Gov. McCrory's veto whimper

August 16, 2013 

The world ends, T.S. Eliot wrote, “not with a bang but a whimper.” And while it appeared for a time that Gov. Pat McCrory was going to keep his veto stamp locked away – or that Republican legislative leaders had put it in a safe place for him – when the governor finally did use his veto, it was indeed a whimper.

On Thursday, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed drug testing for recipients of public assistance, a move that in the world of decision-making falls under the heading of a “no-brainer.” That measure would have faced constitutional challenges related to protections against unreasonable searches. Such challenges have been successful in other states. The bill was a waste of time and represented ideologically right-wing lawmakers spewing vitriol against poor people.

Republican lawmakers ought to refund to the people the amount of money taxpayers spent on the time they spent discussing and passing such a piece of garbage.

Then there was the immigration bill. In essence, it would have allowed employers to expand the number of workers exempt from the E-Verify program that checks the legal status of seasonal workers. Some businesses in need of such workers liked the idea, but neither it nor the welfare/drug testing bill seemed to have much steam driving them.

In other words, these vetoes weren’t exactly profiles in political courage. But at least the governor, who at times appeared to be entirely ignored by the powers-that-be on Jones Street, now can say he stood up to legislators.

Unless, of course, House Speaker Thom Tillis decides to bring the legislature back to town to override McCrory’s vetoes. It could easily be done, given the margins of Republican control in both House and Senate.

If lawmakers did override the governor, it would be an interesting piece of political theater. Here we are, with the GOP in charge of everything, and yet legislators would be seen as not letting their governor have even a bit of political independence. It would be embarrassing for McCrory, who would appear to be a weak, very weak, chief executive.

In fact, the governor’s vetoes are among the most substantive acts of his first six months in office. In that time, the GOP’s crowned kings of Jones Street, Tillis and Phil Berger, president pro tem of the Senate, have not shown much interest in the governor’s opinion, and except for the issues held important by his budget chief, Art Pope, McCrory has not had much of a leadership presence.

It’s true that legislative leaders have traditionally ruled the roost, but a strong governor such as Jim Hunt can lead with ideas, eloquence and political acumen. If McCrory wants any kind of legacy at all, he needs to start asserting himself on a mainstream agenda he can define and articulate. Both the people who elected him, and the legislators who haven’t paid much attention to him, would respect that kind of activism.

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