RALEIGH — Pat McCrory on Thursday will set foot in the Capitol for the first time as governor-elect. A block north, he will see a major challenge facing his administration: the N.C. General Assembly.
His party captured a supermajority in the state legislature, but the power dynamic in Raleigh remains uncertain.
The question is, Who is going to set the agenda? said Chris Sinclair, a Republican strategist who helped build the legislative majority and elect McCrory. Is it going to come from the executive branch, come from the House or the Senate, or come from a combination of all three working together?
Republicans are pledging to work cooperatively to push an aggressive agenda that would revamp how schools are funded, require photo ID at polls, overhaul how teachers are paid, and shift the states tax burden.
There will be some differences of opinion, but I think there will be a real effort to work together, said state Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Smithfield Republican.
Democrats think the legislature will overreach and steer the state too far to the ideological right. Without the power to stop them, Democrats hope McCrory will govern as he did in Charlotte, as a moderate.
His struggle will be more in the Republican Party, and the bigger issue will be about who is really in charge, said Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Charlotte Democrat. He is going to have to lead from the middle, and thats going to be an extreme challenge.
McCrory told reporters Wednesday that he is going to be reaching out to the leaders of both houses and parties.
He is scheduled to meet with Gov. Bev Perdue on Thursday. Afterward, hell announce staffers for his transition team.
Theres not a lot of days to move, so were going to move very quickly, McCrory said from the Charlotte hotel where he held his victory party Tuesday night. Theres a sense of urgency.
Unlike the other two Republican governors who preceded him decades ago, McCrory will govern with his own party controlling Jones Street. The GOP increased its majority nine seats in the House to give it a 77-43 majority, and one seat in the Senate for a 32-18 advantage.
Former Gov. Jim Martin urged McCrory not to assume his ideas will mirror the Republican legislative agenda. I would caution him and them not to take each other for granted, Martin said in an interview. They will have different prerogatives, and he needs to get to know the Republican and Democratic leadership.
The sentiment is shared by Phil Kirk, who served as chief of staff for Martin and former Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser. Having a Republican legislature is a huge difference, he said. It can be a positive and a challenge. I have found that keeping your supporters happy is always a challenge.
McCrory faces a significant learning curve about how state government works. As Charlottes mayor, he made a number of trips to Raleigh to lobby lawmakers, but his hardball tactics didnt always leave the best impression. State Sen. Bob Rucho, a Charlotte Republican, once said McCrory was demanding.
Still, the governor-elect can expect a friendly environment. A GOP legislature will want him to succeed, and McCrory said he has good relationships with top lawmakers, such as House Speaker Thom Tillis.
Hes not going to be any more of a rubber stamp for the legislature than we are for the governor, said Tillis, who also is from Mecklenburg County. Were going to collaborate. I think were going to have an extraordinarily productive session.
The executive branch will be more closely aligned, added Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, who considers Tuesdays election results a mandate for GOP policies. Governor-elect McCrory, on the campaign trail, was talking about a lot of the same issues that we were talking about.
Republican tax plans
One issue where Republicans agree is revamping the tax system, a move they say will make the states economy more competitive with that of its neighbors.
In the campaign, McCrory proposed cutting, if not eliminating, the states personal and corporate income taxes. He later softened his stance to suggest the creation of a study committee that would draft a bipartisan plan for tax cuts over a five- to 10-year period.
Republican legislative leaders who are studying the tax issue agree with the concept but want to proceed more quickly than McCrory seems willing to. Theres only so much time people are going to wait for improvements in the economy, said Rucho, a lawmaker leading the charge.
Senate Democratic leader Martin Nesbitt said the state is already ranked at the top among business-friendly states, so the justification for a tax overhaul is nonsense. He said Republicans overreached in the previous two years and will continue with efforts to limit access to the voting booth and cut funding of the states universities. He pleaded for a middle path.
It just needs to be moderate, he said. I just hate to see North Carolina go off on some of these tangents.
Berger, the Senate president pro tem, said voters will decide whether the GOP goes too far. Obviously we dont intend to reach beyond whats prudent, he said, but thats why they have elections.
Charlotte Observer staff writer Jim Morrill contributed to this report.