RALEIGH — The first Republican governor in two decades set a new direction for North Carolina in his inaugural address Saturday, saying an overhaul of state government and the education system are the keys to repairing a beleaguered economy.
Weve had great successes, but frankly some wounds that had been camouflaged were uncovered and exposed during this recession, Gov. Pat McCrory said. We face challenges as a state. ... (But) we will lead the way once again right here in North Carolina.
McCrory, 56, spoke from the south lawn of the Capitol, facing down Fayetteville Street. A patriotic banner covered the stage, and red, white and blue drapes festooned the Capitol. The location served as a backdrop for McCrory to outline a new doctrine for state government, one with fewer regulations and less spending.
As I look out toward Main Street with government at our back, I see unlimited opportunity, he said. Government should not and cannot be a barricade or an obstacle to progress. Our face and our approach should be outward like we are today, not inward.
The 22-minute address before a crowd of roughly 2,500 hit partisan notes that generated applause from Republicans in the crowd while also striking a moderate tone at times. It was a dichotomy consistent with McCrorys campaign, which enabled him cruise to a double-digit victory in November.
Overall, its a grand vision for what he wants to pursue, but the critical aspect of leadership is taking that grand vision and translating it into specific proposals and programs and then implement them, said Catawba College political expert Michael Bitzer. Thats going to be the real test of the McCrory administration.
McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, took the oath as the states 74th governor Jan. 5, making Saturdays event largely ceremonial. He spent three days before the inaugural festivities traveling to cities across North Carolina as part victory lap and part listening tour, and he attended the traditional ball Friday night.
His inaugural remarks acknowledged the long list of challenges ahead, particularly when it comes to the economy. But he made it clear that he believes government spending isnt the answer.
I need to let the citizens of North Carolina know one thing: that is, government cannot solve all these problems alone because frankly there is no new money falling out of the sky, he said, transitioning to the biggest applause line of the day: We should not ask for more money from you because the result is more pain to families and small businesses on Main Street.
From the middle?
McCrory is inheriting a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, the nations fifth highest. He blamed the policies of previous administrations for putting the state behind its peers even as his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, who decided to not seek re-election, sat nearby on stage.
While states around us during the past several years have created jobs and fundamentally reformed the way their governments operate, we have too often relied on short-term solutions to complex long-term problems, he said.
A solution to the jobless rate is better coordinating the states education system to the skills needed in the workplace, McCrory said. If implemented, there is no excuse then if we do not get people off unemployment and get them into good jobs.
Part of the problem is government itself, McCrory said. He criticized state agencies for often ignoring the needs of the very people we serve and creating inefficiencies with your tax dollars. He said a new mentality would take hold in his administration.
We have the opportunity to transform our culture of government through a top-to-bottom assessment of efficiency, effectiveness, and more than anything else, a culture of customer service, he said.
State Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat who attended the ceremony, said he is optimistic McCrory will govern from the middle. Im impressed with the way hes hit the ground running, he said. The question ultimately (from) a policy standpoint is where he comes down. I take him at his word (that) he wants to govern as a centrist.
The ceremony began in a cool fog but the sun dissolved the clouds and warmed the stage by the end of McCrorys speech. I think that was a very good omen, said former House Speaker Joe Mavretic, a Democrat and now independent who helped McCrorys transition into office. I think hes a chief executive who can bring divergent views together for the benefit of the state.
For Republicans and McCrory, too the days pomp came far too many years after they gathered to inaugurate Jim Martin in 1989. Richard Hudson, who led McCrorys 2008 campaign, still recalls the election night four years ago when they narrowly lost to Perdue. Ive dreamed of being on that stage for 20 years as a Republican working in politics, said Hudson, the new congressman from the 8th District.
Those in the crowd echoed the sentiments. Harry Robertson, 83, of Alexander County, who attended inaugural ceremonies for the previous two Republican governors, celebrated not just McCrory, but GOP control of the lawmaking process. Its the first time Ive ever been able to see a governor, a House and a Senate all Republican, he said.
Like many at the celebration, Robertson, a retired businessman, wants McCrory to improve employment in the state. Im just wanting them to do whatever they can do to get people working, he said.
Once the ceremony ended, the parade began. McCrory and his wife, Ann, rode in a red convertible at the front, followed by a cacophony of high school and college marching bands, ornate floats, clowns, horses and vintage cars.
The Catawba College Marching Indians participated with singular pride, knowing that the new governor is a graduate. The band, in their blue pants and red, white and blue jackets, played the Catawba fight song and the popular hip-hop song All I Do Is Win. The inaugural celebration was the bands parade debut, said director Steve Etters. This is a great way to start, he said. Were honored to have Pat McCrory as our governor and an alumnus.
Hundreds of people lined up to tour the Executive Mansion at an open house after the parade. Those with good timing shook hands with the governor. A few even tossed a football with him.
Hes a nice guy, said Chase Etters, 18, the son of the band director. He said, Run a route. I did.
The tour looped through the first floor and members of the Council of State greeted visitors outside the ballroom. The tour took visitors through the main hall, where they passed under the portraits of former governors. The states Supreme Court justices greeted visitors just beyond a dining room with a table that seats 24.
Howard Kosofsky, a developer from Lake Norman who described himself as an old friend of McCrorys, took a tour before leaving town. He said he supported McCrory in both of his runs for governor. Hes passionate, Kosofsky said. Hes got no children. This is what he does.
Kosofsky said he held an early fundraiser for McCrory during his first run for governor, and watched McCrory regroup after that loss.
He had to take stock of himself, Kosofsky said.
Now the man hes backed for years is running the state. Hes ready, Kosofsky said.
Charlotte Observer staff writer Jim Morrill contributed to this report.