Yesterday, former Governor Jim Hunt laid out the first serious policy proposal of 2014. In an op-ed, he called for raising teacher salaries to the national average in five years. His plan offers an opportunity to Republicans and reveals a lot about the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Republicans, and Pat McCrory in particular, should embrace the plan. Doing so would show that they do actually care about education. It also gives them a rare opportunity to look bi-partisan even though practically, given their legislative super majorities, they don’t need to. In addition, they could co-opt a major Democratic initiative and take it off the table going into the 2014 election cycle.

Bill Clinton did essentially did the same thing following the 1994 elections. Democrats had taken a serious beating and his health care reform proposal was dead. So, Clinton picked up welfare reform, an issue he talked about during his 1992 campaign but had largely ignored since. His left flank screamed and gnashed their teeth but Clinton stole the Republican’s signature issue and grabbed the support of the middle. He won re-election handily.

Republicans might not have taken a beating last year, but McCrory sure did. He could pull a Clinton by embracing raising teacher pay to the national average. It fits with his narrative that we need to compete with neighboring states, all of whom have better teacher pay packages. It also refutes the criticism that Republican don’t care about public education.

As for the Democrats, using Jim Hunt as the messenger here shows how far they have to go. Hunt’s commitment to public education is beyond rebuke. He made it the centerpiece of his last two terms as governor and made North Carolina a model for education reform. A hundred years from now, North Carolina school children will read about his accomplishments.

However, Democrats need new voices and new leaders. Relying on the former governor to propose a major legislative initiative shows the weakness of the Democratic bench. On education in particular, Jim Hunt and the North Carolina Democratic Party have a solid legacy. What they need is a future.

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >

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