McCrory should listen better, aim higher in his second year

January 11, 2014 

One year ago Gov. Pat McCrory delivered his inaugural address to a crowd of about 2,500 gathered on the south lawn of the Capitol. North Carolina’s first Republican governor in 20 years pledged 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.”

No one could disagree with that bland, nonpartisan agenda. And yet many did come to object to the list of actions that McCrory didn’t mention but would go on to initiate or allow.

The governor who spoke that day of helping people who were hurting economically would later support cuts in unemployment benefits and deny health insurance to hundreds of thousands of low-income people by rejecting federal funds for Medicaid expansion.

He would sign a bill stripping away job protections for teachers. He would reverse himself on a campaign pledge not to support more restrictions on access to abortion services. He would sign a bill that will reduce opportunities to vote for a disproportionate number of the young and minorities. He would endorse tax cuts that benefited the wealthy and corporations even as the working poor lost their earned income tax credit.

Finally he would renege on his central pledge of efficiency by tolerating a bewildering series of breakdowns in payment systems for food stamp recipients and Medicaid providers.

Protests arise

Seven months after McCrory spoke, a crowd twice the size of the inaugural gathering converged at the site of his address. It was a rally attended by thousands of Moral Monday protesters. They decried the right-wing agenda adopted by their once-moderate state and the transformation of a candidate elected as a moderate, urban Republican into a governor willing to impose pain on the poor and to tolerate the bashing of teachers by the General Assembly’s Republican leadership.

Gov. McCrory, naturally, disagrees with that harsh assessment. He describes his first year as one of great progress in making government more efficient and responsive and in getting people back to work. But significant evidence of that has yet to be seen.

A bolder agenda

The governor has had a rough first year that has made it even rougher for many North Carolinians. He does have one thing in his favor. He has time to recover before facing re-election in 2016. But to use that time well, he’ll need to make substantial changes. Here are a few suggestions:

• First, acknowledge mistakes of the first year and set out a substantial, ambitious plan for what to accomplish. Promoting efficiency and customer service is fine, but it sets a low bar for a high office.

• Second, stand for something. The governor got steamrolled by Republican leaders in the General Assembly who pushed through a conservative agenda. If the governor thinks the legislature has gone too far, he should say so and use the veto. He may be overridden, but his stance will not be overlooked.

• Third, widen the circle of advisers and talk to opponents. McCrory should address groups that are critical or suspicious of him and take their views seriously. Had the governor actually met with Moral Monday protesters early – instead of saying he had when he hadn’t – he might have defused a movement that continues to draw national attention.

People generally expect too much of governors. They are not presidents. They are executives who oversee a vast range of often dull state government functions. But a governor can focus the political discussion. A governor can set before the people of North Carolina goals that will challenge and inspire them to advance the quality and the decency of this vibrant, beautiful and growing state.

That is not too much to expect of this governor. But first he must expect it of himself.

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