“My relationship with Pat was always cordial, but after I-77 became an issue, I was put on an island and cut off…it cost me my relationship with him,” Tarte says. That may not be the worst thing for constituents: Friendship is one thing, effectiveness is another.
Tarte has been appointed one of three co-chairs of the six-member State and Local Government Committee in the N.C. Senate, a sign that his star is rising in the chamber where the bill to cancel the contract was defeated by his peers.
It may be a good thing for the ongoing fight against the 50-year contract between the NCDOT and Cintra. With the long session under way in Raleigh, the push to cancel the $650 million contract is still very real.
“I-77 is not going to go away,” Tarte says, explaining that not a penny of principal is paid until 2033. “It is a contract with a termination provision. It gets more costly and prohibitive as each day goes by.”
While construction is well under way, many business and community leaders are convinced that the current plan will not be anywhere near the success NCDOT had imagined. For one thing, big semi-trucks aren’t allowed in the toll lanes, which means the General Purpose lanes will likely become even more congested. Then, too, the toll lanes are situated such that it will be challenging for travelers to cross the General Purpose lanes to exit at Cornelius hotels and restaurants. People like Bill Russell, CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber, are none too pleased.
It’s not about the tolls, per se. The contract is apparently purely one-sided, in favor of Cintra.
“The Lake Norman Chamber is not opposed to public-private projects or managed lanes, but an application with limited north-south arteries and a 32,500 acre body of water limits any potential success here. We will be meeting soon with members of Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration in hopes of finding an alternative solution to our transportation infrastructure,” says Russell.
One of the people business leaders meet with, in addition to John Bradford in the N.C. House of Representatives, is Tarte.
“The attorneys who signed this contract should be disbarred. It is malfeasance and gross negligence,” Tarte says. “The general purpose lanes have to fail for the toll lanes to be successful.”
“It will be unbearable in six to eight years,” Tarte says, pointing out that he called for a review of the controversial, 900-page contract over two years ago. “This can only be stopped at the state level.”
Tarte explains: “Here’s what I am going to do…the governor, the attorney general, the state auditor and the director of the SBI…I plan to write a letter formally requesting that group of people to investigate all the NCDOT employees who were involved in crafting and executing this contract. Did they properly leave the department, are they in violation of our revolving door statute? All the top six or seven people at the NCDOT are all gone…are they directly or indirectly benefiting from this contract?”
The state’s revolving door statute covers six months from end of employment in government.
Pointing out that he called Cooper to congratulate him on his win, Tarte says a constitutionally weak mayor or weak governor has power, thanks to their bully pulpit, and the “ability to persuade, and lead others in a vision and a common direction.”
Tarte enjoys his role in state government, having also served as mayor of Cornelius. He says he likes “having a seat at the table. But the number one thing I enjoy the most is constituent case work and helping people navigate the bureaucracy in Raleigh,” Tarte says.
A people’s conservative, he says “everybody who has an interest in serving should. if you have an interest, throw your name in the ring and go for it.”
Among his primary goals is helping make North Carolina the “most wired state in the Union,” with positive results ranging from early education to secure IDs.
But some of the biggest challenges for facing politicians have to do with differences—the gulf between urban sensibilities and rural sensibilities, as well as Republicans and Democrats. HB2 is the poster child of those differences.
“The leadership wants to address it…they’re open to sitting down and looking for common ground, but the problem to date is leadership in Charlotte has totally built a wall. There is no openness or leadership to sit down and talk about it. That creates a problem, you cant solve a problem like this by yourself,” he says.
Of course, Charlotte elected officials have a different point of view.
The political dynamics will change over the course of time with the “browning of America,” Tarte says. There will not be a white majority in 2050 as population growth slows among whites, changing traditional voting patterns and long-held perceptions of what it means to be “American.”
Tarte talks about building a new GOP and being open minded. In fact, his district, once virtually guaranteed Republican, is likely to be redrawn because a federal court has ordered North Carolina to redraw House and Senate districts, and to hold special primary and general elections this fall.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the Middle District Court sets a deadline of March 15 for the state to redraw 28 districts ruled unconstitutional. Based on the adjacency of the districts, Tarte expects to have to run again, having just spent $90,000 for the November election to defeat two political novices.
Our differences have become more apparent than our similarities, Tarte laments.
In Raleigh, Tarte tries to be as open-minded as possible, and breaks bread with senators on the other side of the aisle as often as he can. “We go to dinner together…five of us to as many as 16…it’s half and half.” His new committee leadership position bodes well for someone who enjoys dialogue.
“I am ready to begin the work of the people,” Tarte says.