RALEIGH — The John Locke Foundation honored former N.C. House Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, Saturday with the 2013 James Knox Polk Award for leadership in public office.
The Polk Award highlights “North Carolinians who exhibit the finest qualities of leadership and commitment to freedom and constitutional government,” said JLF President John Hood while presenting the award in front of 400 people attending the foundation’s 23rd anniversary banquet.
The award recognizes people who are willing to translate conservative ideas into action, Hood said. “Principled, capable, and audacious men and women must be willing to champion these ideas in public life,” Hood said. “I am about to honor one such person tonight.”
Hood recounted highlights from Folwell’s career. A Raleigh native, Folwell has spent much of his life in the Winston-Salem area, serving nearly eight years on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth school board before winning a 2004 election to the N.C. House. He served as joint Republican caucus leader and spent his final two-year term as speaker pro tem, the House’s No. 2 elected position. Folwell sought the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2012.
“Dale Folwell was a unique state legislator,” Hood said. “He was a freshman Republican in a Democratic chamber. People told him to lay low and wait a while. Dale chose a different course. He studied up on important issues that few of his colleagues were paying much attention to, developed common-sense solutions, and then recruited members of both parties to support them.”
“He championed school bus safety and organ donation, in part because of the tragic death of his 7-year-old son Dalton in a bus accident,” Hood added. “Dale championed fundamental reforms of the operation of government — how vehicle inspections and registrations were issued, how state employee benefits were administered, and how the construction of state-funded rest homes or preschools was regulated.”
Hood noted one of Folwell’s most important legislative priorities. “I am particularly thankful for Dale Folwell’s critical work on the subject of unfunded liabilities,” Hood said. “North Carolina has promised pension and health benefits to public employees that far exceed the amount of assets set aside for them. We’re talking tens of billions of dollars in benefits promised without the means to pay the bill.”
“It’s the kind of problem that many politicians would prefer not to talk about — because the cost of inaction lies in the future and solving the problem today means telling some people what they do not want to hear,” Hood added. “Once again, Dale Folwell chose not to follow the crowd, not to do the easy thing. He made significant progress, particularly in pension eligibility, while continuing to call attention to the need for fundamental reform.”
Folwell’s approach to public service earned Hood’s praise. “‘I wake up every morning thinking of what kind of intellectual risk I can take, what kind of political risk I can take to get people back to work,'” Hood quoted Folwell as saying about his role as an elected official. “I wish his approach was more common, don’t you?”
The Polk Award is named for the 11th president, a North Carolina native and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate. Past recipients have included governors, members of Congress, judges, mayors, state legislators, city council members, county commissioners, and school board members.