McCrory's way

A transition takes shape for North Carolina’s governor-elect. Daunting tasks are ahead.

November 10, 2012 

Pat McCrory, North Carolina’s new governor-elect, is shaping his transition team with old friends from his days as Charlotte’s mayor, former legislators and private business people. Thomas Stith, of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and a former Durham City Council member, will head the transition.

Advisers include former House Speaker Joe Mavretic and former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner.

Interestingly, a number of the team members (including Stith) happen to be connected to another teammate, Art Pope, the businessman and former legislator who’s funded several conservative organizations and been a mentor of sorts for elected officials from the Wake County school board to the General Assembly to now a governor.

McCrory, speaking with reporters Thursday in Raleigh, said he was going to bring a mayor’s perspective to the state’s top elected post, meaning he would walk the streets and talk to people and get their feedback and focus on “customer service.” That could be a useful approach.

But as mayor he did not have to navigate the ways of state House and Senate leaders who, though they share a Republican Party affiliation with the governor, may have some different ideas about priorities. McCrory, who moved to the philosophical right during his campaign, has a history as a consensus-building mayor who wasn’t much for ideology.

The players

The truth is, that would be in line with North Carolina’s history of moderate governors, Republican and Democratic, who tried to govern in that way.

In Thom Tillis, the House speaker from Charlotte-area Cornelius, and Phil Berger, Senate president pro tem from Eden, McCrory will be dealing with two men who have had often testy confrontations with Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue. They’ve wielded their power to set up face-offs with the governor over issues such as voter ID laws (she vetoed that one) and have not seemed much interested in compromise. Their way or the highway.

Will McCrory, now that the election is over, govern more from the center, understanding that while legislators are often hard partisans elected from districts, his responsibilities to constituents are broader?

That would be productive on his part, but politically difficult. He may be sure that the legislative leaders will try to pull him to their view, figuring that he’ll be reluctant to use the veto against his fellow Republicans.

But he should understand that his stated goal of creating jobs will be hindered if, for example, he’s sidetracked by a renewal of the voter ID fight or socially conservative agendas. If business is his priority, his focus has to be sharp.

Main(stream) highway

The best strategy for him, and one that also would be best for North Carolina, would be to work with lawmakers – even Democrats! – and attempt to find common ground that is not zoned for out-of-the-mainstream actions such as the marriage amendment or voter ID (which has been repudiated by courts in other states that have gone over the line toward voter suppression).

McCrory already has such people looking at ways to streamline his own office. That’s fine. If there are savings to be had without damaging programs that help millions of people in the state, great. For now, skeptics owe McCrory a chance to follow up on his campaign pledges, of which reducing the size of government was one.

He’ll also send a positive signal if his agency heads (DENR, Transportation, Commerce, Public Safety) bring to their jobs some measure of successful government experience. McCrory says he wants government to be all about “customer service.” It’s not a bad model, but it’s expensive to keep that promise, which is liable to put the new governor face to face with a pledge to cut taxes for business and individuals alike. That’s an easy promise to make. It’s a hard one to keep.

But every new governor deserves a chance to advance his or her ideas. Some may work and some may not, and the test will come when the state’s chief executive has to reorder some priorities or make compromises with legislative leaders. That kind of “transition” will test Gov. Pat McCrory.

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