Members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on IT said the midterm election could slow their work if it brings changes to the group.
Replacement of a statewide enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, a major tech initiative in the state of North Carolina, is unlikely to be affected by the Nov. 6 midterm election, but members of a joint IT oversight committee said recently their work could be inhibited by the looming contest.
The three lawmakers, all members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology, joined state CIO Eric Boyette and Shannon Tufts, associate professor and director of the Center for Public Technology at the University of North Carolina, for a panel discussion on “Technology and Public Policy” during the North Carolina Digital Government Summit last month.
Asked by Government Technology afterward which tech projects were front-and-center, state Sen. Jeff Tarte and Rep. Jason Saine, the committee’s co-chairmen, agreed the ERP replacement is crucial. The state’s existing system sunsets in 2023 and “our entire financials have to be replaced,” Tarte said, calling it “such a big deal,” and a genuine problem if not converted.
Saine said the ERP and cybersecurity are among the committee’s top priorities, but emphasized the former was at the “top of the conversation” for the Legislature during its entire session. The biggest hurdle and a key aspect of the committee’s mission? Educating the Legislature on this and other technology initiatives, he said.
“We’ve got multiple iterations and different departments that need it. So that probably has been the biggest challenge to getting colleagues to even understand what I mean,” Saine said in an interview.
Tarte and Saine, both Republicans, and fellow committee member Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Democrat, all face re-election in November and spoke warmly of working relationships across the aisle in the Legislature, noting the divisiveness of the current political climate and the intense need in IT stewardship to find common ground.
“As far as relationships, IT, we’re a nonpartisan, nonpolitical entity. We’re here again as a function to serve so that you can do your job better. That’s what we do. And the foundation of it is relationships,” Tarte, a three-term mayor of Cornelius, a Charlotte suburb, said during the panel. Saine said “there’s nothing partisan about technology,” and called it “agnostic as far as politics go.”
“One thing that I think is very clear to me, we may not agree on tax policy, we may not agree on guns, but we certainly agree on technology being able to achieve us efficiencies in building a smarter, more efficient government,” Chaudhuri, who is finishing his first two-year term this fall, told the audience. The Nov. 6 contest complicates relationships “emotionally,” he added, knowing some of his newfound friends face difficult races.
But midterms could also potentially slow the committee’s work, Tarte and Saine said in conversation as an empty chair on the dais behind them underscored the constancy of change. Democratic Rep. Edward Hanes Jr., scheduled to join the panel, resigned to pursue other opportunities on Aug. 7, as reported by The News & Observer. Regardless of the reason, departures have an impact, Saine said.
“Just like in IT, you’ll have retirements or folks who get retired, who have levels of expertise. Election cycle comes and now you start all over again. We’ll have new folks who then have to be caught up to speed. And then that will take us close to a year and before you know it, we’re running again for re-election and focus goes on to something else,” Saine said, adding he “can’t fault” Hanes for his decision.
Saine and Chaudhuri are considered safe and likely to win re-election, they said. But Tarte, founder of multi-million-dollar consulting firm Applied Revenue Analytics, is among the statehouse candidates representing Mecklenburg County — and who, thanks to redistricting, now face re-election in districts won in 2016 by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton according to The Charlotte Observer.
Tarte told GT the committee would be “greatly affected if we lose.” He highlighted the singularity of his contest and said: “I’ve got the governor and the attorney general, who are both friends — the AG is a very close friend, working against me just for the party. It’s the nature of the beast.” Gov. Roy Cooper, whose remarks opened the event, and state Attorney General Josh Stein are both Democrats.