Pat McCrory quickly takes reins as NC governor

rchristensen@newsobserver.comJanuary 5, 2013 

  • Open Houses Gov. Pat McCrory will hold open houses across the state this week. They are open to the public, but RSVPs are required at all except Saturday’s. They are: • Monday, 5 p.m., at The Crest Center & Pavilion, 22 Celebration Place, Asheville RSVP: • Tuesday, 11 a.m., Empire Room, 203 S. Elm St., Greensboro RSVP: • Tuesday, 6 p.m., North Carolina History Center, 529 S. Front St., New Bern RSVP: • Wednesday, 4 p.m., Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St., Charlotte RSVP: • Saturday, 1 p.m. North Carolina Executive Mansion, 200 N. Blount St., Raleigh

— Republican Pat McCrory became North Carolina’s 74th governor Saturday in a brief, simple ceremony that nevertheless marked a major shift in political power in the state.

It took only a 15-minute ceremony for McCrory, a 56-year-old former Charlotte mayor and former utility executive, to take the oath of office in the old House chambers in the historic Capitol.

With more than 100 people, including family, his Cabinet and a few elected officials looking on shortly after noon, McCrory became the chief executive of a fast-growing Sunbelt state that has struggled with high unemployment and growing poverty.

“Our goal was not to get a title,” McCrory said in very brief remarks. “Our goal was to lead and to serve with a purpose, and that’s what we will begin doing today.”

McCrory enters office in a strong position – riding high in the public opinion polls, with a political mandate after a landslide victory in November, and with a Republican-controlled legislature that would like for him to succeed.

“It feels very good,” said Art Pope, the Raleigh businessman and GOP financier who has agreed to work as McCrory’s deputy budget director for free. “I think the people will be well served.”

Asked how it feels to have a Republican governor, GOP Senate leader Phil Berger said: “I don’t know that I feel any different that I did 20 minutes ago. But I’m optimistic and encouraged. I think we have an opportunity to move the state forward and accomplish some things.”

Not everybody was happy. About two dozen protesters, organized by the liberal advocacy group Progress North Carolina, marched on the sidewalk near the Capitol, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Art Pope has got to go.”

The transfer of power – ending 20 years of Democratic governors, the third-longest streak in the country – was carried out seamlessly.

Outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue spent Friday night in the Executive Mansion, and finished moving out Saturday morning.

She entered the Senate chambers as a National Guard band played “The Old North State,” and then turned the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina – the symbol of state power – over to McCrory. He embraced her, to the applause of the crowd.

Although they are old political rivals, McCrory praised Perdue for her public service and thanked her for her “graciousness” during the transition.

Apparently Perdue’s last actions as governor were on Friday, when she visited a school in Onslow County. One of her last visitors Friday was former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt. There were no last-minute pardons, said Britt Cobb, her chief of staff.

Remembering his father

The way McCrory took office was a bit unusual – with the swearing-in separated from the inaugural festivities. But the Junior League, which runs the inaugural ball, could not rent the Raleigh Convention Center this weekend because of a boat show. And McCrory did not want to wait, because the legislature is sworn in on Wednesday.

The main inaugural ball is Friday, followed the next day by the governor’s inaugural address and parade.

McCrory kept Saturday’s events a quiet affair. There were few personal touches. McCrory later said in an interview that he had considered mentioning his late father and role model, Rollin “Mac” McCrory, a Jamestown engineer and businessman, in his remarks in the Capitol. He decided not to, afraid if he did, he would get too choked up to finish his remarks.

“My mom and my dad are definitely here in spirit,” he said.

One of his first acts, McCrory said, would be to put a photograph of his father, sitting in the Charlotte mayor’s office, behind his desk in the Capitol.

McCrory is the first Republican elected governor of North Carolina since Jim Martin was re-elected in 1988. He is also the first governor from Charlotte since Cameron Morrison was elected in 1920. McCrory lost a close race in 2008 against Perdue, but easily defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton in November.

He campaigned on a need for change in Raleigh, calling for an overhaul of the tax system, for making state government more business-friendly, for more aggressive energy exploration, and for trying new approaches in education such as more vocational education options.

McCrory started the day with a prayer service at Christ Episcopal Church, in which the parents of both the new governor and first lady Ann McCrory were remembered.

He later presided as his Cabinet was sworn into office in the Capitol and then hosted a lunch at the Executive Mansion, attended by family, friends and Cabinet members. His first speech was Saturday night at “A Salute to North Carolina Veterans” at the Hilton Midtown in Raleigh.

“It’s no doubt it’s a surreal moment in my life and my wife’s life,” McCrory said. “But we feel very grounded and very humbled.”

The McCrorys planned to spend their first night in the Executive Mansion. They have been staying in an apartment in the North Hills area since the election, and it was just a matter of moving some clothes to the mansion.

McCrory said the couple brought “four or five suits and four pairs of shoes and some dresses,” he said. “We travel pretty light.’’

Emergency plans

McCrory said his first priority, after consulting with his new Public Safety Secretary, Kieran Shanahan, had been to make sure there was an emergency operations plan in place in case it was needed right away. He said he took that step on the advice of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

He plans to conduct his first Cabinet meeting Monday and have a news conference as well. “There are immediate fires we are going to have to deal with – just the operations of state government, much less policy – that we are just learning about,” McCrory said. He did not elaborate.

This week, he plans to hold a series of town hall-type meetings across the state, from Asheville to New Bern.

“The objective this week is to listen and to learn and to lead and to show the people throughout the state that we are not just going to stay inside the Beltline of this great city,” McCrory said.

Christensen: 919-829-4532