My Charlotte friends who know Gov. Pat McCrory well say theyre starting to feel sorry for him. Hes the sort of guy, they claim, who knew instinctively he wanted to be governor. But thats about as far as it went.
Hes not much tied to ideas or policies. Not his huckleberry. So there wasnt much he really wanted to do as chief executive. But being top dog that seemed first rate. Think of the kudos and accolades. Hed had a small dose in Mecklenburg. Imagine being the states most highly prized guy.
Its not working out that way.
As a Moral Mondays veteran, I can attest McCrory always comes in for potent and deserved criticism at the protests. But no place produced the singular and virulent McCrory bashing hurled during the massive Charlotte gathering. Purported fans of the former mayor repeatedly expressed horror at the present governor. Betrayal and hypocrisy were watchwords.
Last summer, at a concert at Charlottes tony Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, when McCrory was introduced, he was booed by many of his former social running buddies. A couple weeks ago, at a birthday party among the Queen Citys legal elite, he got the same embarrassed treatment. Rough handling for the hail-fellow-well-met.
But if gubernatorial derision is par for the course, the United States decision, two weeks ago, to sue North Carolina for violating the Voting Rights Act is not.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced more in sorrow than in anger that key provisions of McCrory and friends new election law are racially discriminatory in both intent and impact. We cannot simply stand by, Holder declared, as North Carolina minority communities are shut out of self-governance.
But there was much more. In one sense, Holders bold legal move has been under-reported. Not only does he seek to invalidate a laundry list of the laws provisions, he has demanded that North Carolina be subjected to a pre-clearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
In short, Holder triggered a formal process to have North Carolina declared an outlaw state unwilling to protect the essential rights of its citizens. Federal receivership is necessary because we cannot be trusted to comply with the foundational American duty to govern fairly. If successful, Holders suit will assure that, for the first time, all 100 North Carolina counties (instead of the original 40 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act) submit to pre-clearance duties. An ironic legacy for McCrory and crew.
In announcing the suit, Holder chided officials, like McCrory, who have, in pursuit of short-term partisan goals, forgotten they occupy positions of public trust and must be stewards of democracy. Historic obligations have been entrusted to us, he stressed, and we must reflect upon our own duty to the American people and our own place in history.
McCrory may be a smiling back-slapper, but hes also a 21stcentury successor to Maddox, Wallace and Faubus.
McCrory responded to the scuffle in character. Early on, he announced at a news conference he would sign the nations most ambitious voter suppression bill though it was clear he didnt know what was in it. After Holder sued, McCrory rolled out the Republican talking points: these are commonsense measures the right thing this is a good law. With that, he pulled off something we never managed in the 1950s and 1960s. We now constitute the leading edge of Southern civil rights oppression. No wonder the Charlotte folks squirm.
To me, McCrorys unfolding legacy was also on display in August when North Carolinas greatest civil rights champion was laid to rest in Charlotte. Unsurprisingly, thousands attended. As media accounts put it: City, state and national leaders gather to pay respects to Julius Chambers.
As I sat in the throng, it was hard not to notice the governors absence. It seemed New York, D.C. and Raleigh had emptied to help fill the pews. Im sure he had a scheduling conflict of some sort. But two possibilities occurred to me. First, it may not be acceptable for the leader of what has now effectively become a white persons party to publicly celebrate the life of a great black civil rights hero. Or, second, maybe McCrory didnt think he could listen to stories of Chambers undergoing bombings and burnings to secure civil liberties and then return, a couple days later, to Raleigh to sign the countrys most oppressive voting bill.
Too much, perhaps, even for hapless Pat. It's starting to look like it may be hard to go home.
Gene Nichol is a Boyd Tinsley distinguished professor at the UNC School of Law and director of the schools Centeron Poverty, Work and Opportunity.