Lt. Gov. Forest pushes for ‘disruptive change’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said Republicans need to focus on one thing in order to secure a prosperous future for the state – disruptive change through innovation.

The first Republican lieutenant governor to be elected in more than 20 years and the second since 1897, Forest was the keynote speaker at Tuesday night’s Lincoln-Reagan Dinner held in the event center at Cornerstone Campus.

The event was organized by the Rowan County Republican Party.

“It is not government’s role to transform and to innovate, but it is government’s role to lay the foundation and the infrastructure so that businesses can do what they do best – innovate, hire people and create wealth,” Forest said. “That is the foundation that we are going to build here.”

The disruptive change the state needs, Forest said, is similar to the changes happening around the country and in the world, including the battles between Facebook and Myspace, the Kindle and the iPad and gas versus electric vehicles.

Republicans have to articulate a visionary message focused on innovation as opposed to being the party that deals with the minutiae of policy every day, Forest said.

“This disruptive change may look like what Sears Roebuck catalogue did to Main Street USA, what the suburban mall did to the Sears Roebuck catalogue or what is now doing to the suburban mall,” Forest said.

Starbucks turned a commodity, coffee, into a fashion statement that changed the culture of the workplace, Forest said, and Apple changed the music world with the creation of iTunes.

“That’s disruptive change,” Forest said.

Facing the innovation challenge head-on and rapidly is of utmost importance for the future of the state, Forest said.

“Agriculture is our largest industry, an $80 billion industry that is being transformed by the same technological innovations that all of these other industries are being transformed by,” Forest said. “Look at the biotech world, the wearable technology world, nanotechnology, health care, big data, driverless cars, personal air travel and smart materials. All of these things are transforming the world, and we have to be prepared.”

The catalyst of disruptive change ultimately is education, Forest said.

Teachers are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist, Forest said, and the top 10 jobs in demand today didn’t exist in 2004.

“We’ve talked for decades about the socioeconomic gap that exists in education, and I believe North Carolina will be the very first state in America to have all of our classrooms connected to broadband Internet and have devices in the hands of every one of our students,” Forest said. “That will change the face of education not just here, but around the world. That is one of the tools that is going to allow our students to be prepared for this innovation we are going to have to have.”

Raucous applause arose from the audience when Forest said the state’s teachers need to be freed up and allowed to do “what they do best.”

Forest said the mandates, regulatory environment and paperwork need to be taken off teachers’ backs.

“It’s not going to be standards that transform education. That is what a lot of the educational elitists will have you believe,” Forest said. “The transformation of education is going to happen in the classroom by allowing great teachers to teach our kids in a way that makes learning fun.”

The state’s university system is going to have to reinvent itself, Forest said.

“We’re sending our kids to get a four-year degree in the university system, allowing them to collect $80,000 to $100,000 in debt to go to that university and then seeing them come out having no job,” Forest said. “That is unsustainable. This is going to have to change in America.”

After winning both houses in the N.C. General Assembly as well as the executive branch, Forest said Republicans now need to lead.

“Now it is time to paint an envisioned future and give the people of North Carolina something to look forward to,” Forest said.

Forest also took the time to champion Republican-backed legislation.

The lieutenant governor said Republican ideas are making a difference, and the state has seen greater change in the past three years than has been seen in decades.

“That is because of the really bold and courageous moves made by the people you elected to send to Raleigh,” Forest said.

Republicans inherited $3 billion in debt when they took a majority of seats in the legislature, Forest said.

“We had to balance the budget without raising taxes,” Forest said.

Republicans cut the state’s sales tax by $1.5 billion and put forth the most aggressive tax reform the state has seen, Forest said, and the GOP leadership has moved the state from 44th in the nation in business tax climate to 17th “by one signing of the pen saying we are open for business in North Carolina.”

The state may have to accept Obamacare, Forest said, but Republicans are not going to accept the health care exchange.

“Not only can you not transform the greatest health care system that has ever existed in the history of the world, but we know that you’re not even going to be able to run the website,” Forest said.

The event’s attendees listened to a rendition of “Dixie” while eating, which was listed in the event’s program as President Abraham Lincoln’s favorite song, and then “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” listed as President Ronald Reagan’s favorite song.