McCrory should seek a middle course

Now Pat McCrory must serve all the people, with calm judgment.

January 3, 2013 

No matter the nature of their political persuasions, all North Carolinians must wish success over the next four years for a new governor. If Pat McCrory, by 2016, has presided over improvements in public education, over greater opportunities for the weak as well as the strong, over an economic recovery, the state of North Carolina will be better for his service.

McCrory will be only the third Republican governor in the last 100-plus years. In his lifetime (he is 56), North Carolina has gone from a solidly Democratic one-party state to one of diverse, even sharply divided, two parties, with McCrory’s Republicans now in full charge of the governor’s office and the legislature.

That’s something he doesn’t share with his Republican predecessors, Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin. Both battled Democratic majorities in the General Assembly that allowed them to exercise little power, other than the authority to appoint Cabinet members and subordinates.

Those Democrats were not of a mind to compromise, and they didn’t. That was wrong. Had Democrats been inclined to share power, the transition to Republican control in the last General Assembly would perhaps have been less contentious.

But McCrory can learn from the previous Republican administrations. Both Holshouser and Martin were men of good will, strong intellect and moderate political philosophy. Both supported public education, from kindergarten to the state’s esteemed university system. Both believed in helping the disadvantaged. Both avoided the political extremes, easier in those pre-tea party days.

Fully in charge

McCrory, after all, has no need to take a moderate course. He has been elected, and his General Assembly is of the same party. To the degree that he has an agenda and wide-ranging goals, he should have allies on Jones Street who will help him.

He would be wise as well to seek counsel about governing from former Gov. Jim Hunt, the partisan Democrat of Democrats to be sure, but a man who spent 16 years of his life in the governor’s office and who knows more about leading the executive branch than anyone alive.

Hunt operated on the belief that a governor has to have a strong idea of where he wants the state to go and of how he plans to lead it there and the ability to articulate that for the people, in order to get them on his side. Winning an election was the easy part.

Early on, after the legislature returns at the end of January, there is speculation that GOP lawmakers will push on with a lessening of environmental regulation (some steps have been taken) and push through a Voter I.D. law that Gov. Beverly Perdue successfully vetoed. They’re also expected to continue reducing the oversight for business and perhaps pursue a “social” agenda that will include curbing abortion rights. Also, Republican leaders are apt to tighten the reins on the public university system and its funding.

A broader view

Republican leaders are skeptical about the effectiveness of public education and may advocate vouchers of public money to help people send their children to private schools. Diverting education money into vouchers could be catastrophic for the public schools, which can hardly stand a further siphoning of depleted resources.

These issues reflect the views of individual lawmakers and their allies, all elected from districts where it’s easy for one party or one issue to dominate a specific election.

And therein lies the challenge for McCrory, who must take a broader view. This doesn’t mean he abandons the pro-business, small-government platform on which he was elected (although downsizing government has proved more difficult in the past than anticipated). It does mean that a time will come when he can best serve by encouraging compromise and moderation on the part of legislators or perhaps even in his own Cabinet.

Will he, for example, dare to differ with his budget guru, Raleigh’s Art Pope, whose political philosophy is on the right end of the GOP spectrum? Will he stand for workers’ rights even when some in his formal or informal Cabinet suggest changes that might diminish them? Will he reach out to Democrats, as he has promised, and find common ground rather than just standing his own?

The tests will come early. And often.

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