Gary Pearce once was a top-notch reporter for The News & Observer who had a keen eye on state politics, a quick wit and a perception about public figures that, after he left the business, he applied to helping a farm kid from Rock Ridge win four terms as governor. And had Jim Hunt won his U.S. Senate bid against incumbent Jesse Helms in 1984, thus raising his national profile, Pearce and the other members of the Hunt crowd could well have wound up in the White House.
So when Pearce, now a private consultant, breaks a little ground on his political analysis blog, those of whom he speaks ought to pay attention.
Recently, he raised an issue thats been discussed quietly among Democrats and Republicans in Raleigh, the issue being whether Gov. Pat McCrory can regroup, after a seemingly endless series of gaffes, and run for a second term. And, Pearce writes, some have even speculated that McCrory wont even want a second term. People are wondering, Pearce saya, whether McCrory is in over his head.
Its too early, of course, to line up the moving vans and prepare the eulogies for McCrorys political career. Hes only eight months in, and that makes it easy for his allies to dismiss his critics.
But the cushion of time alone isnt enough to protect the governors chances of winning a second term. He needs to alter his agenda, reorder his staff, acknowledge his administrations mistakes and change his approach.
The partisan divide in the state is wide and deep, but McCrory would do well to study the administration and the political skill of, yes, Jim Hunt.
Hunt has offered his blueprint for how to be governor many times. A governor, he says, no matter what party, has to have a clear view of what he or she wants to do; there has to be a team in place, a group of true believers who subscribe to that view, that agenda, and burn with a determination to get it done; the governor has to be willing to sell the plan in hamlets and big-cities, and to explain it to people; a governor makes the necessary political deals, within reason; and a governor faces his critics but keeps his animus to himself.
The truth is, that formula has worked in the White House as well. Ronald Reagan had a set of firm beliefs and stuck to them (even when his economic policies wavered) but talked often with Democratic Speaker Tip ONeill. Bill Clinton made a deal on welfare reform at one point he didnt want to make but overall he dominated politics for eight years. Both these presidents had strong agendas and stood for them.
The best example, perhaps not to the GOPs liking but nevertheless a monument to clear-eyed, forceful leadership, was Franklin Roosevelt, who steamrolled past those who opposed the New Deal and its life-saving programs to pull Americans from the Depression.
McCrory needs to clarify his vision and think about what he really believes. He needs to form a close team around him, people he knows and not just the professional handlers. He needs to acknowledge the stumbles and mistakes, from the inflated salaries for two 24-year-olds in the Health and Human Services bureaucracy to the mysterious resignation of a Cabinet secretary to the little things like the ill-timed cookie delivery to the implication the he mingled with Moral Monday protesters when he didnt.
The governor can move past all that, but hes got to learn to admit when he goofs and move on, not try to move on and pretend those things never happened.
He also needs to assert his independence from Republican legislative leaders who just rebuked him by overriding two relatively minor vetoes. GOP leaders couldnt even give their governor a little victory
For McCrory, this ought to be a lesson. He might as well strike out on his own because the Republicans on Jones Street arent going to watch his back. If he disagrees with them, why hold back? Unfortunately, hes appeared to bend to the will of legislative leaders when it comes to abortion and voting rights, surrendering even a measure of independent leadership, and yet when the leaders had a chance to give him a little ground on vetoes, they pushed him around on the schoolyard again.
McCrory has plenty of time to turn things around. He has an affable personality and when hes made speeches to nonpolitical groups around the state, hes left a good impression. But now he must bear down and define himself and the things he really believes in and wants to accomplish. Then he should push that agenda even when his own allies turn about to be...not exactly that.
Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at firstname.lastname@example.org