RALEIGH — The first Republican governor in 20 years will take the oath of office in a largely private ceremony Jan. 5, raising questions about the tone Pat McCrory is setting at the start of his administration.
The traditional inauguration and festivities, timed to coincide with the Junior League of Raleigh’s inaugural ball, are scheduled a week later.
But McCrory is opting to break tradition by moving forward his official swearing-in ceremony and relocating it to the old House chamber at the state Capitol. He still plans to attend the public Jan. 12 inauguration on the Capitol lawn, where he will give a formal address.
Only family members and Cabinet officials will watch McCrory take the official oath as governor inside the Capitol, aides said. Similarly, McCrory is allowing just one reporter and one television camera to attend but the video feed will be streamed live online. The so-called “pool” arrangement in which the dispatches and video are shared by other media outlets is common at the high-profile presidential level but it is a first in recent memory for a North Carolina governor.
The changes surprised some political observers who questioned the message it sends from day one of the McCrory administration.
“He’s being sworn into office for all of North Carolina. It’s just surprising he wouldn’t want to share it,” said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College. “As much as he campaigned on government openness and transparency, the move just seems odd.”
McCrory aides said the old House chamber, where 127 lawmakers met from 1840 to 1961, is too small to accommodate members of the public and other reporters. The number of guests and invitations for the private ceremony are not certain, they said.
Parks Griffin, the transition team’s chief inaugural organizer, said he considered the access concerns. “Obviously we are always concerned about the perception of anyone being excluded,” he said. “But obviously there are limitations with every event.”
The state constitution allows a new governor’s term to start on the first day of January after the election.
The transition team said the Jan. 5 timing is designed to put McCrory in office before the N.C. General Assembly convenes. McCrory has time. The legislature won’t start its 2013 session until Jan. 30. But lawmakers will gather Jan. 9 to set chamber rules and elect leaders.
Griffin said a Jan. 12 inauguration scheduled a day after the traditional ball would have been the second latest in recent history and McCrory didn’t want to wait that long to get his team in place.
The Junior League couldn’t schedule its ball any earlier because the Raleigh Convention Center was booked. “It would seem somewhat odd to leave it on the 12th because someone booked a boat show,” Griffin said.
President Barack Obama also will be sworn in during a private ceremony but that’s because the U.S. Constitution requires the president to be sworn in on Jan. 20. Because the date falls on a Sunday in 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. will administer the oath to Obama privately that day at the White House, while the public ceremony, parade and other events will be pushed back to Monday, Jan. 21.
North Carolina’s constitution does not mandate a swearing-in date for its governor.
McCrory’s team picked the old House chamber for his swearing in because of “the beauty of the place.” The chamber, built by slave laborers and restored to its 1840s look, is where lawmakers voted to secede from the United States in May 1861 and where the first black and female lawmakers served.
Republican media strategist Marc Rotterman said the earlier date sends a strong message. “It signals that he’s ready to get down to business … and he’s willing to get right to work,” he said.
Despite that work ethic, McCrory won’t hold the Council of State meeting currently scheduled for Jan. 8, the Office of State Budget and Management announced Thursday. The body of the state’s top elected leaders meets monthly and handles administrative financial matters, such as property acquisitions. The council will likely meet for the first time with McCrory at the helm in February.
In between the swearing in and inauguration festivities, McCrory will travel the state holding open houses in Asheville, the Piedmont region, New Bern and Charlotte over the course of three days.
McCrory will still attend the Junior League’s ball. His first dance is to Van Morrison’s song “Crazy Love.”