Christensen: Easter week shows who is savvy and who isn't in NC politics

rchristensen@newsobserver.comApril 26, 2014 

One of the cardinal rules of politics and public relations is that bad news should be released before a big holiday weekend, and good news is trumpeted when people are paying attention.

So the Easter week maneuverings of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory tell us something about the political savvy of the two political camps that are likely to face each other in the 2016 governor’s race.

On the day before Good Friday (or what for him could be called Not-So-Good-Thursday), Cooper settled a 14-year-old lawsuit stemming from his 2000 victory over Republican Dan Boyce in the state attorney general race.

In the race, Cooper had run a TV ad that falsely accused Boyce of charging taxpayers $28,000 per hour in a class-action lawsuit against the state. The lawsuit that was the subject of the TV ad was actually brought by Boyce’s father, and the father only received a fraction of the fee he requested.

As part of the settlement, Cooper apologized to the Boyces, saying they are honorable lawyers.

In settling the suit on Thursday, Cooper timed it just before the Easter weekend when people were likely to be involved in family, church and other holiday gatherings and less likely to be paying attention to political news. He also settled well before the 2016 elections, although opponents are likely to remind voters about the settlement closer to election time.

Bad timing

One day earlier – let’s call it Ash Wednesday – McCrory announced his plan to get out in front of the coal ash issue by asking the legislature to give him broader authority.

The coal ash spill by Duke Energy on the Dan River is by far the biggest environmental disaster of McCrory’s administration, and it has the potential to cause him great political damage. An environmental group is already running a TV ad slamming him on it, and the U.S. Justice Department and a federal grand jury are investigating his administration on the issue.

Unless something emerges that we don’t know about, the coal ash spill on the Dan River is probably not McCrory’s fault. It was just unlucky timing that it occurred on his watch.

But it is an issue that could harm McCrory because he spent 28 years as a Duke Energy executive and because his administration, and his legislative allies, have made it a great point to talk about how they want to get cozy with big business and downsize environmental regulation.

Managing perception

But in politics, perception is nearly as important as facts. A major reason for Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s unpopularity was the recession, something she had the bad luck to inherit.

So it is incumbent on McCrory to get out in front of the coal ash issue – to be seen in front of the TV cameras concerned about the issue and shown taking steps to solve the problem – and be seen as a forceful chief executive.

Instead, he announced the move to address the 33 coal ash sites – closing some, draining others, and capping still others to keep the water out – in a news release with no fanfare on the Wednesday of Easter week. The person who was made available to talk about the issue was John Skvarla, his environmental secretary.

It is not Skvarla’s reputation that is being trashed in TV ads.

So on Easter week, when fewer people were paying attention, two rivals acted. Cooper disclosed some bad news, and McCrory announced plans to address a major crisis in his administration.

One was a savvy move; the other not so much.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or

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