up in public schools in rural North Carolina and has overseen the largest school system in the state. Much of his professional career has centered on education advocacy, innovation and transformation with experience in state government. He also brings much needed diversity to the Democratic ticket and he offers a necessary perspective as our schools become re-segregated. He’s the one candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction who strengthens the Democratic ticket in 2020.

Paid for by Vote Keith Sutton.

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